Freedom to think – and write

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When I am questioned about myself, I am tempted to say, paraphrasing Roark: “Don’t ask me about my family, my childhood, my friends or my feelings. Ask me about the things I think.”

— “To the Readers of The Fountainhead,” 1945

The third chapter of “Ayn Rand and the World She Made,” is titled Freedom to Think 1926 — 1934. The book is “a broad and enlightening portrait of one of the most significant and improbable figures of recent history.” She died in 1982. She also smoked.

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I believe my sister read Rand and I suspect she understood what Rand was talking about — unlike her little brother, who is on his second go at and not going very fast. The book is written by Anne C. Heller who is a magazine editor and journalist. Anne has a striking resemblance to Ayn.

Another book I am more willing to face is one Mello apparently didn’t like, at least the cover of the book that she chewed up. It’s “Forty Poems Touching on Recent American History,” edited by Robert Bly. This is an older book where Bly points out how Robert Duncan wrote several powerful poems on the War. His “Uprising” ends: “This specter that in the beginning Adams and Jefferson feared and knew; would corrupt the very body of the nation and all our sense of our common humanity. Now shines from the eyes of the President in the swollen head of the nation.”

As for forgetting, I am working on that with the help perhaps of a product from Karen’s health food store. Somewhere I read that the idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning. When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively.

What seems to be happening in this case is that the brain is picking up what’s similar and what’s different about them, “often subconsciously,” said Dr. Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College and the lead author of the study.

Names are the mystery in my life and I think that comes from distancing myself from the folks I used to be more active with. I don’t think I will ever forget Mello’s name and I even remember the name we were given for her at the Humane Society was Holly, that lasted a short time and then Casey and I changed it to “Mello Yellow.” I have dropped the “yellow.”

She still spends a portion of her time at the front window barking at people passing by. People tell us she is a good “watch dog” and perhaps she is. The other night I stopped by my cousin’s and was met at the door by his barking dog in the same manner as Mello operates. After a while she let me pet her. While there I got to meet a student from my teaching days at Banfield — my first year of teaching that lasted about half the year, he reminded me. He appreciated the time I did spend there before moving on. That was nice to hear. He’s presently back in town with his parents who are benefiting from his presence.

I see, according to Wallace Alcorn, “Young students seem to have the attitude that English language courses are a pointless academic exercise unrelated to real life and intended largely to make their academic life difficult.” Mr. Alcorn is probably right. “… Life itself demands learning language, and the teaching of English is purposed toward living life successfully.”

Fortunately I see writing another way, a way more joyful, more playful. Hundreds of books are around that tell how to avoid bad writing. Natalie Goldberg’s secret of creativity is to subtract rules for writing, not add them. Natalie’s experience in Zen meditation has provided her insights. I’m talking about, “Writing Down the Bones.”

Natalie’s basic unit of writing practice is the timed exercise, like timing yourself for 10 minutes. That was my first go at it a number of years ago and continues today. Natalie’s rules: 1. Keep you hand moving. 2. Don’t cross out. 3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.) 4. Lose control. 5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical. 6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

I will also give some thinking to Mr. Alcorn’s thinking I think. For now I will watch leaves fall.