I heard Antonio Banderas interviewed on a podcast. He talked about performing in a foreign language, as he does when he speaks English in a movie or a play. He can speak a word in English, but it is empty of nuance, hidden or multiple meanings, shading, audio cues, personal experience, connection, and significance.
As an example, in reverse, what does the word, onubense, bring to your mind?
I wonder if I did not natively speak English and did not think in English, how much the following words would mean to me if I merely recited them?
“Culture exists and evolves to relegate to habit categories of interactions the constant conscious reference to which would make human interaction impossible.”
-- David Mamet
“That's the reason they're called lessons, because they lesson from day to day.”
-- Lewis Carroll
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
--William Carlos Williams
What does the word red make you think of?
Without analyzing too much, what meanings, connotations, memories, images, or experiences does red appear in your mind?
To delve into the connection with the word, red, try a two-minute freewriting. In a freewriting, you begin typing (or writing) and you don’t stop, for anything. If you make a typo, you keep going. If you get stuck on a word, type the word over and over until something comes to mind. If you can’t think of anything to write, type whatever comes to mind, gibberish, and continue as the thread comes back to you. Time yourself and, remember, do not stop for anything until the timer goes off.
If that worked for you, you can either sum up what you got from your two-minutes of writing into one sentence. Put that sentence at the top of the page and try another two-minute freewriting. Or do another freewriting as a continuation. Try a five-minute freewriting.
Please feel free to share your freewriting with me through the Contact page.
This writing will present some intriguing aspects of your take on red.
What The Giving Tree Gives Us
May 29, 2018
I offer short talks at the Family Services of a local Buddhist temple. After the talks on a teaching by Buddha, I read picture books. One of the first books I read to the children and parents was The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. It seemed to me to be a classic. Everyone knows it. In fact, it is rated highly in numerous significant children’s literature polls and surveys. This year marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the book’s publishing. It is still in print. It has been translated into many languages. It has sold millions of copies globally.
What makes The Giving Tree so compelling? The book starts happy. In the first half, the female apple tree and the boy love each other and spend joyous time together. The boy takes her leaves, uses her trunk and limbs to climb and play in, eats her apples, and partakes of her shade. And since the boy shows his love to the tree, she is happy.
On the next two pages: “But time went by. And the boy grew older.”
From here, the boy stays away from the lonely tree, then returns as a greedy man to take everything from her, until she is literally nothing more than a stump. When he takes her apples, branches, and her trunk away, she is happy.
“But not really.”
The tree still wants to give him more and she is sorry that she has nothing left. At least, she can provide him a place to sit.
“And the tree was happy.”
Wow. What do you make of that?
The Giving Tree is controversial. Some readers and critics find selflessness and the giving Jesus talked about. Some see abuse. Some see a self-effacing mother and perpetual infant child.
The story is endearing because the tree loves the boy so much. She is willing to give him everything, regardless of his attitude. Even at the end, when all she can offer the old man is a quiet place to sit, he sits. And she is happy. This is what makes her happy. Who is too judge? Certainly not an enthralled four-year-old girl or boy listening.
We all want parents, friends, spouses, partners just like this, even though it isn’t necessarily realistic or even healthy. We want someone to give, give, give. Maybe if we were generous enough, we could give, give, give. It’s all fantasy. We love it and we are pulled in.
I Realized I Was Reading
May 27, 2018
Growing up, I was called Dick (or Dickie). Long story short, my father was a Gerald. He had brothers named Orville, Morrill, and Loren. His father was named Emil. He even had an uncle named Bruncke. When I came along, I imagine, because I never asked him, my dad wanted the shortest, easiest, most casual name he could find. He named me Dick. (My mother said she would have chosen Darren.) The only slang use of Dick when I grew up was for a private detective. There were no allusions to a penis, or anyone who looked, sounded, smelled, or acted like one.
When I learned to read in the primary grades, we used the Scott Foresman basal reader, featuring Dick and Jane as protagonists. I was a tall, skinny, clueless and homely boy who loved learning and got attention from my distracted parents by excelling in school. I loved that another Dick (careful where your mind goes) starred in the stories we read in class. Dick equaled reading. In front of the world, I was reading.
I have a couple of strong reading memories. When I was eleven, I sat on my bed, alone in my room, as my friends shouted and played outside my window, and read The Battle of Britain by Quentin Reynolds, from the Random House Landmark Series. Fast forward five years. I sat on top of the six-foot, cinderblock wall in my backyard, reading Silas Mariner, by George Eliot, from my high school English book, when my friend, Rick, came over to get me. I told him I couldn’t hang out because I had to finish my reading assignment. He shook his shaggy unstudious head and left.
I was an unrelenting, unabashed and devoted reader from the beginning. We have to look at this from the perspective that my parents never read one word from any book to me when I was a child. Neither of them got beyond high school. I don’t remember seeing my mother read, but my father did, a lot. I have an image in my mind of him lying in bed with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer, propped up on his chest.
I entered college as a political science major with the queasy and inchoate ambition of becoming a lawyer. During my first semester, along with the survey poli sci course, I took a class called Written Expression in the English Department. We read selections from British and American literature and responded in writing. I changed my major to English without regret. I was not a particularly focused student and had my share of personal problems during my first two years of college. I got serious later, but I wish that I had paid more attention and made greater effort in my literature classes because I love the subject. In fact, reading is my passion. It was back then, and it still is. I am reading.
I got my degree in English Literature, and worked dozens of jobs, using my brains and my brawn. I had a job at a warehouse, driving a fork lift and the company truck. I made a good wage. When my boss insisted that the staff work Saturdays, I decided it was time to move on. A Pickwick Bookshop opened in the mall near my apartment. I interviewed and got the job. When I told my partner that I gave up my job to work in a bookstore, she could not relate. How could I take a job at one-third the pay, after the old job offered overtime? I fell out of her favor, but I loved my new job. I felt excited to go to work. I went into a huge room, surrounded by books. I read at work, at lunch, on my breaks, at the cash register, and I borrowed books to take home. I lived my dream. Later, I assistant-managed a Walden’s Bookstore and worked at the University Bookstore in Seattle.
I collected books. I had a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf to house my collection. I traveled miles to search for leather-bound treasures in used and rare book shops. I spent time arranging and displaying my books and even constructed my shelves in a gravity-defying cantilever. I felt proud of my books and of my passion for reading.
Move ahead to the present moment. I have a handful of books on my shelf. (It’s no longer cantilevered, and my books no longer smell of leather.). My collection is now digital. I choose from dozens of books on iBooks and Kindle. I virtually never read a physical book. It’s all on my iPhone or MacBook Air. I have found a drawback to having an endless choice of books. I have become an impatient and capricious reader. If I am reading, say Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte, Paul Simon, The Life, by Robert Hilburn, or Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and I get the least bogged down or distracted, I click on the icon for the iBook Store and find something new, fresh, and unknown. It's not even the fault of the books I'm reading. I am corrupted by the infinite choice that I have.
I used to commit myself to a book. If I started it, I finished it. Now, I virtually flitter between books, like a hummingbird between daylilies.
I am turning a new page. I recently picked up at a used bookstore, People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks and from the author, Always Gardenia, by my dear friend, Betsy Hanson. It is a wholly different experience to read a physical paperback or hardback book. The book has heft and earthly presence. Opening the book to a two-page spread, running my thumb up the right-side page, across the dry, smooth paper, pulling the top of the page forward with my index finger, grabbing the corner of the page with my thumb and forefinger, and flicking the paper over to a new continent of discovery is pure joy. I find the same content in an ebook, of course, but the physical act of reading is different. A book is an individual. It imposes and invites engagement, almost as if I’m relating with a friend. Unlike an iPhone, a book doesn’t not scream for caprice and distraction.
I now commit myself to holding and reading a book. It is less expeditious to get physical books. When I do, I have to store them or trade them in at the used bookstore. I can have a relationship with a book. I commit myself to reading a book through, even if I have to struggle. I am reading.
I Am Reading Books
Read and Re-Read
I Am Reading Books
I Am Reading Biography
Richard Diedrichs grew up in Los Angeles. He edited travel and health magazines in Seattle, worked as an editor at the schools of Engineering and Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and then taught Fourth and Fifth grades and Kindergarten in public elementary schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. He lives on Hawaii Island.
Richard remembers writing a story in sixth grade about a ghost in his bedroom closet. He majored in English literature and journalism in college. He studied fiction writing with novelist Wallace Graves and currently works with fiction writer and esteemed instructor Joe Evanisko. He has published short stories, novellas, novels, essays, nonfiction, and a book on Buddhism for children. (Please click on the tabs at the very top of the page.)