Freed Minds and Imprisoned Bodies

Monday Morning Musings

“And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.”

–William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1

“The system here is rigid, strict, and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I hold this slow, and daily, tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”

–Charles Dickens, 1842

A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.

–Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

 

In the deep soft blue of night,

a full bright moon murmurs

which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

I ponder mysteries of life and time,

the paths we choose, the where and when

the roads that make us who we are

the journeys that lead to discoveries,

do the words I write,

the forms of things unknown,

take flight across the world,

in a poetry chaos theory

to effect change?

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One of my writer workout shirts.

 

I’m at a book fair,

I don’t sell many books,

my profits come from knowledge gained

or reaffirmed,

books have power,

the reason why slaves are not taught to read,

they release the minds of those bound by ignorance

they free those imprisoned by walls of stone

or by barricades of bigotry,

they build bridges of enlightenment,

people are drawn to them

in excitement, wonder, and surprise

I watch the boy’s eyes

open wide at the thought of reading magical adventures

then disappointment,

“My mom doesn’t have any money.”

“Today is your lucky day, says the author,

“I have something special,

a free book for you–

see, the cover is slightly damaged.”

 

He signs the book for the boy

who takes it,

holds it reverently,

a treasure.

I hope he remembers this moment.

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West Deptford Township Book Festival. Yes, I did bake cookies, too.

 

My husband and I visit the art museum

not for any particular exhibition,

“Sunday at the museum,” someone says,

people there from all over the world

(even though the “Rocky Steps”  are closed)

I hear many languages: French, Chinese, Russian.

We walk through the Impressionists,

see the real and surreal,

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View from the Duchamp Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

look at art and people,

adults and children,

viewed and viewers.

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Reading at the Museum—Mary Cassatt, Family Group Reading (c. 1901) Philadelphia Museum of Art

We walk from the museum

 

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across the Parkway to Fairmount

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and on to Eastern State Penitentiary,

 

 

the world’s first penitentiary,

conceived with a purpose–

to induce penitence in its prisoners,

the original building completed in 1836,

though the process began earlier

with efforts to relieve the conditions of the Walnut Street Jail,

in 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded a group to reform prisons,

The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons,

an organization that still exists,

the new penitentiary is thought to be humane,

a wonder of technology and innovation,

a central hub with spokes,

cells with plumbing and heat

designed by architect John Haviland,

but prisoners were cut off from human contact

and sometimes went insane.

Charles Dickens wrote of the torture of solitary confinement

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and later the prison became too crowded for the concept to continue,

a second tier of cells was built

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and prisoners shared cells.

We listen to actor Steve Buscemi

tell us about it in the audio tour,

we’ve been here before,

but it is good to be reminded,

and there are new exhibits we haven’t seen

there are other visitors and tour groups,

but when it is quiet, without other visitors around,

I feel the ghosts around me

there amidst the rubble

 

Prisoners

in dark fevered air

decayed concrete and old secrets,

a dirt home

listen to who was

they live not

but almost open,

in time

 

It is a reminder

of good intentions gone wrong,

yet there are traces of beauty and goodness,

even here,

the tales of good and humane guards

the art created by inmates,

the synagogue

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The original synagogue door. (For my blogger friend, Robin.)

 

but still there are ghosts,

the imprisoned,

some died here,

and I have no answers for those who are imprisoned still

but I hope they have books and art

and that their minds can roam, even if their bodies cannot

do they wonder about the paths of their lives?

Which path would you stroll

always night

or beautiful dawn?

Would you breath the sweet air of ancient breezes?

 

Tonight I dream of wide-eyed boys

of beauty and art

amidst decayed walls

a cat purrs softly in my ear,

I am home, but my mind roams free.

 

The kind author was Ben Anderson, who shared a table with me at the West Deptford Township Book Festival at Riverwinds Community Center. His books are chronicles of Irish fantasy, targeted for middle grade readers, but suitable for “eight to eighty-eight” he says. You can read about them here .

We joke about the Magnetic Poetry Oracle, but she gave me this poem (incorporated above) the morning of the day we went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary. She also came me part of the opening.

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You can find out more about Eastern State Penitentiary here.   Here is an article on programs for prison literacy.   And a list of additional resources here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is always worth visiting, even with construction going on.

 

 

 

Time to Read

William_McGregor_Paxton,_1910_-_The_house_maid

William McGregor Paxton, “The House Maid,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Wise minds seek wise thoughts,

with care press on—reading books

in discreet corners

 

A haiku in response to Secret Keeper’s Writing Prompt.

This week’s words were:

Thought/Care/Discreet/Press/Seek

I thought this painting by William McGregor Paxton nicely illustrated my haiku. It was probably some sort of household book, but I like to think this housemaid was sneaking some time to read a novel. 🙂

 

3 Quotes 3 Days: Day 1

“Reader, I married him.”

–Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Jane Dougherty, prolific writer of stories, poems, pets, and life in France nominated me for this challenge: to post a favorite quote for three successive days.

I don’t often do blog challenges, and I have a lot going on right now, but this one seems manageable. And I love quotes!

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books. I probably first read it when I was about 12 or 13. I read it again in high school, college, and when I was in grad school—when I actually picked-up on some of the 19th century cultural ideas (such as phrenology) that are discussed in the book. I read it again when my girls were little, and then when they were a bit older. Jane Eyre—I guess she’s been a companion through my life. This particular quote has even more significance for me now because my younger daughter chose it to adorn the fan she made and carried as she walked down the aisle during her recent wedding. It is trimmed with lace from my wedding veil. (Pause for everyone to say “awwwww.”) Her bridesmaids also carried handmade fans with literary quotations–totally appropriate for a woman who met her love while acting opposite him in A Streetcar Named Desire and who now teaches English. Jane Eyre is one of her favorite books, too.

Wedding fan.

Wedding fan.

The passage from Jane Eyre continues:

“A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present. When we got back from church, I went into the kitchen of the manor-house, where Mary was cooking the dinner and John cleaning the knives, and I said—‘Mary, I have been married to Mr. Rochester this morning.’”

I’m going to nominate only one person on each day, and I’ve tried to pick people who also love quotes. There’s no pressure, and if you choose not to accept the challenge, that is absolutely fine with me. Feel free to pass it along, or not. On this first day, I nominate Marian Beaman: “Former Plain Girl” (turned college professor). Check out her blog.

She has a quotation for every occasion, so I hope she’ll accept the challenge.

Also—sorry, but I can’t seem to stop writing this post–readers may be interested in Malala Yousafzai’s campaign, #booksnotbullets. You can read about it here.

I’ve posted a photo of myself on Twitter holding a copy of Jane Eyre. Of course.

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True Confessions, Library Version

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.

–Neil Gaiman

My brain seems to be fixated on writing about books and the pleasure of reading, so this post might be seen as Part II of last Wednesday’s post, or Part Whatever in the story of my life. It’s here, if you’re interested.

On Friday I went to my local public library to return my books and check out new ones. I can spend hours browsing the stacks at a library. I HAVE spent hours. I like to browse. Sometimes I find a book I’ve wanted to read or the latest book by an author whose previous works I’ve read and enjoyed. Sometimes I find a new treasure. So many books! How to choose?

I feel such anticipation in looking for new books to read. I suppose it is similar to how some people feel about shopping for clothing. Or window shopping, which I really don’t get. Shopping for clothing or shoes is fun on occasion, especially if I find something that I like (that also fits), or if I’m spending time with my daughters–but then it’s not really about the clothes, is it? It’s about the companionship.

Anyway on Friday, I realized how excited I was about looking for books to read. I mean I never thought about it before–that I get excited about this. But I suspect that I’m not the only one, right? True confessions time. So I’m a nerd, and maybe I need a more exciting life, but at least I’ll have something interesting to discuss over dinner. Or I will once I get my head out of a book.

I always pick out an armful of books because I can’t decide what I want to read right then, and what I might want to read once I actually get home and have a chance to read. I like to have choices. Choices are good, right? I think that’s why it’s more fun–for me–to roam and browse in a public library than in a bookstore where I have to choose only one or two books. Too much pressure—what if I choose the wrong one? (Research libraries and archives are different, obviously, but finding a hidden treasure in an archive is also wonderful.)

Sometimes I choose a variety of novels—hmm, do I want to read a literary novel or something more popular? OK. I’ll get both. How about this historical novel? And a mystery, too? Yes, please. Or maybe that new cookbook. . .

This was my selection on Friday.

What to read?

What to read?

There were several more books I wanted to borrow but I restrained myself. It was difficult though. Thank goodness for renewals–and libraries with lots of books.

I read one novel at a time. Yes, I practice serial monogamy with my novels. Occasionally, I’ll casually date a book, but then after a few chapters we part and go our separate ways. Maybe I’ll call again sometime in the future. On further reflection we might actually have quite a bit in common. Maybe we each had our own issues to work out on that first date. It’s not you; it’s me.

I also go back and re-read books. They’re like old friends, comfortable and familiar, but still capable of surprising you.

There are books that I read quickly. It’s all fast and furious and ends with an explosive climax. Other books I read slowly, caught in the mood, lingering over passages, tasting the sweetness of a phrase, and embracing the fictional world I’ve entered until the very end. Part of my mind says, “Oh, Hurry! Faster! Read faster.” But another part of my brain says, “No, slow down. Oh YES! That phrase there.” But then the anticipation rises, and I have to go faster, faster . . .until I read those final words—and it’s over. Breathe. Back to reality.

Whew. Is it suddenly warm in here?

I better go now. I have books to read, and new worlds to explore, at least in my mind.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

–William Styron

On Books, Harper Lee, and Coincidence

By now most readers have probably heard that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be publishing a sequel to the beloved novel. This sequel will be out this coming July. The new book is set in the 1950s, twenty years later than To Kill a Mockingbird, and it focuses on a now-grown Scout and her father, Atticus Finch. Lee, however, wrote this sequel before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, which she wrote at the suggestion of her editor who wanted to see a novel told in the voice of a young Scout.

A few days ago, I was thinking about favorite books and what I read as a child and young adult. My younger daughter and I were discussing how much we both love the novel Jane Eyre. My niece mentioned that if she sees a movie version of a book, then she never reads the book, and if she reads a book, then she doesn’t want to see the movie version. I think movies and books are different forms of media and storytelling, and should be enjoyed on their own terms. (We were discussing The Hunger Games trilogy.) While we were talking, I thought of To Kill a Mockingbird, and how much I love both the book and the movie. I’m fairly certain I saw the movie first on network TV when I was a child, and then at some point, I found the book in my house, and recognizing the title, I decided to read it. Perhaps I was about 11? I’m certain I did not understand it all that first time, but I understood I was reading something wonderful. I’ve re-read the book several times (and I do picture Atticus looking exactly like Gregory Peck, not a bad thing). I don’t think I ever read the book as a school assignment, but I did re-read it when it was assigned to one of my daughters.

I’m sure I would have read To Kill a Mockingbird at some point in my life. After all, I did borrow it from the library when I was older, but I would not have read it that first time, if it hadn’t been in my house. I thought of all the books I read when I was young—simply because they were there. My mom took me to the library, I borrowed books from the school library, and I also bought Scholastic Books (including the copy of Wuthering Heights that I’ve mentioned in previous posts), but our house was always filled with books. I think that having so many books in the house–including the books of older siblings that I “borrowed”– influenced what and when I read. I wonder if mainly having books on e-readers and tablets limits that broader type of browsing? This is not a Luddite rant. I love my Kindle, but if I had a young child at home, he or she would probably not be reading the books on it. The fact that my girls grew up seeing my books on sex in history lying about the house is an entirely different conversation!

Education and reading are important themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout would have been a very different character if Atticus had not read to her and taught her to read at an early age. How does coincidence and what we read affect what we do and what we think? There must be some connection. Things to ponder.

A friend said to me recently that she had read several novels set during WWII, but that it was a coincidence. I’ve had the same thing happen. Once many years ago, I read a novel set during WWII, then another one that had an important WWII back story that I didn’t know about until I started reading the book. While I was reading one of these books, my family and I watched an episode of Star Trek Voyager in which the some crew members were caught in WWII holodeck program. Isn’t coincidence strange?

My husband and I watched the second episode of the British TV show Grantchester last night, now airing on PBS. (And now that I think about it, the story is set in post-WWII England and the main character, the young Anglican vicar, has flashbacks to WWII battles. Hmmmm.) Coincidentally, as I was thinking about coincidence, the vicar and his inspector friend discussed coincidence. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” says our vicar, as he looks at the body of a woman who had been murdered. “That’s funny, I don’t believe in God,” says the inspector. They return to the idea of coincidence and belief later in the episode.

So did you think you’d read one of my posts that does not mention food? Let me reassure you that the To Kill a Mockingbird scene in which Walter Cunningham pours molasses all over his food is one that made a big impression on me, and that there are many food references in the book. In watching the episode of Grantchester last night, I noticed that a dinner party and fruitcake are important plot elements. Coincidence that I would remember these things? I think not.

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

On Waiting

There are different types of waiting. There’s excited, anticipatory waiting—like waiting for Christmas to come. There’s the should-I-be-worried-waiting?—when it’s late at night and your child is still not home. You know, the two AM crazies? There’s the trying-not-not-to-think-about-it-and-so-it’s—all-you-can-think-about-anxious waiting as you wait for the results of a job interview or audition. There’s the even more anxious no-I’m-not-going-to-think-about-it waiting when you wait for the results of a medical test.

Waiting can be routine or boring—like in lines at the department of motor vehicles, grocery stores, or doctor’s office. Waiting can be totally exasperating—the “on hold” phone calls when you wait to be connected “to the next available representative.” A few days ago a friend told me of her recent experience in getting a new mobile phone plan. She said she became best friends with “Colin” after having to spend hours with him on the phone as they went through her records and various options as she disputed a bill and tried to get a new plan. She was relentless, however, and made herself French Toast and did laundry while she talked to him. She emerged triumphant from her long ordeal, as she wore down Colin and got the best possible deal. Hey, you do what you have to do! It’s possible I may have danced around my kitchen once or twice while on hold. Come on, who hasn’t done that?

I have to confess that sometimes I look forward to being in a situation in which I know I will have to wait–OK, NEVER those from hell on-hold phone waits—but maybe, for instance, waiting at a hair salon. That type of waiting gives me an excuse to sit and read a book and not have to do other tasks. When our daughters were little, I often read books to them at doctor’s offices, and we played games, too. My younger daughter loved to play a game she invented called “Fishies and Sharks.” It involved just using our hands to make the fish and sharks, and there were songs that the fish and sharks sang. I can’t say more, or she may never talk to me again.  When the girls were older, and I took them to piano and voice lessons, I always brought a book to read. They often read or did homework, as well, while they waited. Of course, the choice of books should be considered. I remember trying desperately not to cry or sob aloud as I read The Lovely Bones during one daughter’s piano lesson.  Yay books!

Although Kindles and other e-readers make it easier to have a book readily available, waiting areas of all types now make it more difficult to read because there are so many distractions. Apparently Americans can no longer wait anywhere unless we are entertained with televisions, music, and movie theater pre-show experiences—and of course, our phones. My husband and I usually arrive early at the movies. We always allow time for traffic problems, or sometimes we go out to eat first. I hate to rush in at the last minute and worry that we’ll not find seats or miss something. As a result, we’re usually there extra early, which does allow us plenty of time to buy cups of coffee. But we now also have to listen—or try to tune out–the totally inane shows that precede even the commercials and the movie trailers. Does anyone enjoy those “shows?” It was so much more pleasant when the movie theater simply played soft classical music or jazz before the movie started. (Sorry for getting dangerously close to a “good old days” rant. I apologize.)

Do you bring a book with you when you know you’re going to wait somewhere?  Do you ever have a problem deciding which book to bring?  Rory Gilmore on The Gilmore Girls always had a difficult time packing all of the books she wanted to read.

Kindles, Nooks, and iPads make it easier to carry many books with you, but you still have to decide which one you want to read. Do you text people or talk on the phone while you’re waiting? Do you play games? What do you do while you’re waiting? Inquiring minds want to know.

But–you don’t have to answer right away. I’ll wait. There’s a book I want to finish reading anyway.

A Day at the Beach

We sat on the beach and watched the ocean.

I saw a dolphin jump.

His tail waved a saucy good-bye to us,

mere humans,

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Ocean City, New Jersey, 2013

land-dwellers and flipperless,

left behind to face our Earth-bound existence,

as he dove back under the waves.

We read.

You slept.

The tide ebbed and flowed,

As have our years together.

Tides, births, deaths—

The rhythms of nature,

The rhythms of life.

Dawns and dusks.

Midnight toasts.

Laughter

Tears

Joy

Pain

Desire

Till death do us part.

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My Flip flops
Ocean City, New Jersey,
June 2013

It was good to forget

for a few hours

the deadlines and tasks of everyday,

human,

not-dolphin life.

Instead, we simply relaxed—

What a concept!

And watched the tide ebb and flow

Until it was time to pack up and go home.