reading

A Case for Re-Reading by Deidra Dallas

I am an avid reader. Like I assume is the case with most avid readers, I am also an avid re-reader. Don’t get me wrong, falling in love with a new book is a joy that cannot be properly encapsulated into words. Falling in love with a new author is even more joyous. There is something mysterious and heartwarming and awe inspiring about new books.

The Little House series were the first books I remember LOVING. (Bold and italics and capitals 100% used for full effect there.) They were all that I had never realized books could be. I reveled in deciphering the words and discovering for myself this story of Laura, her Pa and Ma, and her sisters. 

There is something mysterious and heartwarming and awe inspiring about new books.

But then they were over, and there was no more Little House, and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. How could they just be over? Finishing a book is more heartbreaking than almost anything I’ve ever encountered (unless it’s finishing a book series). It’s like simultaneously having to attend the funeral of/go through a breakup with 20 people. 

The only way to soothe yourself is to lose yourself in other books, books like Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter and hundreds and hundreds of others. I could not begin to tally for you the number of books I have consumed in my life. I have studied and read and re-read until I’m sure the number of minutes I have spent with a book in my nose far outnumbers the total number of minutes I have done just about anything else. 

Re-reading is the other way I have found to soothe myself after finishing a much loved book or series. I find on the re-read I discover new character traits and motivations or little turns of phrases I never noticed before. Re-reading allows me to re-experience what I first loved in a whole new way.

In my literature courses, I was taught to re-read -- you read something the first time for the content and then after that you read it to analyze. Society, though, has taught me that re-reading is something of which I should be ashamed. If you Google, you will find dozens upon dozens of articles which claim that re-reading is a waste of your brain space and that you should be expanding your mind by experiencing new things, new authors, new themes, new characters. 

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They aren’t wrong, but I can’t seem to stop either. Often, I re-read when I am in need of an escape. I may be stressed or sad or just plain tired and I don’t have brain space to consume or understand something new, so I turn to old friends. 

I have re-read Little House and Harry Potter and Anne I couldn’t tell you how many times. Harry I have read annually for the last 20 plus years and I wrote extensive research papers on them in grad school. I can practically recite them. 

This year I decided upon a new re-reading method -- audiobooks. I have a weird thing with audiobooks -- I can only listen to books I have previously read. I find that my mind tends to wander when I’m listening instead of actively engaged in reading and so only if I know the book can I pick up the threads of the story again when I have mentally wandered while listening. Naturally, then, I began with Harry Potter. Next, I took up Anne

And here’s the funny thing. I love the first three books, always have. I am head over heels in love with Gilbert Blythe, and I have no qualms about admitting that publicly. The next four books, with the exception of Anne’s House of Dreams, have considerably less Gilbert, and 6 and 7 even have considerably less Anne. I enjoy the stories, but I do not love them. 

The final book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside, I must admit I have suffered through when I have tried to read it in the past. The World War I theme was interesting, but it was so far outside the world of Anne (which is admittedly the point) that as a young person, I felt no connection to the story or the characters. Rilla Blythe irritated me, and I desperately yearned for more of Anne and Gilbert’s thoughts on the horror of seeing their sons march off to war instead of their live-in Susan Baker’s. So, upon my listen, I fully expected to feel the same. 

Re-reading allows me to re-experience what I first loved in a whole new way.

But, here’s what happened -- I sobbed like a baby while hearing this particular story read aloud. 

I never once had shed a tear when it came to any of the Anne series (excepting Matthew’s death). But this time when Jem left Dog Monday at the train station, when Rilla read Walter’s last letter home before his death, when little Bruce drowned his kitten in hopes that the sacrifice would bring Jem home, and particularly when Little Dog Monday greeted his returning soldier at the end of the war, I could not contain my tears. 

And they weren’t just tears. I did that particular kind of cry where you are trying not to cry too loudly and so you are making this horribly odd sucking sound in the back of your throat while tears stream down your face. I still have not figured out why. 

Why this time -- this tenth or eleventh time that I am reliving this story -- why did it affect me so much? Was it just hearing it instead of reading it? But no, many, many books that I have read for myself have made me cry. I admit that listening gave it a different kind of poignancy, but I do not think that was it. 

I think I’m...older. I’ve grown up since the last time I read this book, and although the protagonist is a 15 year old girl at the beginning of the war and I was much closer to 15 the first time I followed her story, I can understand at 31 what I could not understand at 15. The tragedy of life, the fear of the possibility of this kind of war repeating itself again, the unforgettable knowledge that death is permanent and infects everyone -- all of that is real to me now. 

I used to think that I would only find growth by reading new things, writing new things, experiencing new things. This is not false -- the path to adulthood is paved with new things, and I rejoice in finding and learning them. But when you experience new things, you grow and change, you become new again, which means you can never look at your old life exactly the same way. You don’t relive the past, I would never suggest that, you just learn to look at past experiences differently and they color how you handle the future. 

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Or to borrow a Rilla quote, “It's strange - isn't it - They have been two terrible years - and yet I have a queer feeling of thankfulness for them - as if they had brought me something very precious in all their pain. I wouldn't want to go back and be the girl I was two years ago not even if I could. Not that I think I've made any wonderful progress - but I'm not quite the selfish frivolous little doll I was then. I suppose I had a soul then...but I didn't know it. I know it now - and that is worth a great deal - worth all the suffering of the past few years.” 

My soul, spirit, inner self, whatever you’d like to call it, had never had to do much growing. In the last 5 years, though, it has grown a lot -- and it hurt. A lot. But, I wouldn’t trade it. Maybe it wasn’t World War I, but it was something, and because of it I have a whole new outlook.

So, I no longer feel guilty for indulging in a little re-read now and again, for everything old is made new again when we come at it with new eyes, a new life. I guess, in a way, we aren’t ever really re-reading. We’re simply getting the pleasure of reading a story for the first time again with our fresh souls. It is truly one of the most wonderfully mysterious, heart warming, and awe inspiring experiences one could ever imagine.

The Guts to Get Out by Deidra Dallas

I meant to post this on Saturday, but then this happened:

All is mostly well. Several homes were lost (not mine, just to be clear), the baseball field is destroyed, and there was some damage to the track and a whole bunch of junk blown around. No serious injuries and no deaths, so we escaped relatively unscathed. Still scary and life changing for people near and dear to me though.

So because of that, graduation got moved to Sunday and then the older brother flew back home Sunday and then best friend and I decided to be healthy and do some exercising and then I had to watch the Game of Thrones finale so the Internet wouldn’t ruin it for me and then I sang at the junior high awards assembly and then… well, a few days late is better than I’ve been doing, so I’m gonna take it.

But anyway, read this knowing it should have been posted Saturday.


Today is the day I had the guts to get out.

Today marks the official one year anniversary of resigning my position as a teacher. Or to quote my best friend’s mother-in-law, today is the day I had the guts to get out. It has been a year that has felt simultaneously as if it contained about 15 years in one and also as if it was maybe just the longest month of my life. Everything has changed and yet nothing feels different. It is an extraordinarily exhilarating and confusing feeling.

I have been asked by many people if I regret leaving. I always laugh and cut them off before they can even finish the question. No. Never.

There have been moments I have missed it. Watching the kids I’ve known since they were little bitty perform in their last ever musical or One Act Play, I shed a few tears, I’ll admit. (I’m sorry, daughter of mine, for sobbing on your shoulder that one time, and thank you for letting me.) However, I do not regret my decision to leave.

Over the last year, I have changed more than just my profession, though, and so I thought I’d share some other things that have changed or that I’ve learned about myself in the last 12 months because who doesn’t love a list?

Top 12 Things that Have Changed in the Last 12 Months

  1. I can admit that I was depressed (sometimes still am because depression doesn’t just go away) and that I have at least a mild case of anxiety. It has lessened since I removed myself from situations that caused it to flare up.

  2. I am not angry as often. I am not stressed. I can breathe freely. Seriously -- I don’t hyperventilate anymore and I haven’t had a panic attack in months.

  3. I am not afraid to be with my own thoughts anymore. I no longer need to drown myself out with Netflix. I can read (something I hadn’t done in awhile) or, more importantly, I can just sit and think. There is power in just sitting and thinking.

  4. I don’t drink as much as I used to, and I eat better. My body is not 100% yet, but it’s getting there. I knew that mental and physical health were tied together, but I never really knew until now because now I actually want to take care of myself -- I have a craving for it.

  5. I’ve stopped involving myself in drama and with dramatic people because I don’t need the distraction of their lives anymore. (I also don’t see teenagers on a daily basis, which helps, love them as I do. And I deleted Snapchat. I highly recommend deleting Snapchat.)

  6. I’ve learned and am still learning to say “No,” even to my own family, which is hard. So incredibly hard. But I’m done with obligation, and it is definitely okay to say no.

  7. I cry more easily because I’m not bottling everything up anymore. Movies, TV shows, books, plays -- they make me sob. In public. A lot.

  8. I love traveling alone. I also like traveling with my dad and with my older brother and with the rest of our family. Traveling is no longer an escape from life, it is a driving force in my life. I am working towards visiting all 50 states. I’m over halfway there.

  9. I don’t want children. Maybe I will again someday, but to quote the older brother -- I just got free again; why would I want to change that? I love being an aunt, and I’m good with just that role.

  10. I love being alone. I am sick of people (including myself) trying to stop me from being alone. I do not need someone to complete me whether that’s a partner or children. I am not a whole person only when I have become a wife and a mother. I am a whole person right now.  

  11. I am better at things than I give myself credit. I don’t give myself nearly enough credit, still. Luckily, I have a best friend who tells people I am working on a novel when I gloss over that fact. Feels funny still to say “I am a writer,” especially since I don’t yet have any proof. But then again, it’s not really about proving it to anyone besides myself.

  12. I feel more like myself than I have in over 10 years.

Yeah, that last one was kind of sappy and I do despise sap, but I really needed a 12th one to make the whole idea here work, soooooo…

I am a whole person right now.

To write or to trophy wife...that is the question. by Deidra Dallas

Recently, I quit my job. I was a teacher.

For the last 10 years, I have impressed upon high school students the importance of using proper grammar and projecting their voices on stage. I have lectured about King Henry VIII and all of his wives and hammered home the finer points of drafting an argumentative paper. I have traveled the state of Texas taking students to debate meets and theatre festivals and choir competitions and marching band contests.

And I loved it. My colleagues were (and are) my best friends. My students were (and are) like my personal children.

I envy those who are able to pull off the teaching gig. I wish that I was one of them.

But I also hated it. Deep down, I was resentful of all the time I spent writing lesson plans and grading papers and traveling every weekend with children who were not actually my own. I had no time for a personal life, much less time to date so I could find someone to have my own children with. While I adored my students, I did not adore the stress and anxiety that came with them.

When I was young and naive, I wanted to be a writer. “I’ll write books!” I told my friends and family. And I really thought I would. I’ve loved words since I learned to read at three years old, since I wrote my first short story in the first grade. I wrote for and edited every literary magazine at every major academic institution I attended. I minored in Business to go along with my Creative Writing major so I could pursue publishing.

But life is life, and instead I became a teacher. And then one day, prepping for the five different classes I was teaching and making plans for an out of town speech tournament while simultaneously planning a rehearsal schedule for the fall musical, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was ill, constantly. My blood pressure was sky-high. My hair was falling out. I didn’t sleep. I ate sporadically, and when I did, it was quick and easy junk. Teaching was not healthy for me.

I envy those who are able to pull off the teaching gig. I wish that I was one of them. I pretended like I was, for a long time. And I felt guilty and was angry at myself every time I realized I wasn’t. I felt like I had failed and was continuing to fail every time I woke up and wasn’t happy to be going to school. But I would put my head back down and keep on. What else was I going to do?

Well, life is life, and so I started my own business called Review My Paper. Freelance editing. It takes what I love about teaching (digging deep into someone’s writing to make them better) and takes out what I hate (fighting administration for what I knew was right but didn’t align with the latest fad to make us all “better teachers”).

To be or not to be: that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.
— Hamlet, 3.1

What this all boils down to though is now I have time for myself. I can sleep. I eat better. My blood pressure is slowly working its way down. But most importantly, I have time to write. Because, honestly, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s what I was built to do.

And that’s where I’m at. I have been out of the school for one whole semester, and it is incredibly freeing. But also there are times I wish I could wake up somebody’s trophy wife so I don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage or feeding the dogs.

But, as my former student and really good friend told me, I’d be so bored with that.

So I choose to write…because I’d rather suffer the slings and arrows of my own outrageous fortune, even when it’s scary as crap.

I’m going to try to document it — writing, editing, making a living, dating (maybe??). Mostly to keep myself honest, but maybe you’ll get a kick out of it, too. Oh, and I like to read a lot, so I’ll probably talk about that, too. For my first, and very brief, book chat: Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare (if you couldn’t tell).