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Readings & Socializing

Note: This entry went in a total­ly dif­fer­ent direc­tion than where I thought I was head­ed! It got very long, and wan­dered around a lot. I got into some­thing that’s real­ly been eat­ing at me for a long time, though, and I’d real­ly appre­ci­ate some feed­back.

I should have my micro­phone tak­en away. I record­ed sev­er­al more poems for some rea­son, but haven’t post­ed them any­where because I real­ly love hear­ing them with the music Sam adds. His edit­ing exper­tise always makes me sound much bet­ter, too! Sam got me wor­ried about copy­right issues, which is why I haven’t post­ed them to Live Read­ings yet.

I miss read­ings. Live gath­er­ings of peo­ple, close­ly or loose­ly con­nect­ed, who come togeth­er to share pas­sages of prose or poet­ry with each oth­er. Not the sort where peo­ple get up at a podi­um, or an event arranged for a par­tic­u­lar author, just friends and acquain­tances shar­ing the joy of the word. If there are authors in the group who share pas­sages of what­ev­er they’re work­ing on, so much the bet­ter! If not, well, there’s a wealth of mate­r­i­al out there that just begs to be heard, that can­not be ful­ly appre­ci­at­ed on the page. I owe my dis­cov­ery of G.K. Chester­ton to such a group, and a renewed inter­est in Mark Twain.

The crowd I knew who did read­ings had coa­lesced around a small, inde­pen­dent Chris­t­ian book­store in the Embry Hills shop­ping cen­ter, off Cham­blee Tuck­er Road. Alan is the per­son I remem­ber best. He and his moth­er ran the shop, and for a time his grand­moth­er had a knit­ting nook in a back cor­ner.1

I was in the store one Sat­ur­day, I think, look­ing for the next tape in a video series I was watching—something fea­tur­ing Fran­cis Sha­ef­fer2, but I can’t remem­ber exact­ly what—and Alan said that some­one else had just rent­ed it, but I could go to their house to watch.

What? That was pret­ty weird. I asked when they might bring it back, or if I could get some­one to call me when the tape was avail­able for rental again, and he kept push­ing at me to just go show up! No, he was­n’t going. He’d seen that movie.

I did­n’t know that the extreme lone­li­ness I was feel­ing at that time showed that bad­ly. I mean, seriously—people in a book­store are try­ing to fix my social life? It was one thing when it was Alan, because I don’t think he ever met a pure­ly social taboo that he would­n’t dis­card with­out a thought, but when his moth­er and grand­moth­er start­ed telling me to give it a go, there’d be lots of oth­er peo­ple there, etc. it was very hard to say no. I was going to just take the address and phone num­ber, agree to “try” to go, and leave.

But then Bryan came in, and they intro­duced me to him. He was so very sweet, and approach­able, all artist‑y with his long hair and great big eyes! He was also very obvi­ous­ly shy, but try­ing to make me feel com­fort­able, which was touch­ing. I could­n’t say no to him, and I could­n’t lie and say I’d try but not show up.

So I went home, and did show up at The House that night.

There was a group of young adults, three or four of whom (it var­ied) rent­ed a house and stu­dio space togeth­er. Rod was def­i­nite­ly the leader, and that was nev­er dis­put­ed. Bryan was the guy I got to know best. There were two oth­ers who lived in the main house, Jim and some­one who name is escap­ing me. Dale was around most all the time. And, um, I’ve lost too many names, dan­git! I don’t know how my friend Leigh Ann What­ley found her way there, but I’m glad she did, as that’s how I met her.3 And how could I for­get Bruce, who lived with his wife and chil­dren in Riverdale? I feel rot­ten that I can’t remem­ber his wife’s name, but they opened their home to us reg­u­lar­ly, and it was always worth the trip to vis­it. I think I had mulled cider there for the first time. I met Gin­ger (Vir­ginia) Ruck­er through that group, too.4

We can stop here, and say, “WTF??? Are you crazy? You went off to a house shared by a bunch of guys, by your­self, with­out know­ing any­thing more than that they rent­ed videos where you did?”

I had to fig­ure that any­body who was get­ting togeth­er to watch a the­ol­o­gy lec­ture prob­a­bly was­n’t going to be too ter­ri­bly dan­ger­ous, or they’d be dan­ger­ous in the Jim Jones way, which takes time to built up, so I felt okay about going. My par­ents even allowed it.5

Hidden Art of Homemaking

Any­way, I did go. I guess that’s obvi­ous. And I went back. A very infor­mal group of peo­ple gath­ered there on a week­night for a sort of Bible/theology study thing, and most Sat­ur­day nights they did a movie dou­ble fea­ture. And from time to time, Rod read.

It did­n’t real­ly mat­ter what he read. He could have gone through all the begats and I would have been rapt. He had a gor­geous voice, and a gift for oral expres­sion. For­tu­nate­ly, he had much bet­ter taste in mate­r­i­al than that! He did intro­duce me to Chester­ton and oth­er mar­velous authors. Some­times, some­body would burst into the com­mon room so excit­ed about some­thing they’d read that they had to read it right now! The movie or stereo would be stopped, con­ver­sa­tions would large­ly cease, and who­ev­er was around would tru­ly lis­ten. It could be some­thing from the Bible, or a pulp nov­el, or just about any­thing. We’d lis­ten, all of us. We might go on to what­ev­er we’d been doing before, or some­one else might say, “Oh, that reminds me of this!” and read some­thing else out loud. Some­times a cou­ple of peo­ple, or a small group, would peel off to go talk about what had been read.

Occa­sion­al­ly, some­one would ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion or expan­sion if the rea­son for the excite­ment was­n’t clear to her, but nobody ever crit­i­cized or derid­ed the pas­sage or the read­er. It was­n’t a house rule or any­thing. It just was not done. There was no need for a rule. That’s Chris­t­ian fel­low­ship.6 We lis­tened and accept­ed in love. We accept­ed what was offered, and gave back affir­ma­tion. I have nev­er felt that sense of fel­low­ship any­where else—not in any church, wor­ship or rit­u­al; cer­tain­ly not in my fam­i­ly of ori­gin or gath­er­ings of friends. The clos­est I’ve ever come was some of the gath­er­ings of cho­sen fam­i­ly at our house in Stone Moun­tain.

Whoa, was that a tan­gent!

Get­ting back to that long-lost point? After a while Alan had the bright idea of actu­al­ly hav­ing read­ing nights. The first one that I knew of was in the home he shared with his par­ents. There were so many dif­fer­ent things read!7 One inter­est­ing thing Alan ini­ti­at­ed was read­ing a short sto­ry by pass­ing the book around the room. Each per­son read one page (just one side of the page), then hand­ed the book to the next per­son, who picked up mid-sen­tence (or even mid-word, if there had been a hyphen­ation!) and car­ried on. It was jar­ring, but it also brought a breath of fresh air to a sto­ry that I thought I knew very well8

There were quite a few read­ing nights over the next year or so. We were all read­ers, and while it can be hard to find a movie that every­body wants to see, it’s fair­ly easy for any­one to find sev­er­al pas­sages of poet­ry or prose to share, and vast­ly unlike­ly that there will be any dupli­cates. We did have to rule out Robert Louis Steven­son, though, after one per­son read what felt like at least half of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Every­body but the read­er was falling asleep! The next time we met, the same per­son pulled out either Kid­napped or Trea­sure Island, which inspired a mutiny. That was­n’t com­mon, though, and it was done nice­ly that one time.

Read­ings take me back to a feel­ing of a time when peo­ple did take time to read. Not just to read, but to expe­ri­ence a book, immerse them­selves in the lan­guage. They dis­cussed them, and cher­ished them. They read to each oth­er at home, since books were so much rar­er, enjoy­ing what­ev­er was read as a fam­i­ly. It was­n’t uncom­mon for those who weren’t doing the read­ing to be work­ing on projects, togeth­er or separately—mending, carv­ing, quilt­ing, what­ev­er. Their time was spent plea­sur­ably and pro­duc­tive­ly.

That’s so dif­fer­ent from my own expe­ri­ence of “fam­i­ly time” as a child that I know I’m roman­ti­ciz­ing it, but I also know that doing things togeth­er pulls peo­ple togeth­er, and there has to be a bal­ance of work and plea­sure. Shared sto­ries, music, and games gave fam­i­lies and friends spring­boards for cre­at­ing more of the above, for being active­ly involved in some­thing togeth­er, for hav­ing real con­ver­sa­tions in per­son and through let­ters. While there are peo­ple who find deep mean­ing in cer­tain tele­vi­sion shows, the aver­age view­er is pas­sive­ly receiv­ing what­ev­er is beamed through her TV set. No inter­ac­tion required. It’s very iso­lat­ing. So many homes have mul­ti­ple TVs that there’s no rea­son to nego­ti­ate what will be watched—you just go to your own room. More iso­la­tion!

I want fel­low­ship back. I want to recre­ate that aspect of The House that I so loved. I want some­thing like our social cir­cle from the Stone Moun­tain years. I want to be part of a group that has read­ings, that plays games togeth­er, that makes music, that cre­ates things. I keep read­ing Kim­ber­ly’s descrip­tion of “Triple C Nights” at her fam­i­ly’s home (crafts, cook­ing, and cards, I think? or maybe one of the Cs is for cats!), and I’m very envi­ous of her local crew.

I’m fair­ly sure that I’m gib­ber­ing, so I’m going to wait and re-read this tomor­row, then con­sid­er post­ing it.

1 Oh, I wish I’d tak­en the time to sit down and learn from her! But she had to return to the U.K. due to health issues.

2 Any­one who isn’t famil­iar with Fran­cis Scha­ef­fer and the whole Domin­ion­ism thing should read through the Wikipedia arti­cles or, bet­ter yet, some of the orig­i­nal sources. Scary stuff. But it was­n’t scary then, as that was the log­i­cal exten­sion of the Chris­tian­i­ty in which I was raised. I was enchant­ed with the idea of L’Abri. I still am. The Hid­den Art of Home­mak­ing: Cre­ative Ideas for Enrich­ing Every­day Life by Edith Sha­ef­fer was incred­i­bly influ­en­tial on me, and it informed much of how I con­duct­ed myself in my first mar­riage. I won­der what hap­pened to it? I’d like to re-read it now, to see if I still like it or if I’ve changed too much. Hmmm. Their son, Frank Scha­ef­fer, has writ­ten a book, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Reli­gious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, that sounds like a good read.

3 Leigh Ann What­ley Lauinger, where are you?! I miss you!

4 Again, hel­lo Gin­ger! Email me!

5 Yes, I was still liv­ing at home, and yes, they still con­trolled a large part of my life. As far as they were con­cerned, Chris­t­ian = Good.

6 I know it isn’t lim­it­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty, but if I’d found it more than once I might still be a Chris­t­ian.

7 If I were to orga­nize one again, I think I’d pro­vide a white board for peo­ple to write down the name and author of the piece they were read­ing, with pens and paper for oth­ers to copy that down. Or maybe I’d email them the list after the event. Any­way, it was always infor­ma­tion I want­ed!

8 Some­thing by O. Hen­ry, i think?

6 comments to Readings & Socializing

  • tom

    Hel­lo, I just want­ed to let you konw that you and your fam­i­ly are being ter­ri­ably dis­par­aged by the same peo­ple that attacked the folks at Wiscon32.
    They are attack­ing you and your ill­ness, your hus­band, and mak­ing inap­pro­pri­ate remarks about your daugh­ter. I thought you may want to know about this, as these ass­holes always do this for no good rea­son.

    They get to you in the 15th page of the thread.

    give those a‑holes a piece of your mind!

  • cyn

    Thanks for let­ting me know, but they real­ly aren’t worth my time. Let’s face it–anybody who has noth­ing bet­ter to do than sit around for days, mak­ing fun of peo­ple they don’t know online has a pret­ty sad excuse for a life.

  • I’ve thought about orga­niz­ing some kind of read­ing night kind of thing. When I was dat­ing a gent with a lit­tle daugh­ter, we used to read aloud at part of her bed­time rou­tine, and I had start­ed read­ing a book to him when we’d dri­ve.

    Shar­ing books like that is always love­ly.

  • cyn

    I miss read­ing to kids–that’s so much fun! The girl start­ed read­ing to her­self so quick­ly that it seems there was­n’t much time to enjoy that. I start­ed doing it before she was even born, though 🙂

  • I read some of the Fran­cis Scha­ef­fer­’s stuff in the past. We shared turns read­ing the Bible after sup­per dur­ing my child­hood.

    I read to my daugh­ters in the ear­ly years of their child­hood before I went through a divorce.

    Frank Scha­ef­fer has got­ten away from the Calvin­ism of his dad and is involved with East­ern Ortho­doxy. Close enough to Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ism for me.

  • cyn

    I came across men­tion of Frank’s book Crazy for God a while back and put it on my “to read” list, as I went through that “and lived to tell about it” escape from evan­ge­lis­tic Chris­tian­i­ty, too. Iron­i­cal­ly, I read a good post by him ear­li­er today on Huff­Post, about Dob­son’s anti-Oba­ma talk back­fir­ing.