a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


My friendship with Dena began with the sharing of a book. 

I had admired the way she flourished into the classroom with the costume for her latest starring role on our high school stage.  I envied the way she spoke during the impromptu speech unit without the slightest hint that she was reaching for an idea or that she was putting any effort into gathering her thoughts into an eloquently compact message. 

I was the weird new girl.  Nobody spoke to me.  But Dena always smiled.  She always said, “Hello!”  Sometimes she even asked me what I was reading.  Even in those days, I always carried a book.  I have always loved to read, but during my sophomore year in high school, after moving from the deep woods of northern Wisconsin back to a suburb of Chicago, books also served as a means of acting aloof or, as in Dena’s case, a topic of conversation. 

And so it happened that I lent her my copy of A Creative Companion: Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit by SARK.  I saw her as an artsy soul who would appreciate SARK’s words and images.  I was right. 

A few days later, she returned the book tucked inside a shopping bag.  At first I wondered if she didn’t want anyone to see what she was handing me, but when I peeked inside I discovered something else.  Something better.  The kind of something on which friendships are built.  She had painted a picture for me.  On the back she had written the title: Dreamsleep.  It was an image inspired by SARK’s words.

And so, a friendship was born.  Over the years, Dena and I have shared lots of books.  In high school, we discovered that we hadn’t read each other’s favorite childhood reads.  So, she lent me her copy of Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and I lent her my treasured copy of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.  Again, she thanked me with artwork.  This time it was a collage with this quote at its center:

Jess didn't concern himself with what would "become of it". For the first time in his life he got up every morning with something to look forward to. Leslie was more than his friend. She was his other, more exciting self—his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond. 

So, on Friday when I was at the All-Write Conference, sitting {next to Ruth Ayres!} in Donalyn Miller’s session Wild About Reading*, and she asked us to think of an avid reader we knew and list everything about that person that tells us he/she is a reader (no academic-related evidence allowed), it was only natural that I think of Dena.  This is how I know Dena is a reader:

·      she shares book with others, gives them as gifts, tries to match books to readers
·      she volunteers in the library at her son’s school
·      she posts facebook status updates about books
·      she writes blog posts about how books affect her life
·      she allows books to impact her life
·      she displays books in her home, and she makes room for book storage
·      reading is part of her daily schedule with her son
·      she takes books with her all the time
·      she is intentional about taking/making time to read
·      she has reading plans—a ‘to be read’ list and a ‘maybe someday’ list
·      she rereads books she loves
·      she likes certain kinds of books, she knows her tastes as a reader (but is always open to trying something new)
·      she has a library card
·      she reads in multiple formats (online, electronic book, hard copy)
·      she always has lots to talk to about no matter who she encounters—grand background knowledge
·      she remembers what she reads

This is all I had time to list during the time allotted, but I am sure I could go on.  Dena’s life, like mine, is rich with reading experience and a heartfelt passion for story.  Story nourishes the roots of our friendship and is the sunlight we extend our branches towards.  It is our way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.

*Donalyn Miller’s session was about identifying the habits of lifelong readers and finding ways to explicitly teach those habits to our students.  It is the topic of the book on which she is currently working.  And it is exactly what I didn’t know I needed to hear next as a workshop teacher. 


  1. You are lucky to have such an enduring friend Christy, & that, like you, she is a reader. That makes you both lucky, I think. Great list, & nice to see you had a peek into Donalyn Miller's latest work. Oh boy!

  2. This makes me think of my grandmother - she wasn't the friendliest person, but she was a voracious reader! So great to have readers around us!

  3. Dena sounds awesome. I love friends who share what they took from a book with us. Did you save her artwork?

    1. I saved the painting. The collage was made of paper and I think it sort of fell apart over the years. I wanted to include a photo of the painting, but I am at my Dad's lake house (still here since All-Write). I may go back and edit this post to include it once I get home, though.

  4. LOVE your list! Dena sounds wonderful. :)

  5. Love the story of your friendship with Dena. Quite powerful! I love that it all started with a book (and artwork!) and continues today. Great story to share about your connected reading community!

  6. Wow, what an amazing friendship! I love that you exchanged books and artwork -- truly pieces of yourselves! Your list of all the things that show she is a reader was so thorough and thought-provoking. Now I can't wait for Donalyn's new book! Did she say when it will come out?

  7. A friendship that started with a book - great story. Having inspiring time (All-Write) in wonderful company, thinking of your friend - kind of makes you want to fly. Certainly keeps your brain busy.

  8. What great memories. I love that she shared herself creatively with you and that you shared books together. On another note, it was a great surprise to meet you, even if it was brief. I too hope that we can visit a bit longer next year should I be lucky enough to make it back!

  9. Christy, Thanks so much for this! I love it, and will always be grateful for that time in our life when we got to know one another through our reading. Question though, should I blog about "A Separate Peace" or should I leave that to you? Dena

  10. I'm glad to see your list all typed up and the story behind the reader. Loved hanging out with you at the conference.