Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2009

Season’s Greetings to one and all!

If the turkey (or ham or whatever you eat on this holiday) is in the oven, everyone has opened their gifts and you have a few minutes, sit down, take a load off, and read something.

Each and every member of my family asked for books this year. Our oldest son, Nathan, now 17 years old and taller than his dad, asked for authors like China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, and H.P. Lovecraft. I believe he received over ten books as gifts this year as well as a hefty gift card to Amazon.

Eric, age 13, and obsessed with weaponry designed to kill zombies asked for Neil Gaiman too, but for a younger crowd. We got him The Graveyard Book, about a boy raised by ghosts. He also got The Zombie Survival Guide so the next time we go to Home Depot, we’ll know exactly what we should by should the Zombie Apocalypse of 2012 come to pass. I wonder if I should be concerned that he’s had the book less than 24 hours and is on page 150.

Maisy, age 10, asked for the Guinness Book of World Records for 2010. We spent some time yesterday studying the longest fingernails, the longest hair, the biggest tumor . . . it only goes downhill from there.

Chris, my husband, got stacks of books: gem and rock books, landscape painting, travel guides, Stephen King, and I can’t even think what else.

And me? Of course I asked for books. Mary Rhinehart, Agatha Christie, all the 2W authors, and even Neil Gaiman for me as well.

As everyone opened their gifts I marveled at how many books we’ve added to our libraries in this house. I don’t mean to make our kids sound like they are total nerds . . . of course they play video games and these were asked for (and received) this Christmas. But they all asked for books. And isn’t it amazing what a great gift a book is? To give a book is to give another world, another life, another amazing set of experiences totally different from that of the recipient and yet something that will affect him / her for a lifetime.

I’d like to take the credit for instilling a desire for reading in my children. But I can’t. I encourage them, of course. The school encourages them as well. But in the end, I believe it is what can be uncovered in books that sells itself to people. Because anything can be found in books. Anything. And everything.

So while I’d like to beat this dead horse a little longer, I’m can’t. I’ve got some reading to do.

Merry Christmas everyone!
J.B. Kohl

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The Meaning of Profound

December 9, 2009

Years ago my father drove a great deal for his job. If he was in a small college town, he’d bring me a spiral-bound notebook with the college crest on the front for me to use as a journal. I filled numerous notebooks from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Kearney State College (it wasn’t a University back then), Dana College, Doane College, Wayne State College . . . you get the idea.

They were simple notebooks and I filled them with rants about high school frustrations, job issues, stories, and even the occasional poem tainted with the romantic delusions of a teen-aged girl. (ahem)

Anyway, I didn’t care what I wrote. I didn’t censor myself or criticize myself. I just wrote.

When I was in college, my older sister gave me a beautiful journal with a picture of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night on the front. Like all the notebooks I used before, this was spiral bound. But instead of a cardboard front, it had a thick, glossy cover and screamed TALENT and ART and DON’T PUT ANYTHING ON THESE PAGES THAT ISN’T PERFECT.

Understandably, it sat unused. When I started medical school, I copied, cut, and pasted anatomical figures, lists, class notes (typed, of course) inside and used it as a pocket reference during rounds. I refused to touch a pen to the pages lest anyone think I was pretentious enough to believe I had talent.

However, even though I was engrossed in class work geared to take me in a scientific direction, I still wrote in secret, scribbling thoughts on scraps of paper when the mood struck, writing funny Christmas cards, thinking of funny characters and the like. People bought me journals for gifts . . . beautiful journals with cloth covers and perfect pages. But I continued to hide my desire to write like some sort of leprous lesion and I rarely brought any of those journals out or used them.

Occasionally I tried to document (yes, document) the first words of my children or funny stories or even feelings . . . but everything sounded clinical. Too afraid to make a mistake on the pages, I wrote carefully, determined to keep my thoughts organized and numbered, just like I’d been taught in school. If I had nothing profound to say, then I had nothing to say.

Eventually I grew up and got over myself. Writing will always be something I do. My words may not change the world; they may not stop global warming or clear up acne, but they are my words and it is okay for them to matter to me.

I’m thinking of my oldest son as I write this. He’s an incredibly talented writer. Several months ago we gave him a leather journal to write in. When I noticed he wasn’t using it I asked him why. He said he felt he had to write something “profound” inside. “Profound.” That was his exact word. I was only too happy to show him the journal I use now . . . a beautiful, refillable, leather-bound journal with hand-torn pages . . . a gift from my husband and kids last year.

He looked at the cover and said only, “I’ve seen that before. You got it last year.”
So I opened it up for him and let him have a good look at what I write these days. Today, my beautiful book contains story ideas, shopping lists, sketches (and I can only draw stick people), funny stories, first chapters for books I’d like to write someday, angry rants, reminders, ticket stubs from dates with my husband, playbills, and too much else to name here. In short, my journal contains all sorts of things that make me who I am. I’m not afraid to put words inside a beautiful book. My words don’t have to be profound; they just have to come from me.

I hope if you are a writer you don’t let the appearance of your notebook intimidate you. I hope you don’t shy away from writing in public because you are embarrassed to want to share your craft with others. And I hope you keep writing because life is short and filled with so many good things worth dreaming and writing about.

—J.B. Kohl