Soul Places

Befriending the Soul through Inquiry and Creativity

Tag: Paul Harding

Exotic Locations Close to Home – Very Close

It took Paul Harding several years and countless rejections before anyone would even publish Tinkers – and now he has a coveted Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for it.  I fell in love with his fresh voice, characters and his ability to evoke great emotion with his honesty.  I found myself frequently setting the book down, sighing deeply and masticating over the poetic language, pace, and simplicity of it.  But he also made me wonder, “What am I passionate enough about, what do I believe in enough to never give up?”

So here I stand at the threshold of recapturing an intense passion in reading.  Would I cross over and honor myself or let this new commitment fade like a New Year’s Resolution in March?  The beauty of this novel made me sad that I’ve missed so much in recent years, but more importantly, it reinforced the drive to figure out what I really enjoy in life.  And what the heck am I going to do for the rest of my life?  I finally got the message that my previous career choice was serving me knuckle sandwiches.  How do I get filet mignon instead?

Entering college sixteen years ago, I didn’t understand the freshman angst about choosing a major.  I always knew I was going to be a horse trainer when I grew up.  I earned a bachelor in animal science with an equine emphasis and business option and proceeded to bounce around from one less-than-ideal trainer to another.  And when I burned out, I’d do a stint in a pet clinic, remodel apartments or manage a bakery.  But I always returned to my first love of horses.  Now I am the angst-filled freshman wondering what my unique gift to the world is.  Horses will always be an important part of my life, but they are no longer my vocation – much to my surprising relief.

I find myself with so many questions so I return to my “research” where I discover reading as a form of meditation.  Where my mind is free to wander and wonder, contemplate and concentrate on the words before me.  And although I didn’t read Tinkers in any exotic locations, it sure took me to far off places in my being:

I found myself entering a cabin on a lake that had been put away for the winter.  A layer of dust covered the sheets that lay over the furniture.  Particles floating in the air caught the early morning light slanting through cobwebbed windows.  A chill in the air made me instinctively hug myself and rub my arms for heat.  The stuffy smell of abandon lingered.  I stood at the window looking out over the lake and wondered when the inhabitants would return.  It seemed as though years had gone by since anyone lived here.  I wandered over to the bookshelf and pulled the sheet down in a cloud of curiosity.  I picked a random book and opened it to the first page.  My name was inscribed there as belonging to this book – or it to me.  Was this MY breathtaking retreat on the lake?  Dread seized me as I realized the neglect of my own soul – covered in cobwebs – musty – and waiting.

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A Fantastical Way Back to Myself Through Reading

My mission to read all the Pulitzer Prize winning Fiction novels began a few months ago with an intense desire to become one of the cherished few accepted into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  Paul Harding is a graduate of this program so I must start here.  Having volunteered to help my cousin move from Madison to Iowa City, I was ripe for the exploring and ready to put foot to sidewalk as soon as the moving truck was unloaded.  I researched all the bookstores in this town, but the first one I entered won my heart.

Prairie Lights bookstore felt so exciting to me.  Perhaps it was the “City of Lit” that had me all jittery for some fresh pages to smell and peruse.  Maybe it was Paul from “Paul’s Corner” who helped me find the Pulitzer winner from this year, Tinkers by Paul Harding and then cheered me out the door when he noticed I had purchased one of his new favorite books.  Or the Times Club upstairs where I had a real chai tea and eavesdropped on three emphatic author-wanna-bes.  I had a serious crush on this place.

I think, however, that my star-struckedness had more to do with the fact that I had promised myself – no – allowed myself to read again.  I had just spent an exhausting year pouring myself into a project that ended up kicking me to the curb anyhow.  I had sacrificed every important relationship, most damaging being the one with myself, to manifest a dream that I couldn’t have.  Or maybe I no longer wanted.  I was burnt out, abandoned and hoping to meet myself on the street one day.

This book was my first step toward running into my elusive self.  I was giving myself permission to revel in a pleasure I was rabid over as a child.  I once devoured books and even became a word collector.  I would look the words up in my raggedy Webster and try to use them in an attempt to expand my own limited voice.  Why had I ever allowed this person to become buried by the drive to earn a paycheck?

Tinkers symbolizes the beginning of a sojourn to find that child, tackle her to the ground and throttle her until she answers every last question I suddenly have bouncing around in my head.  ”Where have you been?  Why did you leave me?  And by the way – I have so much to tell you!”  As I pull her to her feet, sheepishly remove the grass from her hair and awkwardly pat her shoulder, I realize this is an embarrassing way to begin a fantastical way back to myself.