Watching my granddaughter, Molly, grow is so incredibly rewarding. She is constantly learning new things. Every day she wakes up so full of life. It’s as if she’s wondering, “What cool things am I going to learn today?” I used to believe that kids learn new things until they become adults. Then you are are “just a grownup” for the rest of your life. This was around the same time that I thought grownups could do whatever they wanted. I don’t know about all adults, but it sure hasn’t turned out to be true for me. Each stirring is another opportunity to learn.
When I feel stirred, it feels like a small voice saying, “Pay attention. Something cool is going on.” It is an opportunity to see something new that I never saw before, or something old in a new way… hearing a new sound… smelling a new smell (what did I have for lunch?). For me, being stirred is learning. My artist/neighbor/friend says, “To truly live and grow is to always be open to being stirred/ stimulated/ moved, isn’t it?” What does stirring mean for you?
Reading for stirring
When I was younger, I read mostly for information. I was (and am) a learner. The rule makers I was trying to please said, “Learn the rules and obey them and you will be okay.” So I studied and listened in order to learn the rules of life. The better I learned the rules, the better I could recite them and the more I felt like I fit in. Unfortunately, with my head down, learning and applying the rules, I didn’t see that I was following a map through life that was written by others who were as clueless as I was. They saw what they saw and no more. Lately I have found myself understanding that most rules are someone else’s ideas about how life works. They remind me of the ancient maps of the world drawn by people who had a very limited perspective. Yes, they were invaluable in their day, but really… are you kidding me. This is North America?
Lately I find that I am reading less for learning and more for stirring. I want to learn, but to get more perspective, not the right answer. Don’t get me wrong, I do read to learn, but the ideas the author is trying to convey are less important to me than what her words stir in me. Not because I have all the answers, but because some things I am ready to learn and others… not so much. The stirrings are a clue to what I’m ready for. Some of my recent reads have stirred me to irritation. Even that has value. I was able to ask myself what I believed and what was this author stirring in me. That was way more valuable than reading an author I agreed with completely (if that were possible).
Lately, I find that I enjoy two kinds of books. The first type is books that explain some facet of the way life works in a way that I have never thought of before. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Seth Godin’s Linchpin are two that I particularly enjoyed. I’m reading one now, called Nudge that talks about the kinds of things that influence the thousands of decisions we make every day. Fascinating stuff. Not the whole story, but a new perspective. The other kind of books I find myself gravitating to are biographies. I got stuck on presidential bios for a while and then got out of that rut by reading a biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops.
I am a little surprised that I like biographies so much for two reasons. First because, I like surprises. I don’t want to know what is coming next. With a biography, you already know the ending. For me, knowing that the story is true and experiencing the depth of the whole person is fascinating and stirring. I pick a biography because of what the person did. But when I as I slow down long enough to read the details of his life, he becomes a real person with real difficulties to overcome. The other reason my interest in biographies surprises me is that I’m not a big fan of history. I find facts and dates to be overwhelming and boring. But reading the biography of a historical figure helps me experience history through their eyes. They become much more than their accomplishments. That stirs me, and I like being stirred.