Says Who?

“To thine own self be true”, wrote the bard. How simple that sounds! Maybe it’s only me, but it is so complicated! To mine own self be true? Who am I that I should be true to? In a culture that bombards us with the message to throw off all restraint and “be ourselves”, I struggle to understand just what that means.Before delving into this topic, I must confess: I am a chameleon. I can blend into almost any group of people. I can play a myriad of parts. Farmer’s seminar: behold the farm girl. Business/entrepreneur gathering: no problem – enter the practical, business woman. Church gathering for a special event: meet the social butterfly all dressed up. Shopping in a bohemian, free-spirit city: introducing the bohemian me. Homeschool conference: out comes the demure outfit. Playing soccer with athletic friends: pull the hair back into a ponytail and own the field. Traveling across the globe to a village in Africa: yup – we got village fashion. (Ok, so I did stand out a little over there; but hey, I can’t change my skin color!)

All this to say that in a wide and diverse variety of situations, I can look like I belong. I can even go from church to bohemian to soccer to country club to sweats in one day without missing a beat. (Speaking of beat – I do beatnik fashion too). But the question still remains: who am I that I should be true to? If you ask my country club friends, that’s the real me. If you ask my athletic friends, that’s the real me. My farm friends will tell you that’s the real me. And my business friends – well, you get the picture. If you ask Jane, she’ll just tell you I’m a mess.

What I’ve learned through the years is that there is no singular me. All of those above images are all elements of me. But through all of those, there are aspects that stay the same. And those are determined by the “real” me.

“You shall know them by their fruits. A good tree does not bear bad fruit, neither does a bad tree bear good fruit.” This is where I found my answer to “to thine own self be true.” Who am I? I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Because of that, there are certain elements that I always incorporate into my wardrobe. Is my hemline too high? Is the neckline too low? Does this outfit seek improper attention? Am I dressed in such a way that my King is pleased?

In addition to that, I am also me. I like to live (mostly) inside the lines. I dislike frivolity. I have a serious, contemplative, intense mind. All these elements come into play in my wardrobe as well. Frilly blouse or serious, business blouse? Business every time – unless I am insanely going through one of my “curly” moods. (They’re not pretty…and yes, I am insane when they occur). Hairstyle: serious and under control or femininely flipped out and curled? Keep that hair under control!

As you can see, I like to keep myself well within the lines. But let’s take a look at another element. Say I’m going into a situation that “society” says requires heels and heavy make-up. That’s not who I am. I only wear heels on boots but never pumps, and I only wear light make-up occasionally. What should I do? “To thine own self be true.” I would still dress the part, but instead of heels, wear flats, and instead of heavy make-up, wear my normal light. In doing so, I am not inappropriately attired, nor will I be giving offense. But I also have been true to myself, projecting an image of who I am instead of who I am not.

We can never “throw off all restraint” as our culture says. We will always be playing by somebody’s rules. Maybe you play by the rules of Vogue magazine. Or a particular Hollywood star. Or maybe you’re playing by the rules from 1890. No matter how radical or rebellious you are, you will always be within somebody’s rules. No matter how much of a trendsetter you are, you got the idea from somewhere. And “there is nothing new under the sun.”

As for me, I’m playing by the rules first of Jesus Christ and second of my personality. The rest is dictated by my circumstance. Yet to mine own self will I be true.

~Jo

Leaving Spring

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These Indian Pipes popped up on our hillside a week ago, hundreds of them. I almost did not make it up there with the camera in time to catch them, they disappear so quickly!  I have always had difficulty letting go of beautiful things that don’t last.  Like sunrises which fade in a few short minutes or the notes of a wood thrush’s song.  Perhaps that is one reason why I am an artist and writer, I am searching for ways to catch these things.  Today I am having a hard time letting go of spring.  Not that I dislike summer, I simply like spring better, and it always seems so short!  Here is a poem I wrote about spring several years ago.

The Critic

 

Beneath the sash there strayed an elfin wind

Which lit upon this volume’s trembling leaves.

It ruffled them with careless, scornful touch

And reading half a verse turned to the next.

Then lighting on a scrawl entitled Spring

It read the lines with withering disdain.

“Of Spring!” It cried, “How dare she write of Spring!”

“What does she know of Spring who lives in walls?

She never felt the swiftly swelling bud,

Nor has she tangled with the newborn mists.

She never kissed the icy, rippling stream,

Sprung from the snows of January’s storm.

She never rested in the tops of trees

Strewn with a lace of new unfurled leaves.

Nor ever combed from waving grasses hair

The harbored jewels dropped by the morning dew.

How can she write of Spring?” And gathering

Itself to go, in haughty pomp, it turned;

Yet stopped, for to the page was held, secure,

In flowing bonds of ink and simile.

Thus was my Spring: The little swelling buds,

A little mist, a little cold,

Some leaves and grass, and . . . wind.

~Jane

What Do We See?

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Last winter, when I was half-way finished with a charcoal drawing, my grandmother came for a visit.  She watched as I knelt on the floor (I never have gotten used to using an easel) diligently turning my fingers a lovely black, and asked me what it was I was drawing.  I showed her the photograph I was working from.

“That is beautiful,” She said.  “I would like to have it when you are done.”

At the time, I personally thought it was ugly, but I was glad she liked it.

Last week my grandmother came for another visit and my drawing was behind glass, ready to go home with her, but when I showed it to her she said:

“that isn’t the one you were working on last time I was here.  Where is the lady you were working on?”

My grandmother has very good sight, she can read normal sized print without glasses, but when I showed her a picture of a toad she saw a picture of a lady with long dark hair.

* * *

Several years ago my Dad asked me to do a drawing on a thank you card, he let me choose the subject.  When I was finished, he looked at it for a moment.

“Is it a fox?”  He asked.

“No.”  I said, in surprise.  “It is a pair of silos, with trees around them.”

* * *

My first pastel painting was of an old tower with a little vine covered house in front of it.  When I proudly showed it to my sister she said:

“I like that you put the smoke from the  chimney in the picture.”

I looked at it, puzzled.

“Oh!”  I said.  “That isn’t smoke that is a crack in the side of the tower.”

But as I looked at it I realized that it really did look more like smoke than a crack, I just had not been able to see it that way, because I knew it was supposed to be a crack.

* * *

Our eyes play tricks on us.  Not that it is our eye’s fault, we see the wrong thing because we expect the wrong thing.  It is really our minds which are tricking us.  My grandmother did not expect me to be drawing anything so ugly as a toad, my Dad had no idea that I was very fond of silos, and I could not imagine how my drawing of a crack which lined up exactly with a chimney, would strike someone who had not seen the original.

An important part of learning to draw is learning to ignore what we think we already know.  If we think that a face is a circle with two dots for eyes and a thin curve for a mouth then we will be unable to see that the face before us is actually rather square than circular.  But this tendency to blind ourselves is not confined to drawing.  How many times has someone misheard your name, simply because they were expecting something different?  It happens to me all the time, and sometimes, I do it too.

Knowledge can obscure our understanding as well as illuminate it.  And if this happens when trying to grasp tangible things, like drawings, how much more should we expect it to cloud our understanding when thinking about abstract, intangible things?

What do we not see?

~Jane

Whole Body Education

IMG_8443“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.”   Mark 12:30

Having recently graduated, but also as a dedicated life-learner, I would like to take some time to talk about education. I’ve experienced a myriad of educational molds: public school, private school, homeschool, and online college. I’ve also been blessed to be a tutor and mentor to several young friends. So, what follows is the result of my observation and the experience of both myself and my friends.

Heart. Mind. Soul. Strength. The whole body.

When we talk about education, we  often struggle with molds. We think that we should all learn in the same way or at the same pace or from the same experiences. That, somehow, we should fit into the same mold and learn from a cookie-cutter education. But my heart and your heart do not beat the same. Your mind and my mind have different bents. My soul stirs at different things than yours. And your strength is developed differently from mine. So why would we think that our education can be conducted the same way?

The first step to a successful education is the understanding and acceptance that every one of us will learn differently. Albert Einstein once said, “Every one is a genius, but if a fish is judged by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will forever think it is an idiot.” Some of us are fish, some of us are falcons, and some of us are squirrels. Squirrels can climb trees, but they can’t fly. Falcons can fly, but they can’t swim. Fish can swim, but they can’t climb trees. Yet, each of them are good at what they have been designed to do. And so it is with education. We must learn our abilities and our limitations; and what we have been designed to do, that we must do well.

The second step is to recognize that we can’t just develop one area of our persons. As human beings, we are complex and intricate creatures; and to only develop a few areas of our design and neglect others is a shame and harms the completion of our education. So, we must do whole body education. We must develop our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And by doing that, we will become the truest version of ourselves.

What is the heart, mind, soul, and strength? Since I will elaborate each area further in subsequent posts, I will only define and briefly describe each one here. The heart: quite literally, it is an organ that pumps life-giving blood, and if it stops contracting, we will die. But by definition, in the sense in which we are applying it, the heart is the innermost part of our being – who we are. It is our innermost emotions, morals, character, feelings, gut reactions, and inclinations. It is truly the core of who we are. The mind: it is our brain. More specifically, it is where we perceive, analyze information, feel, think, will, and reason. It is the command center for our lives. The soul: it is something we see, but can not physically touch. It is the essence of who we are. It is what animates us, causes us to feel emotion such as empathy or anger, and is the spiritual element. It is what speaks through the eyes to others when no words have been spoken. And it is what makes me, me; and you, you. Lastly, strength: it is muscle and endurance. It is the power to resist force, the capacity to endure, and the embodiment of firmness. Both in a physical sense as well as a metaphysical sense.

Heart. Mind. Soul. Strength. It covers every area of us as humans. Yet, we compartmentalize each area, even to the point of complete neglect, failing to recognize their intricate interdependence . In order to be healthy humans, we must nurture each area. And in order to be healthy Christians, we must not only develop each area, but we must love the Lord with all of our being. But how can we do that it if we neglect one? What if we aren’t developing our soul? Or teaching our heart? Or growing our mind? Or building our strength? Then we cannot obey the first and greatest commandment. And so, we must start from the beginning. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 1:7  And when we have started with the fear of the Lord, then we will be able to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

~Jo

Remembering

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If you have met me then you are probably already aware that I am an incredibly forgetful person.  Frequently I tell my sister something and then, three weeks later, when she mentions it, have no clue what she is talking about.  I even, with no exaggeration, occasionally forget my own age or what year it is.  And yet it is not my memory which is deficient, for I am remarkably good at remembering the names of  plants, characters in books, and historical philosophers.  The fact is, I have spent most of my time since I was eight in an imaginary world, and things which bear no relation to that world simply don’t stick with me.  In order to remember them I must work hard and continually remind myself of them, and often, I forget to do that.  My sincere apologies to my friends and family who suffer the most by this!

That is one reason why I accepted Jo’s invitation to co-write this blog, I am in need of frequent doses of reality.  My hope is that a biweekly non-fiction writing assignment will be some help in keeping my head out of the clouds, but I get reality in other forms too.  Often as not I stub my toe on it.  Here is what that looks like.

My mother: Jane, is the chicken feed running low?

Me: I don’t know, there might be a lot left in the corner of the bag but I didn’t check. (This is said calmly but inside I am saying: Oh dear!  Why didn’t I check?  They are my responsibility, I will probably have to make a special trip for it tomorrow.  What a waste of time!)

My mother:  I am going out and I will pick some up if the feed store is open, but they might already have closed.

Me: Thank you! (Inside: Of course the feed store closes early on Friday, and it won’t be open till Monday.  You really are pretty stupid, Jane, why don’t you ever think?) 

Perhaps you are wondering what this imaginary world, in which I spend so much time, looks like?  It isn’t a concrete thing, like Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or even a less specific more fluid thing like Faerie, it is more like a mixture between a paint box, a library, and a chemistry lab.  Individual ideas are like colors (the paint box), first I simply enjoy them by themselves, next I categorize them with similar ideas (the library), then I mix them up and watch them explode.  It is terribly exciting and I love every minute of it, until I realize that I forgot my friend’s birthday.

It seems rather harmless, does it not?  After all, if my preoccupation only causes me to forget to buy chicken feed and birthday presents, it might mean some inconvenience and embarrassment, but that is not the end of the world.  There are lots of ‘worse’ faults I could have had, right?  But that is not all, sometimes I forget that I am human.  Sometimes, in my miserly gloating over my stash of interconnected thoughts, I forget that ideas are essentially practical, that they are meant to be used, not simply thought about.  This is when I need an extra dose.

Being human is not simply being a body with a mind, soul, and spirit, it is also a place and purpose.  Who we are is not simply what we are, it is also our history and what we are meant to be.  We are part of God’s world, a marvelous world with an awe-inspiring purpose; thus to be human is a marvelous thing, an awful thing, in the old sense of the word.

But am I alone in this?  I may be an extreme case, but do we not all occasionally forget who we are?  Our scientific culture tells us that we are simply very intelligent animals.  Disney tells us that as long as we are nice, everything will be alright (don’t jump to conclusions please, I love watching Disney princess movies, and I think science is a wonderful thing.)  We get busy, engrossed by the little things, and before we know it we begin to unconsciously think in those ways too.  Our culture suffers from amnesia, it has forgotten who we are, and this amnesia is catching.  How can we avoid it?

Love of ideas and busyness are good things, but they are small compared to the glorious purpose God has given us.  It is God who makes the small things beautiful.  Without Him they are meaningless.  To forget this is like loving leaves so much that you forget that they grow on trees.  We must take time to look at the big picture frequently in order to remind ourselves that is it still there.

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~Jane

 

 

 

Bringing Murphy

We’ve all probably been there. The bags are all packed and loaded. You’re ready for the adventure and off you go! Then somewhere along the journey HE shows up. The dreaded travel companion; the one you thought that maybe this time he had been left at home. The one you thought you had planned too well for him to join you. But, no, he insists on coming on every trip. Maybe some of you are confused. Who on earth could I be talking about? Rest assured, I have not lost my mind. I’m merely referring to he-who-must-not-be-named… Murphy, the self-invited travel companion. You know, Murphy from Murphy’s Law? “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Yeah. That guy. He’s a pest. And it never seems to matter how well you’ve planned, he still manages to sneak into your luggage.

Why do I bring up Murphy? Well, in the past year, I’ve taken two long trips and on both of them, things have gone wrong – dreadfully wrong. But there are a few things I’ve learned from those incidents, and I’d like to pass those on to you.

First, always plan for Murphy. This comes in two forms. The first is to try and anticipate him. Figure out where he is going to show up and then take steps to prevent him. Try to close all of his loop holes. Make sure when you pack the car, you don’t look like a target. Blend in with your surroundings. Make packing lists so that you don’t forget something important. Know where you’re going ahead of time. Plan for plenty of layover time in case your flight is delayed. Things like that; it gives Murphy fewer options. The second is to accept that no matter how well you’ve plan, he’s going to show up. Just anticipate having an uninvited companion.

Second, learn to live with Murphy. If you’ve taken steps to prevent him but have also accepted that he will show up, be ready to roll with it when he shows himself. Be flexible and be strong. Murphy can throw some pretty wacky curve-balls, and we have to be able to dodge them while still staying on our feet. (One thing Jane and I did on a trip was we started acting like Murphy really was traveling with us. So we had some fun with it – taking the empty chair away from the table at dinner, filling his seat in the car, and such.)

Third, forget about Murphy. So Murphy shows up, destroys your entire game plan, and you’re a bit shell-shocked. Relax. God is in control. Even when everything goes awry – whether you miss your connecting flight or your car gets broken into – God has a purpose; a plan. It is our responsibility to believe it and trust. So start looking at those moments as opportunities instead of fatalities. Take a look around and look to see where God wants you to go from here. And soon, Murphy won’t seem like such an odious companion after all.

So forget about Murphy. Live in today – in the now. Don’t fret about tomorrow. Don’t despair about yesterday. Live today. Right now. And when Murphy shows up, keep going, no matter how difficult that may be. And wholeheartedly believe that God has a plan.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21

~Jo

P.S. Just to prove a point – as I was publishing this post, Murphy decided to have some fun and make it vanish. So when you’re working on something you don’t want to lose, save it in at least two separate locations so that you always have one copy somewhere. I guess that’s what I get for blogging about Murphy, eh?

A Place with a Name

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Earlier this week, my older brother and I hiked to a water fall.  It was a truly beautiful hike, through rhododendron thickets in a moist hollow.  All the smells were fresh and sweet, and the air was continually filled with the sound of water gurgling through a rocky bed.  It was an easy hike too, no steep inclines or even rocks to scramble over, but one did have to ford the stream fourteen times, one way.   After the first ten crossings, I became convinced that whoever had designed the trail had taken an unhealthy delight in the thought of getting other people’s feet wet, but then my brother pointed out some places were the traces of an old bridge were rotting away.

As we hiked, a thought came to me which has been growing for the last three years, ever since we moved from the relatively, flat, farming country, of my childhood, to the mountains.  The thought began when I noticed, about a year after we moved, that I no longer saw beauty in the mountains.  This realization surprised me, for it had always been a given in my mind that the mountains are beautiful.  Our family loves camping, and often, we would escape to the mountains twice a year.  I can still feel the excitement that would take hold of me when we would weigh our back packs the night before we left.  My excitement would grow as the faint outline of the distant mountains grew the next day, and would have its fulfillment with the first breath of mountain air, which is like no other air, with wading in a rocky stream until my feet were numb with cold, and finally, lying in my sleeping bag listening to the long fluid variations of the wood thrush’s song.

The thought of moving to the mountains was like a dream come true.  What had happened?  How had this land of breathtaking beauty, the very air of which smelled of adventure, become less remarkable, less enjoyable, than my childhood home had ever been?  For the mountains to have lost the aura that surrounded them as our favorite vacation spot, was understandable, but I had enjoyed the beauty of my childhood home, why could I not enjoy this?  It was a dream gone bad.

Thinking about this change, two things came to mind.  First, when we had lived at our old home I had been a child with lots of time, and I spent most of that time in our woods.  I noticed, daily, the smallest changes.  I watched deer, squirrels, birds, skunks.  I smelled flowers and dreamed.  Now, I have grown up and my time is often spent inside.  Second, everything had a name.  I knew the names of most of the plants and animals but more importantly, I and my siblings had given particular names to special trees, groves,or clearings.  We never simply walked through the woods, we walked from one important place, with its own unique character, to another.

Names do something intriguing for us, they allow us to notice things differently.  If we are simply gazing out at the world without interest we may see a red bird and hardly notice it.  But if we know that the bird is a scarlet tanager that name will come to mind as we see it and draw our attention.  I do not see the beauty in my new home, not because there is none, but because I do not take the time to look; I have become spoiled by living for eighteen years in one place where everything had a name to grab my attention.  I forgot their importance.

I realized on the way back from the falls, that despite having seen multiple signs and hearing my brother say the name once, I could not remember what the place we had just visited was called.  This habit of learning names is not going to be easy, but I am convinced, now, that it will be well worth the trouble.  The old bridges are gone, but the stream is still worth crossing, there is beauty on the other side.  Do you also live in a beautiful world which you have forgotten to see?

~Jane

Grotesque

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Six months ago I made a new friend, and now it is almost time to say goodbye.  My art teacher had asked me to make a selection of several different photographs for her to choose from for me to copy in charcoal.  After considering, she chose my least favorite, the photograph of the toad.  I had, thoughtlessly, thrown him in only because my original selection had seemed scanty, now I regretted the impulse.  Still, my teacher was so confident it would turn out well, and so complimentary when she heard that my sister had taken the photo, that I did not complain, secretly resolving to get through the project as quickly as possible.  Six months ago.

He has a knowing look, does my toad, and even as I write, he seems to be laughing at me from his makeshift easel across the room.  A dry, brittle, sort of laughter, which can only be discerned through the set crookedness of his large mouth, and the quiet scrutiny of his squinting eyes.  Yes, he is laughing, laughing at the way I procrastinated through distaste for him, and at the sudden way I fell in love with him.  For I now wish there was more of him to draw.

But the laughter is not all on his side.  He makes me laugh, and that is the root of my delight in him.  He is incongruous; a thing without grace, and yet a delight to look at.  There is a fascination is his clumsy shape, blotched and bumpy skin, and protruding eyes, which no longer leads me to repulsion, but to a quiet, squint-eyed, smile that echoes his own.  He is like a wry joke which has come alive.

I have found a word to describe him: grotesque.  Something whimsical, extravagant, ludicrous, and antic.  When I look at him I see, both in him and through his eyes, the ludicrosity of my own behavior.  I am able, then, to laugh at myself, without bitterness, or even the faintest tinge of regret, but with a strange pleasure in seeing myself as harmlessly laughable.   I am sometimes like a toad.

This is not the first time I have changed my mind about something I thought was ugly.  The first I can remember were spiders.  I decided, one morning when I was ten, That I was going to like spiders.  I had been frightened of them, hated the mere sight of them, but I did not enjoy being frightened, so I decided that spiders were beautiful.  Oddly enough, I found that they were.  Next came snakes, and then, as I grew older, the subtle taste of cucumbers.  And so, over the years, I have come to realize, that the world must be full of beautiful things to which we are habitually blind.  God is not the author of the flower only, but also of the spider and toad.

But now I must say goodbye.  Just a few more hours work and my picture will be finished.  Soon it will no longer belong to me and will hang on someone else’s wall.  Even so, I will have something I did not have six months ago.  I will love toads, whether I find them in a garden bed or in myself.  I will laugh at the wry joke that is in us and the world.

What will be next?

~Jane

Seriously?

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I know; I know. This doesn’t seem like a very serious topic. But cookies are a very serious thing around our house. Dad is always complaining that we don’t have any cookies and he keeps asking when I will be making some. After exhausting all of the varieties in the grocery store, I finally broke down the other day and baked cookies. But I didn’t want the standard overly sweet cookie, and I wanted something a little different in flavor. So I did something new: I created my own cookie recipe. And they were very good (if I do say so myself – the other people in my house agreed). A good blend of crunchy and chewy, they were not too sweet and not too savory with a good twist of flavor for an element of different. Not the best dessert cookie, but certainly delightful for a snack (or breakfast)!

Without further ado, I present to you the Almond Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie!

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Almond Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

3/4 cup coconut sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup almond butter

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. Celtic sea salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup – 1 cup shredded coconut

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350*. Soften butter to room temperature, then in medium large bowl whip butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in almond butter, combining well. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Combine flour mixture with wet ingredients mixing 1/3 of the flour mixture in at a time. Switch from beaters to a wooden spoon and stir in walnuts, coconut, and chocolate chips.

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Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and form about tablespoon size cookies. Flatten the dough on the sheet, spacing about an inch apart. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1 minute before moving to a cookie rack to cool completely. Enjoy while warm or once completely cooled!

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~Jo

Abridgment

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There is a bridge in our garden with which I have a complicated relationship.  It is a charming, rustic, bridge which gives our garden a romantic air, but it is treacherous.  In winter it becomes slick with invisible ice, and even in summer, rain can make it slippery.  Last winter that I gave up using the bridge and forded the stream as a safer alternative. Happily my dad took the time this spring to add a railing, not a beautiful railing, to be sure, but at least I can now use the bridge as a bridge.

We have discovered over the past three years that this impractical aestheticism is a recurring theme in our house.  For instance: we have a well.  We know we have a well because we get water from it.  But it is so carefully hidden, that we have no clue where it is.  All we really know is that we have a well, and it is not where the former owner said it was.  Then there is the electrical wiring!  Well, let’s not open that can of worms, I’ll just say that we own a lovely house (balconies, tall windows, stone fire places) which by all probabilities ought to have burned to the ground years ago.  Despite the nuisance, this trend says something about those who built the house.  It says that they cared a great deal about beauty, but had little respect for safety or convenience.

I like to think that books are similar to our house.  They may be difficult to read, poorly written, boring, or just plain bad, but they always tell a story about the person who wrote them.  It is, arguably, the greatest gift of books that they transcend a particular culture, time, or even, personal taste.  To read a book, even a contemporary book, is to be given a window into another person’s mind, a chance to interact with thoughts that are not your own.  We may not like what we see there, it may even be dangerous (like screwy electrical wiring) but we can still learn from it.

This is why I despise abridgment.  It hampers our chance of interacting with strange ideas, ideas that are foreign to us and might change us for the better or teach us something to avoid which we had never seen before.  Sadly it is often the older books, the ones most likely (ironically) to teach us something new, which are abridged.  But new books, also, will one day be old.  So in my opinion, no book, old or new, good or bad, should be abridged.  After all, is it the editor’s taste we want to experience or the author’s?  Each word in a book, whether consciously or not, is a reflection of the author’s personality, ideals, or purpose.  Thus to cut something out is as drastic a change as to stick something in; it changes the overall message of the book.  Of course, I am not saying the the editor cannot have better taste than the author.  It is quite possible the editor could write the story twice as well as the author, simply let the editor become an author first and I will have no reason to complain.

So why do we read abridged books?   We look at Les Miserables or Moby Dick and despair at the length, especially the long digressions.  Or we join a book club and they choose a book we don’t like.  Or we know we really ought to read Robinson Crusoe but, who has the time?

It all boils down to, do we read books purely for entertainment?  Or from a feeling that we have to be able to say that we have read that particular book in order to consider ourselves well-read?  Or just to get it over with?  If you read for any of those reasons, then by all means, don’t waste your time, read an abridged version.  But please believe me, you are missing something beautiful and worthwhile.  The slippery bridge may be dangerous, but the bridge with planks missing is both dangerous and ugly.

~Jane