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Wed. Nov 13th, 2019

Read 4 Fun

Read the short reviews, read the book, comment

Apologies to My Muse

6 min read

Image by Nicola Giordano from Pixabay

I’ll take it as a given that many, many readers, reviewers, and bloggers eventually get the urge to write. Exemplary posts about how easy it is to write abound. Do you mean that someone has written about personal experiences in using chopsticks at diplomatic functions? Accompanied by free, credited photos from Pixabay? And the writer/blogger has 3000 followers? I can do better than that. I am more interesting. The time-sucking requirements of a daily job do not allow me the luxury of waiting on a capricious muse. There must be an efficient way to get past the idea and straight into writing or telling stories. As a person who teaches English for a living, I felt I should be able to get past this easily. Not so. 

Reading is the hands-down the best way to learn English for those not so financially well off that they can hurry to a country where English is spoken and invest a few years in a comfortable environment listening and speaking the language while absorbing important cultural meanings from subtext. Examples abound in literature, but the peripatetic traveler can even absorb valuable English meaning from road-side signs and slogans. EXAMPLE: A famous motto for Thailand, sometimes sponsored and offered by the government of Thailand, is, “Thailand, Land of Smiles.” My question, as I try to parse meaning, is, “What are they smiling about?”

Marriage is a way to learn a foreign language that can spring from necessity. The German government has refused family reunification visas until a spouse, or prospective spouse has completed German language courses. I hope such a suggestion is given with humor and identified as tongue-in-cheek advice. Unlike Reading, it is not suitable for all ages, although the plethora of attempts made by older generations of foreigners in Southeast Asia to follow this method suggests the method might be popular with quadrennials and up. Marriage counselors have identified these blissful unions as a leading cause of divorce, a problem easily avoided by single status readers. A final defect is that the language learner (in this case, English) learns the language from a single-source teacher. I have met VIP executive bodyguards in Cambodia who spoke excellent English of earlier mob-controlled Chicago. Marriage is not the best way.

A book review blog would solve many problems and present a few more. I lectured to students and emphasized reading. My mantra: “If you don’t like reading, you are reading the wrong thing.” I felt this to be generally true as I nodded off while reading anything assigned as a textbook. I should start a blog, write brief 500-1000-word reviews, give contact information as to the availability of the book; the resultant posts would give me something to mention, and elicit student comments in class.

Further, I read from 250-350 pages per day as something akin to daily exercise. All I had to do was write about the ideas of others. Muse, have a seat in the corner; I’ve got this.

Practically (1), reading has not been the most available and accepted solution to literacy in Indonesia. The culture is one disseminated orally through storytelling. Children grow up quite happy to hear history and traditional stories from their parents. If there are questions about anything, ask parents. If they are out earning money, ask grandparents. Many times, grandparents and other relatives live in the same house. Knowledge is abundant and available. There is no need for reading. Questions about the internet might take the elders more time to answer.

Practically (2), readers encounter many obstacles to acquiring quality reading materials. Import taxes on printed material are high. Amazon offers free and low-priced Kindle books, but a non-Indonesian credit card and address are required for “One-click” shopping. Scribd has an excellent subscription service, but restrictions like Amazon apply. Local governments of Indonesia have their own rules about what can be accessed on the internet. A search for Project Gutenberg (free books) was blocked by my local authorities, but when I routed through Jakarta (capital of Indonesia) using a VPN, I was able to access the free site.

As I began to write and post almost daily, I tried to find books from Wattpad, Smashwords, Prolific Works (formerly Instafreebie), books available through BookFunnel, and author promotions. There were and are lots of free books to be had, and I wanted to highlight them on my blog. Correct, I buy a lot from Scribd and Amazon. Some high-quality literature is not free, such as my latest read, a Joyce Carol Oates 2014 publication, Carthage.

And then, for me, the world went dark. About one month ago, I went through a catastrophic medical event, described in another post. At the same time, and 9400 miles away, my Vietnamese wife was dying. One day after our Skype conversation, she was admitted to a hospital but remained in a coma. Approximately four days later, she was moved to Hospice care. On 20 September, she died. I was informed through WA by my youngest daughter within 15 minutes of death while I was in a meeting with a doctor who told me that I had cancer. The doctor misinterpreted my tears.

Now, the Muse comes in. Despite all my writing being based on the books of others, I could not put a paragraph together. As I tried to write, my muse, a now stronger presence, would respond with shared memories that somehow related to what I was reading or trying to review. I felt what I was being encouraged to write wandered too far away from commentary on a book. So, I didn’t write anything for days. In a mental scramble to find a way out of this, I determined I had to write first about my Vietnamese wife, the latest addition to my muse. Until I acknowledged her death and later presence, I could not go forward.

I have written a short story about her mental activities during her final stay in hospice care. It is not my story, but it involves me. It is a story of communication and the four levels on which my youngest daughter communicated with her mom before my wife’s death. I am still editing the story, and I will publish it on Medium. I will include a contact link on this blog within a few days. The story does not belong in a book review blog.

Then the darkness broke. I woke suddenly from a deep sleep and wanted to write this post. Done. Check. I wanted to comment more on Carthage. I am in the process of reviewing the JCO book; it will probably be tomorrow’s post. I am motivated to write and even complete some Skillshare classes.

There was a subtraction from my physical world. I hadn’t realized the addition to the world that included my muse. I looked to my left to see her resting in the corner. I had assured her I could get over this malaise, I would overcome obstacles, her help was not needed. (Sorry, politically correct types, my muse is female.) I was wrong. There will undoubtedly be problems in the future while I continue to inhabit the imperfect physical world humans (and others) share. But I have help now, and it is good to recognize it.

OK, Muse, not to be demanding or anything, could you join me at my workstation? I have a few questions. I designed my work area around the ideas you gave me long ago. In English, they call this combination “love seats.” We might as well work in comfort. Please feel free to show up anytime. I will never ignore you.

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