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The Genius of a Perfect Circle

Last summer, I blogged so much I barely had time for other writing projects.

Blogging can be addictive. The lure of instant feedback was so powerful, the challenge of 100, 000 word projects so overwhelming, that last year I over-blogged and under-wrote.

Yup, let’s all say it together: New-bie!

This year I found Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Storytellers, you should read this. It’s accessible, wise, and instantly applicable.

It’s the reason that, this fall, I have the opposite problem.

I’m too busy writing to blog.

I’m too busy writing to even read.

I usually read several books at once, but I rarely let my queue get longer than five. Yet as I write this, a stack of ten books sits next to me. Only the first (The Kitchen House) has been touched, and that’s because I need something intelligent to say at my book club next month. The rest include Killing Lincoln, The Queen’s Fool, Wallflower in Bloom, Smart Girls Get What They Want, Love Walked In, Where’d You Go Bernadette, The Kite Runner, 11/22/63, and Gone Girl. 

Yes, I have rather, er… eclectic taste.

I used to go to bookstores and zone in on only one section. Sure, David and I could spend hours in Portland’s downtown Powell’s Books, but we each had our area, and we always knew where the other would be. Since I’ve started writing, then homeschooling, and now joined a book club, there’s hardly a section of publishing that doesn’t interest me.

Because, really, there are a lot of ways to view the world.

There are a lot of ways to think about things.

There are a lot of things to learn.

There are a lot of ways to grow.

We took our girls on a walk to the playground this afternoon. Convinced they’re too big for the stroller, the younger wanted to… er, help me push it.

The older one wanted to whine.

Why do we have to walk to the playground? Can’t we drive?

That would defeat the purpose.

What purpose?

The purpose of exercise.

But my legs hurt! I’ve exercised too much today.

–  Sometimes the things that hurt us are good for us.

She groaned a bit more, and then I threw the curveball:

– Part of your physical education requirements as a homeschooler is thirty minutes of exercise every day. Think of this as required.

Every day?!

David, of course, added the kicker:

– Yup, if you didn’t exercise, Mom and Dad could go to jail.

Don’t worry, I corrected him:

Just kidding. Walking is fun!

That’s some stellar parenting right there, I know.  (Don’t worry, home school mommas, we told her the real deal later, none of which involved jail, and all of which involved why exercise is so good for you. I’m already brainstorming a school project on Why Our Bodies Need Exercise for next week.)

What was interesting, of course, was that when we got to the playground, this same girl who was dragging her feet, because her legs hurt so much, ran to the playground to play on the monkey bars.

Her problem wasn’t the exercise, per se. It was that she didn’t enjoy it.

It’s intriguing how much our enjoyment of something affects our motivation to do it. Even the most rational of beings will gladly repeat something enjoyed – and even the least emotional of people will have to force themselves to return to something unenjoyed.

Doing something only because its good for us takes patience. We aren’t born with that kind of patience. We have to learn it.

Last weekend a good friend of ours brought up the importance of teaching our children to value classical music.

Absolutely, I agreed. We listen to Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert daily.

Of course, we also listen to Glee, Train, Sara Bareilles, Brooke Fraser, Jazz standards, and a host of other talented people, including, of course, the King of Pop himself.

I recently found MJ’s Greatest Hits CD at the library. After listening to it once, I humbly admitted to my husband that I’d long underestimated his abilities.

This guy was a genius, I said. Complicated, sure. But a genius.

I shared this experience with our friend during our classical music discussion.

They agreed, then countered: Cultural genius can’t compare to the classical composers.

Hmm. Really?

A few days before this, our book club had dissected a book that I had – reluctantly – picked. I wasn’t reluctant about the book – I had thoroughly enjoyed it. But I was reluctant about sharing it with the club.

Now I know why. Hint: Never suggest a book you’ve read and loved for a club read. You’ll never look at it the same way.

In many ways that maxim is a good thing. Other members critiques force me to understand the variety of ways readers interact with stories.

The same thing that I love in a book might be the very thing that another hates.

But then our discussion turned towards alternatives: you know what book was so much better?

Huh. Hang on.

I admit, I use these words too much: good, better, best. I probably use their antonyms too often too: bad, worse, worst.

But, as Haim Ginott offers in his classic work on parenting, Between Parent and Child, these evaluative statements are rarely helpful.
Children that hear they’ve done something good will be pleased, but always with a tinge of anxiety. What if the next thing they do is not deemed as good? Then what?

And really, who decides what is good?

The answer: we do.

When I’m talking to a friend, I’ll say, (this book) was so great! You’ll love it! But really, what I mean is I loved it and I hope you do too. (Because, as I’ve blogged before, nothing unifies us faster than a shared positive experience.)

But the statements I’ve just made (this is so great) are to other readers grossly inaccurate. The same book I adored might seem hokey and poorly constructed to another.

As my Grannie would say, there’s many ways to skin a cat.

Just because we loved something doesn’t make it great. But just because we loved something doesn’t mean it isn‘t great.

A few years ago I read Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work Emotional Intelligence. It revolutionized my thinking. It didn’t make me necessarily think differently; it just gave voice to things I’d always suspected were true. One of those was:

The things we do in our downtime shouldn’t (always) feel like work.

In fact, Goleman argues, truly emotionally intelligent people often discipline themselves to frivolity.

Its easy to say certain books, music, movies, or art are better because they’re difficult to engage with. 

Certainly those works of art are needed. They force our brain – our souls – to grow.

But good books, quality music, and talented people aren’t necessarily complicated.

In fact, they might be just the opposite.

It takes real talent to do simple – well.

Take the guy in the video above. At first thought he might not seem impressive. It’s just a circle.

And yet, when he was finished, I couldn’t stop looking at it. My mind was satisfied by the beauty of one perfect circle.

The year we fell in love with The Office, I actually thought it was a literal documentary. Imagine my surprise to see John Krasinski on Jay Leno. You mean these are actors? I asked my husband. There isn’t just another office prankster running around North America, pulling off capers my hijinks-loving brother would applaud?

Imagine my further surprise to find that Krasinski obsessed over things I’d usually ascribe to serious people.

That summer I learned that even funny people love To Kill A Mockingbird. 

Because it takes a really smart person to be funny.

Just like it takes a really wise person to discipline themselves to have fun.

Those people who learn while having fun?

They’re the real geniuses.





One Comment Post a comment
  1. Wow, that perfect circle. Just goes to show you, things you think are great, many many others actually will agree, too. 🙂

    September 30, 2012

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