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Words of the simply wise (01/03/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns
In the not so distant past, I was a snob about the books I chose to read. No mindless fiction or those sappy Harlequin romances for me! However, with dictionary and thesaurus at my side, I’m beginning to falter, the sentences becoming too complicated, and crucial messages getting lost in a feast of the writer’s philosophical opinion.

I gravitate toward prizewinning authors, or fresh, new works drifting on the wings of grants, and the novel, chapbook, and collection on the bestseller’s list somewhere. I’ve come to realize that humility imparts the wisest lessons. Just as life’s biggest quandaries often create their own solutions, uncomplicated silences, deep within each of us, simmer with soulful truths. Time eventually robs us of the best of what we were…but, with time, we often discover treasures otherwise overlooked in our pursuit to be brilliant.

Kent Nerburn’s “Simple Truths” had been collecting dust, along with coffee table books, in the living room for months. I picked it up today and opened it where the gold ribbon marked a page. It spoke to me:

“Place yourself among those who carry their lives with passion, and true learning will take place, no matter how humble or exalted the setting. But no matter what path you follow, do not be ashamed of your learning. In some corner of your life, you know more about something then anyone else on earth. The true measure of your education is not what you know, but how you share what you know with others.” How liberating!

I recently ordered the magazine Guideposts from my granddaughter for a fund raiser for the LA music department. Guideposts is a nonprofit organization that prints true stories of hope and inspiration. Actually, I’d been getting weary reading about tedious current issues and despairing global awareness in the magazines I presently subscribe to, underlining all this important stuff, struggling to grow in knowledge. (How much does one mortal have to know anyway?)

When November’s Guideposts arrived, I was busy so I set it aside. I saw Pat reading from it a couple times. Eventually, I flipped to a story entitled “Things I Never Knew About My Grandmother.” It was so charming! The young teacher, Amanda Rigell, taped a conversation with her 89-year-old “Mammaw” for two and a half hours.

Awed by all she had never known about this interesting lady’s past, Rigell writes, “How often do I take the time to listen to others’ hopes, dreams, and stories? “I’m making a CD of her stories to give to my relatives this Christmas.” I devoured the entire issue!

The book I’m tackling now, “At the Same Time” is a compilation of essays and speeches by award winning fiction writer Susan Sontag, who passed away at 71, three years before she got to see this, her final book, in print. Sontag’s son David Rieff wrote of her, “She wanted to experience everything, taste everything, go everywhere, do everything.”

Sontag’s challenging invitation lured me: “A writer is first of all a reader. It is from reading that I derive the standards by which I measure my own work and according to which I fall lamentably short. It is from reading, even before writing, that I became part of a community – the community of literature – which includes more dead than living writers.” (That’s encouraging,)

In a subdued manner, Guideposts Associate Editor Adam Hunter reports that their readers can’t seem to get enough of a section of true stories entitled “Mysterious Ways,” in which “proof of things unseen, miracles and twists of fate cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence.” The best part is - I don’t need a dictionary to get it!

The complex and the simplistic – perhaps a well-rounded life participant needs some of each. As Susan Sontag wrote in her chapter “The Conscience of Words,” writers should… “Remind us that we might, just might, aspire to become different, and better, than we are. Remind us that we can change.”

I’m hooked again!

Janet Burns is a diehard bookworm. For whatever reason, she can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 

 

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