I'm asked to supply two new books for the reading list for incoming MFA students. I read literature, sometimes juvenile fiction. I used to read the New Yorker until my subscription ran out and I didn't renew it. None of these are appropriate. Or are they. I am looking at raising my pre-adolescent son to be a "whole person", as it says on the website of the middle school he will be attending next year. I am somewhat disconnected from the grad students, thinking more about the whole creative being than the shaping the "designer". It has always been a tension. Some days I'm at peace with this. Often I am not.
Maybe it's having escaped fires and bombs, or maybe it's the way I lean, or maybe a deficiency. I seek connections from unexpected places. I have too often felt that things can change in an instant and I could be un-alive unexpectedly, as if we expect when we get up in the morning to be in a fatal auto accident, or two blocks from a bomb. Or when I lay our head down, do my thoughts go to the possibility being awaken by a fire alarm and flames reaching up the stairs.
An if so, what will I be proud of? That I lived my life well, that I took chances, that I connected.
So the two books I added to the list are Annie Dillards, A Writing Life and This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. Maybe it should be Teaching a Stone to Talk or is that too threatening. Right now I am reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami. I started it a few years ago but couldn't get past the first few pages. It hurt to read about his consistency when I might have been feeling somehow less than. After taking a break from competitive running following last year's Boston marathon, I'm returning to running and gearing up for a November marathon because this is what I do. I have run for more than 40 years, on and off, and it has shaped me. I am feeling less willing to critique and judge, and more able to rejoice in what is. A sprained ankle helped.
One more note: about the 119th Boston Marathon. I watched runners tough it out—some walking, some at a steady jog— up Heartbreak Hill yesterday in what was often described as "miserable" conditions. I thought about my own grind the previous two years up that hill, and felt grateful that wasn't me on the edge of hypothermia, miserable, disappointed, and wondering if all the hard work was worth it. Exercising a little vanity about knowing I can qualify when I care to, and a little ashamed of that vanity. It makes me feel small, and maybe that's okay too.