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Today I took my kids to the library to turn in their summer reading logs for June. As their reward they were each given a new book from the library and watching them pick out their selections was fun. The 6 year old picked a Superman graphic novel. The 8 year old picked the first Percy Jackson book and my 10 year old picked The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill. Each of these will keep them entertained on an airline flight we have coming soon. My hope for the young readers in our family is they they will find books that inspire and motivate them. If they don’t find words that matter greatly in these books, maybe it will be next one they pull off the shelf.

With thoughts on ‘words that matter,’ today’s Guest Post is written by Becky Breed. She is the co-author of Writing in Community: Say Goodbye to Writer’s Block and Transform Your Life.

WritinginCommunityWhen we were younger, there was something special about the open arms of a shimmering summer. It wrapped itself around our hearts and wouldn’t let go. We were lifted up, levitating in the radiant heat over the tips of sun-drenched grass and steamy side walks, even worries and frustrations seemed to mostly evaporate. A lightness appeared in our steps, a sweetness unintelligible and wonderful lingering like a summer romance. We looked for signs of wisdom and insight and turned to powerful stories to show us the way. An inspiring book often became our talisman, bringing good luck and inspired powers. Its life-changing words were delivered like our personal Magna Carta guaranteeing us privileges of a new and awesome personhood.

During our freshman year, my friends and I often found ourselves breathless at the end of the day as we navigated what it meant to grow up in the 60’s. We only grasped time and place when we knew the horizon we were walking toward, but the horizon kept shifting. Strutting with a certainty that belied the truth, we wondered what it would be like to truly rise up each morning and love ourselves. Love the world in all its confusion, its darkness, its unpredictably. Serving as surrogate parents, books were searched–really up-ended–for answers. Using literature to understand self and others gave us new ways to look at the world and our daily lives soon became both elevated and opened to new truths. That summer I found myself with questions regarding the church–wanting concrete explanations that were not readily available. My English teacher suggested I read The Nun’s Story by Kathryn Hulme over the summer break. Its story centers on Sister Luke as she struggles with obedience and the conflicts she had with the decisions that were placed upon her. The cradle of summer gave me pause to think about my own lack of direction and indecision. And then, with difficulty, I made up my mind. What was even harder was telling father about my desire to convert to Catholicism and become a nun.

How did the sizzling months of June, July and August impact Junot Diaz, Pulitzer prize winning author, and transform his young life through words? One summer he worked at a steel mill wearing thermal greens and metatarsal boots five days a week. Diaz consumed all of Toni Morrison’s novels and read with such a deep concentration–he didn’t want to go back to work after lunch break. “Toni Morrison’s novels took hold of me the way books are wont to do when you’re a certain age. Took hold and never let go,” Diaz said. And in the midst, Diaz had an added prize. He met a girl who didn’t leave him.

Summer has a way of uncovering private worlds and opening us up to unseen revelations. Cheryl Strayed, her most recent book made into the movie “Wild,” found this to be true when she worked two full time jobs at age fifteen. Every day when she had a few minutes, she dove into Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. Strayed ate the book up. “It was as if Trumbo put me in a summer long trance, only of the reverse sort—not the kind that puts you under, but rather the kind that wakes you up.”

Let us all be then like the lillies in Mary Oliver’s poem who “… are simply doing, from the deepest spurs of their being, what they are impelled to do every summer…” break open over the dark water. – Becky

Writing Exercise:

  • Read Mary Oliver’s “The Lillies Break Open Over the Dark Water.”
  • Think back to an earlier time when summer and life possessed you.
  • Claim two or three experiences where books and words changed your life, or opened you in a new way. What were the story experiences that animated you?
  • Select one to write about.
  • Ask yourself what was it specifically about the book that transformed you or gave you new insight, or a different truth.
  • Reflect upon your life at that time. Was your life in transition? About to embark on a new chapter? Looking for a change?
  • Now write. Put yourself in the middle of your story or poem and acknowledge how books, youth and the uncommon stretch of summer made a difference in your life.

By Becky Breed

You can find the link to the Writing in Community blog here to read more posts like this.

***All books by BQB and WriteLife Publishing are available from Amazon, B&N or can be ordered from your favorite local bookstore.***