24 September 2018

Banning Books Silences Stories

graphic design by SDEDM
Our stories shape the world around us, a world that is diverse and complex. Banned Books Week is a time to celebrate, preserve, and fight for freedom to tell our stories and to fight against banning books and silencing stories. 

Censoring our stories is, essentially, censoring our world: denying a perspective is denying the richness of our human experience. Right now especially, culture needs all of our voices, all of our stories. And you have the power to make sure information and stories are heard. It’s simple: read, process, and share your insights. 

Learn more:
Seek out stories and perspectives. Because, as Banned Books Week’s video “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2017” explains, 
"Often the most frequently challenged books, are the stories that need to be heard the most." 
Listening to stories (reading books) can help us glean not just perspective, but also context. Master storyteller John Green recognizes that “text is meaningless without context” in his video response to the banning of his 2005 novel Looking for Alaska (LibraryBorrow/IndieBuy).
Banning a book due to an offensive word or difficult subject doesn’t necessicarily take into account the entire story, or that being affected by a difficult or stressful story can help us learn.  John gets to the heart of an essential truth about the side effect of reading: “we are all better off with a well-informed, well-educated population.”  
In his video "On the Banning of Looking for Alaska", John goes on to express why stories are such important catalysts to understanding humanity,  
“Instead I believe books challenge and interrogate, they give us windows into the lives of others and give us mirrors so that we can better see ourselves.”


Read more:
Scientific research helps us understand that reading literature actually can help us empathize with one another. With the aid of story, we can begin to seek out and understand the intricate and complex within everyone. Julianne Chiaet's Scientific American article Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy elaborates, 
“This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom. Although literary fiction tends to be more realistic than popular fiction, the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.” 
When we ban books that challenge our set ways of thinking, we close off an opportunity to become more empathetic. Raymond A. Mar and Keith Oatley's 2008 study The Function of Fiction is the Abstraction and Simulation of Social Experience dives deeper into the study of how fiction helps us coexist,
“The simulation of social experience that literary narratives afford provides an opportunity for empathic growth. It trains us to extend our understanding toward other people, to embody (to some extent) and understand their beliefs and emotions, and ultimately to understand ourselves. Fictional literature brings close attention to distant worlds that would otherwise remain unknown.”
Speak Out: Everyone can get involved: support and advocate for free speech and expression, or report challenges and injustices.

The American Library Association (ALA) created this handy pyramid chart of public, reported, and silent challenges. It's discouraging that so many challenges go unreported, but don’t let the data get you down, you can do something. Use the ALA Challenge Reporting page, become a champion for challenged books.  
And if all this information got you as fired up as us, take a second to share on social media or why not use the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. Start a converstion about why you think your favorite banned book is an important read. And ask people in your community to do the same. If you post on social media, use the hashtag #BannedBooksWeek. Give us a shout out, we're on twitter @BooksforWalls.
For a little fun, check out New York Public Library's Banned Books Quiz, test your knowledge of challenged books
While you are at it, go ahead and support your local library --visit in person or online. Find your nearest library: www.worldcat.org/libraries

21 June 2018

How to Hold Hands with the Darkness

All stories begin somewhere, they can often take us far away from where we are comfortable, sometimes the hardest part is just letting ourselves go.

In A Beginning, a Muddle, and an And: The Right Way to Write Writing Avi weaves his usual story magic, this time exploring the writing process through narrative. At one point the characters are talking about the tricks of observation, they arrive here, 
“Creatures usually only see what they are looking for.”
“Are you suggesting we should look for what we don’t see?”
“You can see more that way,” suggested Edward.
One way to observe what we can’t see is through storytelling. And listening to (or reading) stories often involves trust, trust in the storyteller, trust in another person.
“Can you really see?” She asked.
“It’s dark,” said Bod. “But I can see.”
He began to lead Scarlet down the steps, deep into the hill, and to describe what he saw to her as they went.
Bod, the main character in Neil Gaiman’s Newberry winning The Graveyard Book uses his sight to lead Scarlet into a dark and scary place, a place where his fellow five-year-old friend can see nothing at all. 

Trust, like this especially, can be quite a scary thing. Seeing from another person’s perspective sometimes is surprising because they see things differently, but it is very important to see other people’s perspectives. 

Trust in storytellers also involves some trust in darkness, which can be the beginning of many things. According to classical mythology, the universe began as Chaos and darkness, but eventually, the mayhem bore love, as Edith Hamiton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heros sheds light,
“From darkness and from death Love was born, and with its birth, order and beauty began to banish blind confusion.” 
A dark beginning may turn into a muddle, but from the muddle, the process, the darkness can be transformed into a kind of beauty.

And beauty can be found in the midst of chaos. Often this kind of beauty relies on a translator, a storyteller, an artist. Painter Vincent van Gogh, during his time in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole Asylum inadvertently depicted the scientifically elusive and invisible turbulence. 

TED-Ed’s video The unexpected math behind Van Gogh's "Starry Night” explores the correlation between Van Gogh’s own darkness and his ability to express the unseen, 
“in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind[.]” 
From Van Gogh's darkness, his art; from his art, his story...





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As for stories, we urge you to take this story, process it, add your own insights, your own experiences, and then, share your story —with us, with a friend, with your journal, on social media. 

Tell a story, one of darkness, of light, of turbulence, of art, of muddles, of beginnings, or perhaps of an end.

If you do share on social media, please add the hashtag #LookWonderDiscover and we’ll look out for your story -because that’s what we do, we look, we wonder, we discover.

collaboratively written by: The Observer, The Thinker, and The Researcher

graphic art and design: The Observer

26 April 2018

National Poetry Month: How to Memorize a Poem


I think National Poetry Month1 grows more important with each coming year, because poetry gives us a reason to stop, to listen. In such a loud world it is hard to tune out the din, but poetry has an uncanny ability to condense turmoil into something peaceful. 

April 26th is Poem in Your Pocket Day and we’ve loved this idea for many years2, but why not take it a little further this year? Why not, instead of just carrying around a poem in your pocket, carry it around in your mind. Carry around a deep, complex, intricate, peaceful moment.

I’ve been reciting and memorizing verse for almost as long as I can remember, everything from ditties to Shakespeare’s soliloquies. The first poem I memorized, I was nine, was Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening3; I can still remember it, nine years later. 

More recently, I memorize any poem that moves me enough to want to keep with me. Like William Ernest Henley’s Invictus4, it’s a good one for hard days, a great confidence booster. And Sara Kay’s Point B5, a powerful poem that embraces life and its vastness in a mere matter of words.

And after all this time memorizing and reciting, poetry I have inadvertently developed a memorizing process. There are a few steps for ingraining a poem into your mind; so jump in, and immerse yourself in poetry.

Choosing a poem:
This may be the most difficult step because there are many poems, many poets, many topics. It can be hard to figure out where to start. 
Start with what you know. Make a list of the poets and poetry you are familiar with. If you are completely new to the world of poetry, make a list of topics that impassion you (nature, or justice, or sadness). 
Then do your research. Go to the library, find the reference desk or look for the poetry section, look through the books, listen for poems that grab you especially. Or you can also search for poems on websites like the Poetry Foundation6
Familiarizing:
Memorizing a poem really only works when you get to know a poem, really know a poem. There are two ways to become familiar with a particular piece of work.
Read yourself between the lines. How do you fit into the poem? By a feeling, a desire, a memory? Imagine yourself inside the poem, try to “become one with the poem”. 
Translate. Some poems are written in language different from our everyday speech. So take ten minutes to translate the poem into words you’d use in your daily life. For example, here is a section of Helena’s monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream I’ve “interpreted”:
Original text: “Things base and vile, holding no quantity, love can transpose to form and dignity. Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”
My interpretation: Love can make terrible things into some of  the best qualities. And that’s probably because love is blind.
Memorization:
Memorizing a poem is a process. Once you have a poem and feel comfortable with it you are ready to memorize.
Split the poem into reasonable sized chunks. Separate the poem into sections between 2 and 6 lines long. If the poem has clear stanzas, separate it by those. Stanzas are usually four or more lines, but sometimes they are less. And with poems that rhyme, splitting this way can really help.  
Memorize one section per day (or in any other time unit you would like, but days work best). You can write the section down repeatedly, recite it in your head, recite it out loud. By the evening you should be able to know what you’ve memorized inside and out. 
Record yourself reciting the poem. You can voice or video record yourself reciting the poem as you go and listen to, or watch, it, over and over. This is a mental and more interactive version of rote memorization, and I’ve found that it works better. 
Add on.On day two, once you’ve memorized the day’s section recite all the parts of the poem you have in your head. On the last day of memorizing you’ll be reciting the entire poem.
Retention:
Now, if you want to retain the poem, for a long time, you’ll have to recite it often, to yourself, or to others. So, weeks and months and years after you’ve initially memorized, come back and remember why you chose to make this poem a part of you.

This is a process that I’ve found to be successful, but you can also find your own way. In fact, please find your own way, because poetry is a very personal thing, it helps make sense of all the vastness, the beauty, and the pain around us. 

Poet, activist, librarian, Audre Lorde articulates how important all this poetical expansiveness is in her Essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury7

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” 


Written by Nadia Daniels-Moehle,
produced and edited by Amy Daniels-Moehle

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1. National Poetry Month
2. BFWP: Put a Poem in Your Pocket Challenge 
3. Robert Frost, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
4. William Ernest Henley, Invictus
5. Sara Kay's Ted Talk "If I Should Have A Daughter..."
6. Poetry Foundation
7. Audre Lorde, "Poetry is Not a Luxury" from the collection of essays and speeches Sister Outsider.

28 March 2018

How Story Shapes Culture: A Wrinkle in Time

Written by Nadia Daniels-Moehle1

Image credit: Sonja Daniels-Moehle

We are shaped by culture and we shape culture. There are so many great thinkers and creators that have influenced humanity, we come back to their work over and over, and each time we experience it a little differently. Good books are like this, and movies too. Perhaps because of this I’ve always been wary of film adaptations of favorite books, I grow convinced that my interpretation of an author’s work is the work, but that is just not the case.

I remember distinctly the moment when I heard that Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was being made into a movie, I immediately went into "protective book lover mode" a combination of intense hope with an acrid undertone of dread. Then I saw the trailer of Ava DuVernay’s adaptation, I was hopeful to see the racially diverse cast, but could the magical Disney imagery quell my "dark and stormy"2 expectations? Sha Xin Wei director of the Synthesis Center at Arizona State University said,
“When the problems exceed our current scientific solutions, the only way we can have palpable impact is through imagination. Sometimes good science requires magic.”3
On the weekend of March 9-11, 2018 A Wrinkle in Time created necessary magic for our times. Ava DuVernay’s direction took the film to the second highest place at the box office second only to Black Panther, the first time in history that two black directors claimed this prize. Which makes me realize that even if the movie isn’t like the story in my mind, this narrative, the story, is positively shaping our culture. Madeleine’s and Meg’s stories are impacting another generation, thanks especially to Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time. 

A Wrinkle in Time shapes our universes with stories we all need to remember, in the words of Madeleine herself in an interview with PBS from 2000
 "Meg finally realizes that love is stronger than hate. Hate may seem to win for a while, but love is stronger than hate.” 

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1. In collaboration with Sonja Daniels-Moehle and Amy Daniels-Moehle
2. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle, first line "It was a dark and stormy night."
3. The New Education, Cathy N. DavidsonSha Xin Wei quote p.p. 147