“Books are the plane, the train, and the road. They are the destination and the journey. They are home.” ~ Anna Quindlen

Image result for The magicians trilogy

“. . . I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.” ~ Eudora Welty, from “One Writer’s Beginnings”

Monday afternoon, sunny and mild, 82 degrees.

I thought that today I’d complete a survey that I found. I enjoy doing these once in a while. This one is perfect for me as it’s about books and reading. By the way, if you don’t know it, you can find great copies of hardback books from all genres at Ollie’s. I know, a surprise right? Usually the books are $3.99 or less. Whenever we go there, I look for copies of books that I lost with the storage unit.

Another great place to find books is in thrift stores. There were two in Norfolk that I loved to peruse; one of them used to have a bag of books option: as many books as you could fit in a bag for $5. They were very generous in not limiting bag sizes. I really miss that place.

That all for now. More later. Peace.

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
  1. What are you currently reading? I’m rereading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
  2. How many books have you read this year? I’m behind in my goals, having only read 12.
  3. How have your reading tastes changed from when you were a child? I wouldn’t say they’ve changed as much as they’ve broadened. As a child, I loved pretty much anything I could find in the young section of the library. Now, I still love books from all categories—science fiction/fantasy, mysteries, in particular British mysteries, poetry, action/adventure, sweeping historical fiction, biographies, actual histories, and memoirs. I also like that category known as Young Adult, although I’m not sure why it’s called that.
  4. Physical book or e-book? Only paper for me. I love the way that books smell and feel. You cannot get that from an e-reader.
  5. Where do you love to read? I love to read outside; if I had a hammock again, that would be my preferred place. I did see one of those hanging egg chairs at Sam’s Club that I would give anything to have as that would be ideal.
  6. What is your ideal reading atmosphere? background noise or silent? alone or with others? I don’t want anything going on in the background if I’m reading, and I prefer to be alone. When I was a teen, I would watch TV with my boyfriend while reading. Don’t really know how I did that.
  7. Are you a writer? I like to think so.
  8. What was your very first baby book? The first book that I remember having was A Child’s Garden of Verses.
  9. What was the first book you read on your own? I’m fairly certain that the first things that I read on my own were Superman comics, but the first book was probably The House at Pooh Corner.
  10. How many books have you read in total? A conservative estimate would be about 2,000 books.
  11. What has been the longest gap between books? I went through a really bad depression in which I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. It was almost a year without books.
  12. What are your favorite genres? See number 3. My very favorite would probably be British mysteries. I’ve been reading those kinds of books the longest.
  13. What books make you happy? This is a weird question. Reading in general makes me happy. Books that make me smile tend to be things like comic compilations such as Calvin & Hobbes or The Far Side.
  14. What books have made you uncomfortable? Why? I don’t really like romances, mostly because they are so antithetical to real life, and the writing style tends to be formulaic.
  15. Can you read anywhere? Moving vehicle? Roller coaster? I used to be able to read anywhere, but I can no longer read in a moving vehicle without getting carsick.
  16. How do you bookmark books? I have a collection of bookmarks, but I rarely remember to use them. Usually I just use whatever piece of paper is closest to me.
  17. Policy on book-lending? I only lend books to close friends or family. My other mother and I used to exchange books all of the time.
  18. Do people know you’re a bookworm? If they know me, they do.
  19. How well do you take care of your books? I cherish my books, and I prefer to purchase hardbacks. I hate it if they become damaged.
  20. Can you read in other languages? I can read a bit in French.
  21. What is a total book turn-off for you? I hate books that contain errors in grammar and syntax, and I get really upset if a book has a bad ending.
  22. What is an essential element of a good book? For me, it needs to have good plot and character development, and it needs to be written well.
  23. Genres you rarely read? I don’t read self-help books. They get on my nerves.
  24. Do you read non-fiction? Yes, I like to read biographies, especially those of writers. I also like memoirs and collections of essays.
  25. Do you read reviews on a book before you read it? Not usually, but if I do read a review and it seems intriguing, I will probably order the book.
  26. Do you judge a book by the cover? I try not to. I learned when pursuing my publishing degree that the cover design is not always as closely married to the text as it should be.
  27. Do you read cover to cover or sometimes skim parts? I read cover to cover, and I often reread books I love, in particular series such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, both of which I have read multiple times.
  28. Do you always finish a book, even if it is dull? It’s hard for me to leave a book unfinished, and I can count on my hands the number of books that I’ve actually put down without finishing.
  29. How do you organize your books? I organize by last name within genres.
  30. Favorite book this year? This would have to be The Magicians trilogy. I really, really liked those books, and I wish that there were more in the series.

Music by Keane, “Somewhere Only We Know”

Burning of the Books

Typewriters wait at desks,
stories loiter outside hotels.
Far from the boiling pulp of Thunder Bay
starved spruces in wordless bogs
wait to be books.
You who leave the bookstore
will know how the snow waits
for the white fox to venture out
when hunger is spelled in his gut,
how his tracks end in a tuft of fur
and the asterisk of blood
which is the only color on this page;
the unwritten preface to your book.
It will speak to you in your study
like the claviforms on cavern walls
that have kept felling bison
for forty thousand years.

As you open the cover
an axe will strike in the north woods
and teams of draft horses will haul
great logs across the ice.
And if you read well when you read fire
the censor’s match will fail,
the heart of a pinecone will shine.
Incendiary slogans that sleep in libraries
will inspire arsons in the night.
Fireballs will crown the forests,
and in your book-walled room
the sweet smoke of a word’s entrails
will rise from ashes of the page.

~ George H Gurley Jr.


“And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life.” ~ Hermann Hesse

F. Scott Fitzgerald Handwritten Passage of The Great Gatsby

“The dream is too often about myself. To correct this; and to forget one’s own sharp absurd little personality, reputation and the rest of it, one should read; see outsiders; think more; write more logically; above all be full of work; and practise anonymity. Silence in company . . .” ~ Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated 22 December 1927

Original Manuscript of Einstein's General Relativity

Well, it’s been a hell of a week. Nothing really specific. No, wait. That’s not true. Alexis. There was Alexis.

In July, we have two family birthdays here: Alexis on the 7th, and Brett on the 10th. So Alexis’s birthday was Thursday. Coincidentally, I also needed a ride to a doctor’s appointment because Corey had to work second shift. I texted Alexis on Wednesday evening to see if she could give me a ride. She got back to me a few hours later and said that she could.

She showed up with only 12 minutes to spare before my appointment time. I was already antsy by the time she arrived because I really wasn’t certain that she would show, which would have meant a $50 no-show appointment fee that I really cannot afford. On the way to the doctor, I tried to broach the subject of our relationship, or lack thereof. She wasn’t having it. I backed off as it was the only option available to me, but I have to admit that it left me stinging. Consequently, my appointment with my therapist was a crying appointment.

Dr. K. said that obviously Alexis is in a deep hole and that there really isn’t anything that I can do about it. She suggested that I propose to Alexis that we try to meet regularly for coffee or something, and I would agree that we didn’t have to talk of anything of consequence.

After the appointment when I got back in the car, that’s exactly what I proposed. Alexis wasn’t too interested in doing that either. I let it go, just let it go. I have to admit that this letting go stuff is getting easier, and I wonder if it’s a factor of age, experience, self-preservation, or perhaps, a little of all three.

“We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seeded refusal of that which others have made of us.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

W. B. Yeats, "Wild Swans at Coole" Manuscript

Other annoyances this week include a new pain in both of my hands (no idea what’s going on there), ongoing computer problems (lots of freezing, which makes writing agonizingly slow), a house that really needs to be cleaned, and personal administrative stuff, like getting health claims refiled that were originally denied because of my continual problems with health insurance.

I love dealing with billing offices . . .

Also on the table for this week were extended errands of the bureaucratic kind: social security administration, banking, other stuff. I am doing these things with/for the young woman who has come under our care.

What absolutely stymies the imagination is that I have been told that this young woman used to be unable to make eye contact, never spoke above a mumble, and was completely incapable of taking care of herself.

To the contrary, the young woman who I see laughs easily and frequently, loves to engage in thoughtful conversation, and is eager to do things for herself. Would I be too clichéd in comparing her to a moth in a cocoon who is finally emerging? Left to her own devices and desires, she is in the process of becoming.

As to my role in this, it is minimal. I am merely standing back and watching her grow. That I am being allowed to participate even passively is an affirming experience.

“All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.” ~ George Bataille

T. S. Eliot's Book Signing to Virginia Woolf

So with all of the different things going on in my life right now, I have been thinking about Ariadne’s Thread (quick mythology summary): You may recall that Daedalus (wing-man) built a labyrinth to house the Minotaur (bull-man). According to a summary on the Georgetown University site, “Theseus, an Athenian, volunteered to accompany one of these groups of victims to deliver his country from the tribute to Minos. Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and gave him a thread which he let unwind through the Labyrinth so that he was able to kill the Minotaur and find his way back out again.”

On the web, The Labyrinth project allows users to make an Ariadne’s thread through the maze of information available on the Internet. Users can find their way back by choosing the “Return to Labyrinth Home Page” link at the end of each Labyrinth document.

In logic, Ariadne’s Thread is not, as many believe, trial and error because trial and error implies attempts to find the one true solution. Rather Ariadne’s Thread works more like a flow chart with decision points: if a choice needs to be made, make one arbitrarily from those not marked as failures, and follow it logically as far as possible. If a contradiction results, back up to the last decision made, mark it as a failure, and try another decision at the same point. Repeat until a solution can be found or no solution can be found, which means that no solution exists. Conversely, multiple solutions may be sought by returning to successful decision points and attempting other solutions.

The main things to remember in an Ariadne’s Thread are that records must be kept and more than one solution can be sought and found. So what does this mean in the real world?

“In the cold, damp shelter of our primitive ancestors, lit only by the flickering of a campfire, at day’s end there was a time for recollection and stillness that would help to fuel the next day’s events. Since the beginning of human history, the still point has served as the birthplace of all our activity. Virtually every creature on this great earth practices the backward step of quieting down and entering this still point. Birds, beasts, bugs, and fish all seem to find time in their daily existence to relax and recreate—to bring forth the flower from what Whitman called “the seed of perfection.” ~ John Daido Loori, Editor’s Preface: The Art of Just Sitting

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to His Brother Theo

I have often alluded to my life as a tapestry, one in which different events and different people have contributed various threads to a pattern that has yet to take a final shape. In the tapestry metaphor, it’s all about collecting and assimilating.

In an Ariadne’s Thread approach to life, it’s more about trying and succeeding and trying and failing to reach a goal, and sometimes, even with the perceived failures, a solution is found. By that I mean that sometimes people arrive at ends for which they were not originally aiming, almost as if fate guided them to that point; when in fact, the decisions made took them to that point.

Does fate play a hand?

That’s the big question. In pure logic, the answer is definitely no. But as we all know, life does not work in terms of pure logic, no matter how much we try to make it so.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that we all arrive at certain points in our lives and wonder how we got here. If we were to deliberately trace things back to a certain starting point, I’m sure that the path that we would draw would not resemble anything we expected.  We are constantly reaching decision points in our lives: if yes, go here; if no, go here. But it’s never spelled out, and there are no directional markers.

I could no more trace back my own Ariadne’s Thread than I could unweave and then reweave my life’s tapestry. So many of my decisions have come from my gut, have taken me places I never dreamed of traveling, and when faced with critical life decision points, I have sometimes veered right or left when straight seemed the most logical path to take. But then, emotions are rarely logical.

I do sometimes contemplate how exactly I got to this point, and in so doing, I sometimes discern definite markers that led me. At other times, it’s too convoluted to discern, like a labyrinth. But the things about labyrinths, as I’ve mentioned before, is that there are two ways in and two ways out, which means that there are always possibilities.

“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Philosopher

John Keats, First Page of "Lamia" Manuscript

In a larger sense, Ariadne’s Thread could be a logical approach to life in general, as in we should learn from our mistakes (the we being civilizations, governments, countries). But of course, we don’t.

What’s that maxim about those forgetting the past being doomed to repeat it? Well, we keep repeating our mistakes. That Cicero said this over two thousand years ago is telling indeed. Did not our own country’s fall into a great recession occur primarily because of greed, an unflinching belief in getting mine regardless of the fate of others? Is not the current force of the right greatly due to its determination to compel others to believe and live by their ethic?

Even at the most basic levels we are proving Cicero’s assertions to be true: Consider the elimination of cursive writing from many school curricula in favor of keyboarding. Yes, keyboarding skills are essential in any workplace today; however, should we not take a little time to teach our children the basics in communication: putting pen to paper?

I know that when I see script from a bygone era, it makes me heartsick that we do not write in this manner. I remember the beautiful script that even my parents used, the great care they took when signing their names. My sons have no identifiable signature. The letters are merely joined together.

I know. I know. Don’t talk to me about how pressed for time teachers in America already are without adding an additional burden. I’ve been there, and the fact is that teachers today must teach for tests. The whole idea of a classical education is passé. But I remember those sheets of paper with the two solid lines and the dotted lines in between in which my classmates and I practiced assiduously our capital F’s and our lower case z’s. Every perfect curve, every correctly executed loop—milestones for each of us. And then as we got older, we tailored our penmanship to our personalities. But first, we learned how to do it correctly.

I bemoan the death of education and the dearth of desire for betterment, and in this, I know that I am not alone.

More later. Peace.

Music by Grizzly Bear, “Slow Life”


Sylt II

The wind that makes your hair grow faster
opens a child’s mouth full of strawberry and sand.
Slow and sure
on the scales of the ocean
the child’s head outweighs the sun.

Inside of the wind—

a blister of a church,
its walls thicker than the space from wall to wall
where the wind shifts shade and light
like two rival chess pieces
or two unmatched pieces of furniture.
Inside of the church—such a stillness
that when a feather floats down in a fist of dust
it becomes a rock by the time it hits the ground.

Organ pipes glint like a cold radiator,
contained in a case of a carved tree, its branches
tied up with a snake.
Organ pedals, golden and plump, are the tree’s only fruit.

It is all about the release of weight:
the player crushes the pedals like grapes underneath his feet.
My body, like an inaccurate cashier, adds your weight to itself.
Your name, called into the wind,
slows the wind down.

When a body is ripe, it falls and rots from the softest spot.

Only when a child slips and drops off a tree,
the tree suddenly learns that it is barren

~ Valzhyna Mort

“Ignorant free speech often works against the speaker. That is one of several reasons why it must be given rein instead of suppressed.” ~ Anna Quindlen

Oregon Coast 1 by russell.tomlin*


“There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wednesday night. Still hot and humid.

Oregon Coast: Huge Surf 11-6-09 by russell.tomlin

First let me say that I have no idea what is going on with my fonts. Everything on my WordPress is smaller. The fonts on my dashboard are smaller, and the internal header sizes that I’ve been using for months are now smaller than before. Please let me know if my pages look funny, or if the formatting seems off.

Now on to other things . . .

I need to preface what I am about to write with a short background story: When I was in charge of the computer labs while teaching in the English department at ODU, I had a run-in with a colleague who had been a bit shirty with the students who worked for me. I fired off a memo to this colleague, and did not listen to my own inner voice, which said, calm yourself first.

We had a tiff. We got over it, but I felt terrible. I learned a valuable lesson: retorts need time to bake properly and should always be allowed to simmer for a while. Or as the old Klingon proverb states: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

However, this is actually not about revenge; this is about justice.

“I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sea Foam Explodes on the Oregon Coast by russell.tomlin

I recently learned that an acquaintance has been making disparaging remarks about me, using my blog as fodder in a smear campaign. Unfortunately, WordPress does not allow blocking of IP addresses, or I would have taken the simplest route. Having said that, I must admit to being a bit peeved that my own words, my precious, precious words were being taken out of context and undergoing armchair psychoanalysis.

Hmm . . . Things that make you go hmm . . .

When I decided to begin this blog, I knew that I was putting myself out there, so to speak, that I was inviting strangers in to take a peek at my life, that I was willingly subjecting myself to possible derision. For these reasons, I have held back (no, really, I have) on certain topics and certain events. Not everything should be open for perusal by anyone who happens to stop by. I have shared information about my family, its workings, its quirks, yet I have respected the privacy of each family member.

On a few occasions, I have written posts that I have deemed too personal, and I have made these posts private.

Occasionally, I have gotten a troll, and Akismet has protected me from a boatload of spam. But there is no protection from a virtual stalker—the individual who has no problem in appropriating sections of my life whole cloth, and then making of that cloth whatever he or she deems appropriate.

This simply will not do. Aside from the blatant bad manners of it all, what has happened borders on defamation. Trust me when I say that I hold my character quite dear, as should we all, and I will not tolerate an assassination of my character or that of any member of my family. Let’s just say cease and desist is now part of my researched vocabulary.

“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Big Surf Folds Over on the Oregon Coast 9-6-09 by russell.tomlin

But to be honest, what has me angrier than anything else is that I actually considered making my entire blog private for a bit, and I also considered the possibility of going on hiatus. I was going to allow myself to be cowed; I, who pride myself on my ability to reason intelligently, was going to allow this individual to affect my writing, nay to affect my life.

Nope. Sorry. I refuse to do so.

Nothing makes me angrier than when I get angry at myself, when I start to blame myself for things over which I have no control, and I certainly cannot, nor do I choose to control the actions of another person. Being the staunch believer in free will that I am, I must stand by my convictions, especially when I know that I have not acted inappropriately, that I have not broken any laws, that I have acted only in the best interests of those around me.

So, to be blunt, do with this what you will.

“Inflamed by greed, incensed by hate, confused by delusion, overcome by them, obsessed by mind, a man chooses for his own affliction, for others’ affliction, for the affliction of both and experiences pain and grief” ~ The Buddha

Five Layers of Movement by russell.tomlin

These things I will not do:

  • Stop writing out of fear of being misconstrued or in an attempt to calm waters that cannot be quelled.
  • Stand idly by whilst a human being—correction, any human being—is being cowed into submission.
  • Cease in speaking the truth, the truth as I see it, the truth as I know it.
  • Allow myself to write out of anger, nor will I censor myself so that I do not cause offense. Reading blogs is an entirely optional activity, that is the beauty of the Internet: the big X in the upper right hand corner that closes the page, thus ending the discourse.
  • Allow anyone to speak ill of my family under any circumstances.
  • Allow anyone to harm my family under any circumstances.
  • Tolerate personal, private information being disseminated in attempts to smear my good name.
  • Fall prey to the machinations of another individual.
  • Presume to know that which I cannot know; assume that everyone operates under the Golden Rule; resume my petty, vindictive streak which I have worked so hard to overcome.

“The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons: Greed, anger, and delusion.” ~ Bodhidharma

Yachats 10-9-09 by russell.tomlin

These things I vow to do:

  • Continue to be true to myself with no attempts to soft-sell myself or my beliefs.
  • Write and post my blogs as I feel the need.
  • Be a bit more mindful of the dangers that lurk in virtual reality.
  • Continue to work in my own way for truth, justice, and the common good.
  • Share information that I think my reading audience might find interesting, entertaining, or helpful.
  • Be true to my wit, my character, and my personae—both the real and the creative.
  • Remind myself not to allow negative external forces over which I have no control to affect me adversely.
  • Remember my Shakespeare: “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (Hamlet I,v)
  • Kill them with kindness.

“Men best show their character in trifles, where they are not on their guard. It is in the simplest habits, that we often see the boundless egotism which pays no regard to the feelings of others and denies nothing to itself.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

No Fear by russell.tomlin

I have at my disposal two of the greatest weapons ever given to human kind: my mind and the truth. I have no need to lie or to stretch the truth to suit my needs. I have no desire to become embroiled in an imbroglio not of my making.

I may not have the desire, but that does not mean that I do not remain an estimable force. Having said that, at the end of the day, what I feel now more than any other emotion is pity.

As that old misogynist Nietzsche said, “one has clearly ceased to be an object of fear as soon as one is pitied.”

Music by Meredith Brooks . . . “Bitch”


Hard Night

What words or harder gift
does the light require of me
carving from the dark
this difficult tree?

What place or farther peace
do I almost see
emerging from the night
and heart of me?

The sky whitens, goes on and on.
Fields wrinkle into rows
of cotton, go on and on.
Night like a fling of crows
disperses and is gone.

What song, what home,
what calm or one clarity
can I not quite come to,
never quite see:
this field, this sky, this tree.

~ Christian Wiman

*All images taken from Russell Tomlin’s photostream on Flickr. Many thanks.