Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nathaniel Hawthorne and a Piano Lesson

The following is a quote from the novel I just started reading, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

"In my native town of Salem...stands a spacious edifice of brick."

Notice the ellipsis that I placed in the center of this quote? (My kids call it a "dot-dot-dot".) You never really know how much information is missing when you come across an ellipsis; sometimes it's just a few words. In this case I counted:

127 words 
20 commas
3 dashes 
2 semicolons

Here's everything I took out of the above sentence and replaced with the ellipsis:

...at the head of what, a century ago, in the days of old King Derby, was a bustling wharf -- but which is now burdened with decayed wooden warehouses, and exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial life; except, perhaps, a bark or brig, half-way down its melancholy length, discharging hides; or, nearer at hand, a Nova Scotia schooner, pitching out her cargo of firewood -- at the head, I say, of this dilapidated wharf, which the tide often overflows, and along which, at the base and in the rear of the row of buildings, the track of many languid years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass -- here, with a view from its front windows adown this not very enlivening prospect, and thence across the harbour...
Reading a sentence like that is tiring. It takes stamina to get through a whole book full of them; yet as I proceeded through the rather lengthy introduction to the Scarlet Letter, the process of reading and comprehension seemed to become less grueling.  A vague notion came over me that I had performed this mental exercise before, only in some other way. It took me a moment to pinpoint. Then suddenly it came to me -- piano lessons.
If it were piano music you would play it like this:

Imagine the following phrase is a tied note. Play it forte with your left hand --

  So you read,

   In my native town of Salemmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

and you hold that thought in your mind while the right hand begins to play a lilting, legato accompaniment:

...at the head of what, a century ago, in the days of old King Derby, was a bustling wharf ... 

Blah, blah, blah and so on and so forth -- just keep holding the left hand down. Don't let go of it or you'll have to go back and read it again, because by the time you get to the end you will have forgotten what the sentence is about.

...a Nova Scotia schooner, pitching out her cargo of firewood -- at the head, I say, of this dilapidated wharf, which the tide often overflows...

 Hold it... hold it... keep holding; we're nearing the close now, hang in there!

...here, with a view from its front windows adown this not very enlivening prospect, and thence across the harbour, 

Now the left hand ends with nine slow, triumphant notes:


The Custom House is a large, square two story building with a cupola in the middle of the roof and a large portico over the grand stairs that sweep up to the front door. 

Do you ever use special tricks to help you conquer a difficult passage?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

With a Little Help From My Friends

I've been trying to work my way through The Well-Educated Mind by myself for way too long.

Not long ago, I discovered  A Classic Case Of Madness -- a witty, thoughtful blog in which three ladies contribute. They are on the same quest, just in a different spot: I started with the auto-biography list; they started with the novel list. I am finishing up Montaigne's Essays; they just finished Jane Eyre. I've decided to switch to the novel list and continue this journey with a little help from my new blog-friends, Christine, Christina and Jeanette.

Ever since Christina left a message on my blog inviting me to jump into the novels with them, I have been turning the idea over in my mind. I honestly can't think of a reason why I shouldn't join them. On the contrary, I can think of a few reasons why I should:

1. Group discussion will aid my comprehension.

2. I will move more quickly with others to keep me accountable.

3. Accountability will help me follow the three step system which is carefully described in WEM.

4. It will be a lot more fun!

What will this mean for Classical Quest?
~More blog posts about my progress with The Well-Educated Mind reading lists.
~Less posts about other reading.

Consider joining us!  You are welcome to join us for a read-along anytime. To find out what we are reading next, visit my "Up Next" page. For the full list go HERE.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eat the Fish; Pick out the Bones

I suppose I came down a bit hard on Michel de Montaigne in my recent post. I understand there are people out there who carry Essays around with them as a manual for living. There's some good stuff in Essays too. The accusing-women-for-having-shallow-love-for-their-children part is relatively short.

You don't need to dread reading Essays. It's pretty easy to follow. Montaigne speaks informally. You feel like you're having a conversation with your rich, quirky uncle (although I don't think Montaigne would have imagined that his conversation would include women -- esp. a nursing peasant like me -- ha!)

You know -- your rich, quirky uncle who happens to live in a chateau --
File:St Michel de Montaigne Château01.jpg
Chateau de Montaigne

You listen, sip your tea, and occasionally nod politely -- but dear Uncle can be long-winded and as he rambles on about how his book "means more to him than any flesh and blood son ever could", your eyes start to cross.

Last night, as I was reading Essays something stood out to me that made me soften a little toward Montaigne: he recognized his own ignorance. Now that I think about it, he really was not one to gloss over his faults. He was also indecisive; just when he is about to make a point, he changes his mind. His amiable tone, his frankness, and the fun-facts about antiquity which he often sprinkles in, are what keep me reading.

What have I learned so far on my quest?

St. Augustine showed me the restorative power of confession, the exaltation of the lowly, the immense wisdom and grace available to a yielded heart.

Margery Kempe showed me that if a person has a distinct vision and enough passion, she can accomplish her dream -- even if she is an illiterate, emotionally unstable woman with fourteen children.

Maybe the lesson from Montaigne is this: it's OK to choose a topic you know very little about and prattle on about it. You can even change your mind midstream and go the opposite direction. Above all, assume that everyone in the world cares about what you think.

Isn't that what we bloggers do every day?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Snobby Bookworm

File:Bookworm damage on Errata page.jpg
bookworm damage

This morning, my eight-year old daughter asked me if she could have a Kindle --

"Like you Mom."

"Well, how about we see if you like using mine first. I'll download a book for you. What would you like?"

"Tinker Bell."

"Excuse me?"

She dug around in her backpack then produced a paper-back chapter book (published by Disney!) about Tinker Bell's adventures - you know - beyond the Peter Pan years. (For those fans who want to know what she's been up to since Neverland.)

"Ahem . . . that's nice dear. How about  A Tale of Despereaux? Caddie Woodlawn? Little House in the Big Woods? Something with a gold sticker on the front cover, OK?"

"Tinker Bell."

I once made a snide remark to my younger sister when we were kids. I had implied that she never read anything and she said that yes, she did too read.
I mumbled under my breath: "Yeah -- Junior Book of the Month!"
This remark it hurt her feelings for a long time. She still brings it up occasionally - half in jest.

As I thought about this, something occurred to me: my sister has hundreds of friends on Facebook. She meets up with these people, they go on cruises and stuff.

I read; I blog; I play Scrabble with my husband.

I can't expect my daughter to be a little clone of me. Although I really want her to plumb the depths of literature the way I like to, she's not a worm. She's a butterfly. A real social butterfly. She makes me get out of the house. She makes me have company over.

My friends are books; her friends are people.

What are you -- bookworm or butterfly?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Saint's Romance

Who is to be feared but God alone?
What can be seized or stolen from His power?
Soft endearments are intended to arouse love
But there are no caresses tenderer than Your charity,
And no object of love is more healthy than Your truth,
Beautiful and luminous beyond all things.
                                                                                                         ~St. Augustine

                                          Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Eat the Moon


This idea I have of a "classical education" is feeling really huge today. Montaigne's Essays (which apparently the Who's Who of academia for the last few centuries has adored ) is not jiving with me. I miss Saint Augustine. I keep glancing longingly at my untouched copy of City of God. I feel like I'm trying to move too fast. I could have spent years on Confessions.

I put Essays down this morning and started listening to Sarah Bakewell's book: How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. She is really enthusiastic about this guy. She thinks his personality is just charming. Was I raised in Plato's cave? I confess I had never heard of Montaigne until I started my quest.

The more I learn, the more I realize what I don't know. It feels like trying to eat the moon, one spoonful at a time.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

“Do you know what today is?” I asked my husband.
He turned to me, startled.  I knew what he was thinking: what did I forget? 
I assured him with a pat on the hand,
“It’s the first day of the rest of my life.”
“Oh, that’s nice, Babe.”
“No really, it is!”

Since I was a young girl, I dreamed of getting married and having a large family. I gave birth to my fifth child six weeks ago. Yesterday I had my postpartum visit with my doctor. She gave me the green light to return to normal function.

So it feels like dawning of a new era. The course of my life in no longer a vague misty dream. All around me are the precious faces of my present and my future: my handsome husband and my five gorgeous kids.
I took a brisk walk to celebrate and to “think my little thoughts through.” ( My aunt taught me this phrase when I was young. She said "Honey sometimes you just need to find a place to think your little thoughts through." It's true -- my thoughts are little in the grand scheme of things and I do need a place to think them through sometimes.)

Two of my boys came along with me. My oldest son held my little one's hand so I could walk ahead a bit and try to get my heart rate up. I feel so much lighter than six weeks ago! I skipped and twirled  --  which made my boys smile. My oldest has seen me lying prostrate a lot this past year. It's been too long since we've taken our daily walks together. I attempted to click my heels. The boys laughed.

So, for what did I ponder and pray on "the first day"? 

Gratefulness for the past and a vision for the future.
It's time to add some new dreams to my heart. It's time to take new steps and risk new things. Life is full of uncertainties and some things we just can't predict, but for me two things are very clear: I will be spending the next phase of my life raising my little brood and honing my craft as a writer.

I'm grateful you've stopped by Classical Quest. I'd love to know --

What are your goals for the next ten years?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Making Time

 “Dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”  ~Ben Franklin

As a wife and mother of five children under age nine, I am always looking for ways to get more out of my days.  How can I find time for my self-education project without neglecting my responsibilities?

Get up before the kids.  Just 20 minutes of quiet morning prep before everyone starts waking up sets me on track to a productive day. A quiet moment with a fresh cup of coffee makes me feel like I'm in control. 
Give small children special attention at key times. After my older children leave for school, I try to engage my pre-schoolers in a hands-on activity like baking cookies, cutting paper, or constructing a tent in the living room. In the afternoon we take a walk. 

Of course we also love reading together. I've read hundreds of great children's books while cuddled on the sofa with my little ones. If I prioritize these activities, I won't feel guilty when I need to say "Time for you to make your own fun now."   
Know what’s for dinner by 9:00am.  Since I am feeding a family of seven, I can't decide what we are going to eat at the last minute. I start thinking about the big question early in the day. If the recipe involves several steps, I spread the work throughout the day. (Example: Boil a whole bag of chicken in the morning. Chop it up at lunch time. Give the kids a few pieces for lunch. Mix up filling for pot pie on the stove in the afternoon. The only thing left to do is prepare the pie crust, assemble, and bake about an hour before dinner.)
Organize one area every day. I never have a long stretch of time to do a large amount of cleaning and organizing by myself.  I have discovered the trick is to do these tasks in small bites. Sort one drawer, or one cabinet, or one shelf, or one bag of hand-me-downs every single day for the rest of my life! 
Expect some chaos. This was the scene yesterday:  Two dirty diapers simultaneously.  Toddler is crying, Baby is screaming, five-year-old is standing by whining for something he isn't allowed to have. Phone's ringing. We're fresh out of baby wipes.  Dog's barking. Someone's at the door. Tea kettle is whistling . . . and so it goes. There are variations of this scene every day. Add some broken glass, missing car keys, a giant spill.  You get the idea.  
 I put out the little “fires” one by one and pace myself. Peace does eventually return. We usually have one or two chaotic moments each day. Anticipating them has made me a better mother.
Prepare for tomorrow. Fill the washing machine with water before bed each night. Send the children to their rooms early to choose their clothes for school the next day. Wash the dinner dishes. (There will always be more dishes to do tomorrow!) Follow a consistent bedtime routine.  

These are some of the practices I follow. When I stick to a rhythm, I usually find enough time and energy to work on my self-education goals. Some days are more productive than others. When I let things slide, I soon find myself buried up to my neck in house work and before long someone is asking the big question, "What's for dinner?"

How do you make time for self-education?