Prime

There’s a book I come back to periodically throughout my life – a strange piece of Scottish literature called The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

I encountered this book when I was quite young. I didn’t completely understand it the first time I read it, but it stuck with me. The main character, Jean Brodie, and her charisma were seductive and enchanting. I was a child, and easily charmed by such people, even in fiction.

[Spoilers ahead]

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What can you do with an English degree?

When I first had to grapple with this question years ago, I told people, “I can apply to law school!” I was, as a very young adult, skilled in the art of telling people what they wanted to hear in order to temporarily cover up my true designs. If I’d told them that I had no interest in law school, I would have been treated to many useless lectures that older adults tend to smother younger adults with. (I try not to do that myself, as much as I’d like to sometimes. They need to learn and grow on their own, and as much as I’d like to think I do…I don’t know everything.)

But if someone were to ask me today, What can you do with an English degree?, my answer would be this:

You can recover from trauma.

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The art of subtlety in writing

I belong to a support group, and someone in that group recommended reading a YA book called ‘Jacob Have I Loved.’ It’s about a girl who grows up on an island in the Chesapeake Bay area with a twin sister who’s very different from her – favored and pampered by their parents and the community in general. The title refers to this Bible verse (even though it’s not a religious book):

As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ – Romans 9:13

To give context, in the Bible, Jacob and Esau are twins. Esau is the older one, but Jacob deceives him and receives a very important blessing from their elderly father. The book invokes the conflict between Jacob and Esau in the title; the narrator relates to Esau, as technically she’s the oldest, but it’s the youngest who manages to take attention away from her.

I was reading with a purpose – specifically to look at the dynamic between the siblings and within the family unit. Art reflects life, after all.

What I found were great examples of ‘show, don’t tell’ and subtlety in writing.

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Transcendental confusion

I was in high school when I first read Walt Whitman. I remember being introduced to the idea of Transcendentalism, finding something about it intriguing, and liking something I read by Whitman. He’s lumped in with both the Transcendentalists and Romantics, but if you think of Transcendentalism as the American spin on Romanticism, or as two highly entwined movements, that makes a lot of sense.

I picked up a copy of Leaves of Grass somewhere, in which the poem Song of Myself is prominently featured. When I read it, I realized with excitement that I was already familiar with it. I was in a choir as a child, and someone picked out several passages to arrange into a chorale piece. It’s about innocence and death, which Whitman seamlessly entwines without allowing it to become dark…

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