Thursday, September 27, 2007

Learning to Read

Dave McKean
Kathy Oddenino
I have been a full-stream reader ever since word patterns began to make coherent meaning (sense) in my mind. Some call this learning to read. I don’t remember exactly what age we were when my brother, sister, and I began to read, but I vividly remember the sensation of sitting on the bed or couch with them, or with our mother or father, with open books scattered over our laps, and studying patterns on the pages. I am a triplet, and because we were so much together and following the patterns taught to us by our parents, and by our older brother, we mostly learned things at the same time. I asked Mother once what she remembers about my learning to read, and she said one day the words suddenly clicked into place and I started reading and never stopped. The feeling reminds me of learning to ride a bicycle, beginning with the training wheels, wobbling along, getting used to the feeling of movement, and of guiding my own movement, then suddenly one moment my feet move the pedals with power and assurance and the wheels turn faster, my hands grip the handlebars with purpose, and I’m off! This pattern is familiar in any context once we recognize it.

When we were children, we read a variety of things, such as Zane Grey novels, a whole series of them. We borrowed them from a missionary doctor friend who had the entire collection, along with every novel by Wilbur Smith. These were "thrillers" connected to the land, to Africa, as well as to the dramas of families and their networks of intrigue. Mother liked certain types of mysteries. We had encyclopedias, world books, the Bobbsey Twins, Tintin’s Adventures, Mary Stewart’s offerings, including her "Arthurian" series, which began with The Crystal Cave (1970). I remember this book on our shelf in the living room of the apartment my parents’ lived in while they were house parents at the boarding school in northern Nigeria. That book had a white book jacket with an alluring cave opening. In interviews Lady Mary Stewart has said she always wanted to write a historical novel, but had no real interest in Arthurian stories – or to the Medieval time. She was drawn to Roman Britain, and also she so admired White’s The Once and Future King, that classic of Arthurian tales, that she didn’t want to tread on his ground. When she read of early Merlin, before he was a priest, a druid, the magician of great legend, she found her subject, she said. What made this man this man, I imagine. The story of each character, Arthur, Merlin, Mordred, more, is tangled and complex, easily recognizable and familiar.

I was never particularly drawn to Arthurian legend either – although I read The Once and Future King and loved it. I entered that tangled, troubled world with full will and senses. I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, upon the great insistence of our American cousins, and again plunged into that invented world full of every pathos, tear, loyalty, creation. The list of what I read and was drawn to continued to unfurl. I was interested in what got my interest and how I usually responded quickly when taken. I waded right into the pool and went under.

When I went to college the only thing I was sure of was what I had always been sure of – I would study literature. Beyond that was unknown. I wanted much more than "English literature," but my thinking was narrowed into what I assumed such options would be. I found wonderful teachers and a few friends accustomed to such loyalty to reading. We found, then, Garcia Marquez, and 100 Years of Solitude. What a revelation it was - to walk into that dense tangle of jungle and sound that was so different than mine, yet so familiar. His language opened my mind to new worlds. Wright Morris was another favorite. I found in Wright Morris’s writing a clean and clear style, straightforward innocence and honesty, that still held all the evancescent poetry and profound permanence of a moment in memory, including the development of photos. Wright Morris’s book, Field of Vision (National Book Award winner in 1956), is one of the treasures of my early exploring in the book world. Wright Morris wrote more than 33 award-winning books, and Stephen Goodwin said of Morris – No writer in America is more honored and less read. The clarity of his style reveals his subject clearly, with artful grace, without drawing attention to "the writer." This is a true characteristic of artful grace to me. He captured for his characters the fleeting sensuality that is so profoundly memorable and also starkly physical in a way unlike any other writer I know. This is his uniqueness, and something I cherish in the gift of being introduced to his writing when I was.

Joyce Cary was another – particularly his book, The Horse’s Mouth (1944), with his "hero" Gulley Jimson, memorialized again, courageously, by Alec Guinness on film (1958). Gulley Jimson is a painter, an artist, a William Blake lover, a man on fire for the passions of life, and the chaos of following his muse wherever "she" may lead. He is overtaken by color, and the challenges of each vision, each penny that needed making when it came to that break in between. Another connection with Cary, which I think I discovered after I read his book, was his colonial service in Nigeria before 1920. His government service gave him the experience to find the "common humanity" among us, and he wrote movingly about this in some of his books.

Michael Ondaatje, Annie Dillard, and Jeanette Winterson are other favorites. There are many. This doesn’t begin to name the other "poets." To tell this is to name persistent threads through my reading life that have "shown me my way." Each has his or her place in this map of mine, as each gave me a foothold, an anchor, or a kite to hold which felt natural in my hand, in my mind, and I flew or dove with them into the depths or heights within myself with their easy prompts. With prompts from certain teachers in college, I filled pages with my insights as I read, each word, sentence, or paragraph exploding into visions or caves. Some were so intense to me that I had to stop, just finish sentences. Others trailed into air and I followed them silently at other times, dark, light, shifting.

Through school I read poetry and novels mostly, along with the science, history, and political intrigue introduced to us by teachers and sometimes parents. I dove into novels and poetry and found myself at home there more than I often did in the "real world" which required my attention to "do what I needed to do." What did I need to do? Go to school, eat, sleep, play intramural sports, shower, spend time with my friends, boyfriend, do homework – whew. What a life, I thought. When can I get back to my reading?

A friend said to me recently – my personal life is getting in the way of my doing these other things. I laughed about this, because this reminded me myself. Still, now, as I get behind in some of the physical details of my life – such as paying bills, taking trash to the landfill, the overgrown shrubs – sometimes I feel the frustration of "I’d rather be…." The difference now is that I am coming to know myself as an evolving consciousness of "energy and matter." My freedom to choose does not begin and end at what task I focus on at any given moment. It begins with my creation as energy, and my creation as energy and matter with my parents’ cooperation. Spiritual Philosophy has taught me this, and therefore taught me to get to know my own mind as itself, in its energy intention to cooperate with "the rest of me" as an infinitely evolving sensory being.

I introduced myself to changing my thinking focus most effectively through reading. When I was 29 years old, a friend insisted I read Kathy Oddenino’s book, The Joy of Health. Kathy Oddenino lives, breathes, and teaches Spiritual Philosophy. I was living in Annapolis, Maryland then, as was Kathy. Living in the same town as the author whose name was spoken so excitedly by someone I was so close to, was a prompt in itself. I had lived many lives by then, since college, and my reading tastes had changed somewhat, but not my reading habits. I had a stack of books by the bed, and was constantly thinking about, reading about, wondering about books. I shrugged it off, saying I would, and her excitement continued. She insisted I read them, as I had borrowed them for her from the Library of Congress, where I was working at the time. Tired of being pestered, and curious, I picked up Kathy’s first book and began to read. I was captured by the words, though not in a way I was familiar with. Her introduction explained the "channeled" message, what that meant, and then laid out the cycles of life and the chemical foundation of us as humans – air, food, water, energy and matter in motion. The energy and pattern of creation was defined in specific ways – how to eat and why, the patterns of lessons we create through our different ages of life, as mother, father, embryo, through relationships, children, families, life, a cleansing and maintenance program and how to keep a balanced "energy." How to keep your engine running smoothly? I didn’t know much about my car engine, and certainly had not treated my body very well much of my life – smoking, drinking, depression feeding self-destructive habits that cycled up and down. As I read Joy of Health I found myself following along intellectually, thinking I understood, that the words "made sense" and that I agreed with them (therefore "understood" them). Yet I felt this growing reaction inside me that felt like irritation, then anger. I was familiar with the slow-burning volcano. Why? What was happening? I had never had exactly this reaction to reading. I knew that how I felt was related to what I was reading, and I also knew that my mind didn’t understand why I felt the way I felt. This confused me. My mind could not "make sense" of this – Houston, we have a problem. I couldn’t make it go away. I was determined to figure out what was happening and why. I resolved to keep reading some of the book every day to help me understand. I did this, and gradually (within a week, two weeks?), I began to notice that I was reading more and more pages and the feeling was dissipating, or gone. Why? The words were having their effect. I felt better. Responding to words and the "energy of words" was not new to me, but the fact that these words were talking about "energy" and the energy of us as human beings, the creation of thought and matter, had a different meaning for me. I had read plenty of science by then, in school and out, but rarely had I felt that level of interest, motivation, spark that I knew came from inside me to Know More. Other sparks were more like shooting stars that shone brightly, high and quick, then disappeared into the dark, faint memories only.

Not long after this, I went to an event at Kathy Oddenino’s home in Annapolis, and this began a friendship and mentoring process that continues today. I began to work with her shortly after this meeting. She had published three books, and was working on her fourth, Love, Truth & Perception. I was glad to be "helping her," and eager to work with her books too. I began to read the manuscript, studiously marking a few things here and there. Then I found myself repeating sentences to myself over and over, trying to "make sense of them." I quickly realized what was happening. I could not read these books in the left-brain manner I was used to. This was part of the challenge and invitation I had found with reading Joy of Health. My intellect was accustomed to introducing itself to subjects, objects in its own way, and using them or backing off accordingly. Kathy’s books had an energy altogether different. The words were inviting, stimulating, provocative, yet not confrontational, not divisive, not insistent. Does this mean these words are "true"? I was not even used to thinking of "truth" except as right/wrong, substantiated or not, etc. An intellectual approach mostly, or a way of thinking influenced by emotional heartache, heartbreak, or need – either to control, or make sure "everything was alright." To think beyond this as "truth" as a mind was an insight, a revelation in itself.

This insight seems self-evident to me, as the mind that experienced this. This is part of the point that makes itself known to me all the time, and why coming to know "Spiritual Philosophy" has been the best mentor for my mind – Spiritual Philosophy explains to us why it is only our mind that has to "know itself" – the rest of us, as infinite senses, and loving emotions, already "knows itself" and is eager to cooperate with the mind, as our male energy creation (no matter our gender). As I began to read Love, Truth & Perception, and came to a grinding halt more than once, very early on, I recognized the gift to me in this work showing me the difference I had already made in my mind, and what it meant to open my mind to thinking differently – to the beauty and potential of thinking as an infinitely sensory being made to love.

To embrace a word! As a child, I had been taught, "In the beginning was the word." I knew this was true. Yet what in the world did that mean, really?

For a brief time, in Richmond, I taught reading to a few adults as part of a public program. It broke my heart to imagine someone, especially in our culture, going through life without being able to read. I also admired the courage people had as they made their way through life without these skills. One man I tutored briefly had his own successful business. He was married with two beautiful girls. A big burly man with beautiful eyes and black skin, he cried when he told me he wanted his girls to know he could read and was tired of hiding. They are beautiful, he said, and I don’t want them to be ashamed of me. Even here, he showed his love, not pity for himself. He taught me in those few sessions, and I loved the way he read each word and how they came together. I hope he never stops.

A mind wants to "know itself." The joy of reading has been a gift to me all my life, and my mother and father gave it, fostered it, as did my brothers and sister and teachers beyond. Words that offend are not part of this art – words with the energy that enhance the beauty and joy and power of creation, the celebration of the lifeforce of us – that is the joy of "in the beginning was the word." Read on! Thank a teacher! Let the mind love.I love to read, and now I know why I never would have made a "good academic."

No comments: