The Activity of Making Sense

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

I am reading slowly The Evolving Self, a book by Robert Kegan, about the coming together of psychoanalytic theory and cognitive developmentalism. It’s heady and I’m being patient with myself, especially since the reading is deepening me and my theoretical basis for the more practical, and perhaps more intuitive, work I do.

Egan took a moment to reflect on his daughter’s development and his response thereto. I read this father’s recollection of when she was sounding out words and thought of recent experience with our firstborn, Bryce.

“Being in another person’s presence while she so honestly labors in an astonishingly intimate activity—the activity of making sense—is somehow very touching” (p. 16).

It is true in my experience as well. I was reading over words with Bryce the other week. And Dawn gave me a compliment about how I was with him, which is proof that human beings can grow!

Dawn is the better, more patient, nurturing teacher with Bryce. I’m the guy who cooks dinner while they do homework. It’s a more fitting use of our skills and temperament. Dawn with him, coaxing and instructing and illuminating, and me pulling pans and throwing together a nourishing meal. We get it done in our way.

On that particular night, I was reading with him before bed, and Dawn was feeding the new boy. I was to read two pages and then Bryce was to read a page. Little did I know that a page could take so long. I’ve since been carefully told by a teacher how to change this up, and I’ll post about that later.

Now, this boy knows his sounds, thanks to the good work we did with Riggs cards and good teaching last year at his preschool. He’s been “reading” and learning and growing all year in kindergarten. But to be honest, we’ve slipped a little.

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

We’ve let him be taken into the world of books he’s preferred to read rather than those slim volumes with encircled number 2 or 3 on the right hand corner. We’ve read to him. And he’s been at the work of reading, but he’s really been cheating when we haven’t supervised his reading. He’s looked at comic pictures, which, of course, is a good thing. But he hasn’t been reading.

And he forgets. A lot. He will forget a word that I rehearsed multiple times, and he’ll forget it in three minutes. Now, I have a degree in psychology. I have coursework, dusty it may be in learning and memory and other cognitive psychology courses. But those courses were not my strong areas. I did well if you count the As and honors I always got in psychology, but those As were different than the ones in the clinical/applied courses. So, when I meet with my son’s unique developmental milestones, it frustrates me.

It makes me question my competence. It reveals my anger at him and myself and it shows where my values are: in getting things quickly and in getting things done quickly. This is something he does too, at his six-year-old speed. And of course, when he rushes through something, I catch him and call him out. Even though he’s doing what I do. Even though at his age, he’s doing what I often model: going through the motions. My motions are tutored by what learning I have, and his is too. I just have more in my box than he does. We’re doing the same thing. I’m his model. It’s sobering.

So, seeing him read is an entirely destabilizing endeavor. It’s constructive. It’s good. But it’s disorienting. He’s where he “should be” if we look at him through the gauges people we don’t know have made for him. He’s on course if we take counsel in the collective wisdom of curriculum writers who tell parents what their kids ought to know when. I’m not worried about Bryce in that respect.

But I am worried about how this kid has a way of continually teaching me about me. He’s a teacher to me who exposes my hidden and implicit biases for movement and productivity and fast-gained knowledge and quick wit. Even if those things complicate the simplicity of being at one’s own, real, natural, splendid, unrushed pace.

That is the activity that makes sense. Slowing down makes you. Pacing yourself has a way of making the sense I need. It prevents me from having sense made for me. It’s the activity I need of in my life.

“A Deeply Awkward Position” & Reading

The arts, entertainment, and books desks at every major publication and outlet are flooded with them, and an entire ecosystem of critics, producers, and editors is involved in compiling and signing off on these lists. Narrow reading is a less passive activity than some will claim.

As a writer and critic, I am not just bored with this conversation. I am sick of it. I have written these sentences before. I will write them again. Discussing diversity in publishing is the worst kind of Groundhog Day. What’s more, these lists put writers and readers of color in a deeply awkward position. We don’t want to take anything away from the writers who have been included on the list.

…The problem is and has always been the exclusion of writers of color and other marginalized writers who have to push aside their own work and fight for inclusion, over and over and over again.

Please read the full article here.

And make your own summer reading lists to look the beautiful, colorful world that the world is.

Interview With Marita Golden

I recently read The Word: Black Writers Talk About the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing and contacted Ms. Marita Golden for an interview.  She graciously accepted and I’m pleased to bring you her answers to my questions.  There are other interviews, to the right, in the Writing and Reading “neighborhoods”.  This book is worth reading, soaking up, and holding onto.  Ms. Golden has several other published works that the same can be said about.  Now, the interview.

MW: Your book presents author interviews and one of your common questions is about childhood influences and early beginnings for those writers as readers.  Talk about your early beginnings as a reader and writer. 

MG: I grew up in a home in which my love of reading and writing was
nurtured and encouraged. My father and mother both influenced my
writing life in different ways. My father was a great storyteller and
his stories to me often told at bedtime, were about famous heroines
from Black history such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth so I
learned early on what a hero was and what a hero or heroine did. My
mother told me early on that one day I would write a book and that was
crucial in terms of my development of a creative identity.

MW: The Word exposes us to writers today who are telling great stories.  Who are some writers from before, perhaps writers too quickly forgotten, who readers need to find, remember, and keep reading?

 MG: Anne Petry is one of my favorite writers from the 40’s and 50’s she
is most known her novel THE STREET but I am a huge fan of her second
novel THE NARROWS which is rich and deep and very satisfying to read
as well as her short stories.

MW: Your latest book reminds me of the continuous gift of Gumbo, an earlier anthology you edited with E. Lynn Harris.  In that great book, along with this current one, you’ve brought together astounding artists.  Tell us about your process of editing them.  I imagine those works were full of gifts for you.

MG: In the Word I wanted to shape the interviews so that the
conversations became a commentary not only on the writing and reading
life of the writer, but also an invitation into that kind of life for
the reader. It was important to also get them talking about the issues
of literacy facing the Black Community.

MW: Speaking of gifts, how did you establish the Hurston/Wright Foundation?  How did that vital work come about?

MG: I established the Hurston/Wright Foundation 20 years ago with Clyde
McElvene as a way to support what I saw as a fantastic flowering of
creativity among Black writers. I wanted to create an institution that
would give Black writers the kind of support I wished I had had as a
younger writer-workshops, awards, recognition, community. The
foundation has opened doors and created possibilities for a whole
generation of writers and I am just glad that I was chosen to do that

MW: You’ve shared this answer in pieces throughout interviews in The Word, but tell us why reading is important to you.

MG: Reading is important to me because it is a passport into the lives of others and the unique wisdom, intelligence and creativity that they possess. Reading also gives me experiences that I have not and may not ever had and increases my empathy for and connection to others.

MW: What are you reading these days?  

MG: I am reading a wonderful memoir called THE MEMORY PALACE and a
collection of short stories by Nadine Gordimer.

MW: Can you recommend particular writers who are must reads for children?

MG: Eloise Greenfield is a must!

MW: You have communicated in multiple forms and continue to do so.  How do your roles–as writer, teacher, speaker, and editor–intersect?  What enables you to do all you do?

MG: I find that writing teaching and speaking are all interrelated in
that that enable me to connect with others which is one of my favorite
things to do.

MW: How can readers of my blog learn more about you and your work?  

MG: They can go to

Questions for you, blog readers: What are you reading?  What have you just finished or are looking forward to reading?  I just closed Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and am taking in long amounts of the elegant and massive The Warmth of Other Suns.  I am also reading Souls in Transition.