Playing With My Brain
Every morning, the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor (of Prairie Home Companion fame) lands in my e-mail box much like the way the Herald Tribune lands at the foot of my driveway at dawn. It’s a lovely way to start the day.
In the year I have been reading this almanac my day has begun with a poem by a wide range of poets including Louis Ferlinghetti, Donald Justice, Sam Walters Foss, Susan Deborah King, Edna St. Vincent Milay, Robert Burns, Poe, Shakespeare. The list goes on and it’s varied. Plus, it’s wonderful. I don’t love every piece I read, but it expands my horizons. The voices, the spirits, the life experience, the times in which the pieces were written add a luster to my soul and sometimes encouragement to my spirit or a balm for both.
Imagine, if you will, being able to walk through an art museum each day, find one painting with which you are enthralled or dislike or find intriguing. You can spend as much time as you wish in front of that painting, examining it, searching for the meaning inside, and where, how and why it impacts you. That’s what the poetry in this Almanac does for me. There are days when I read a piece and no matter how hard I try, I cannot warm up to it and other days when a piece hits me with the force of a freight train and I am left breathless with the beauty or truth of it. Sometimes the words read over breakfast niggle in my brain like maggots in a trash can all day long until all that’s left is the fresh, clean truth of those words. The words will not let me go till I understand what they really mean. At other times the words play like a symphony inside me, deep and rich, powerful and soaring like in the way the winds and the seas sing together. I love having a day to play with those words, savor them, remember them or have them burn their way into my heart or head.
But there is far more to the Writer’s Almanac than just the poetry. There is a kind of trivia section that follows—facts about writers of books, poetry, songs, presidents and kings. One morning, not long ago, I was delighted to learn that Abraham Lincoln had a laugh that could often be heard ringing down the halls of the White House. It pleased me to realize that there were things in his life that caused him enough joy to laugh aloud because that’s not an image of him that is often presented.
Just yesterday morning I learned that George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood as taught to me as a child in school; they were actually carved from the tusk of a hippo. I also learned that he was shot at twice, both times killing the horses beneath him. The second time four bullets went through his coat, missing his body. And I particularly love the fact that our first president delivered the shortest inauguration speech thus far consisting of 130 words said in 90 seconds. This is fascinating stuff.
The best part of reading the Writer’s Almanac every morning, is that it makes me want to read other things—biographies, history and books by authors I’ve not heard of but who have had such hard or curious lives that I want to read what they write, and hear their voices, know the characters they create. I find myself going to websites I didn’t know existed, revisiting the encyclopedia and dragging from my bookshelves books I purchased and had not gotten to in years. Inspiration is a grand thing. Keeping one’s brain active by reading and learning is one way to keep things like dementia and boredom at bay.
Start your day playing with your brain. Rev it up the way you rev the engine in your car before you back out of the driveway and it’ll keep you running all day.
At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at