Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reflections on reading, writing and ‘rithmetic

“I’m reading about writing, and later I’ll write about reading.”

These words I shared with my husband as I left the living room where he was spending time with old friends – Sunday morning television anchors telling stories he enjoyed – as I went off to read and later create some of my own.

My old friends are on the pages of books.

Instead of reading that morning, I felt drawn to write, to capture right then, on the computer monitor before me, what was floating through my brain.

It wasn’t always that way. I didn’t always have that luxury. But, looking back, now, I know that’s okay.

As a youngster, I fell in love with words. Remember that Little Golden Book, the red book with the one word title, Words? If you don’t, you missed a little bit of magic, I think.

The book has evolved through the years. The version I remember had little boys and girls of the 1940s and 1950s, not too unlike the ones in our “Dick and Jane” primers at school.

Through that book, even before I went off to a big red brick school house, I’d learned to recognize those words, “big” and “red” and more, from that little 25-cent book.

And, as I watched how words could be woven on a page to tell stories, I began to fall in love with them. I loved putting them on paper myself and retrieving them by reading words others had left for me to discover.

Once I found out about numbers, I liked them, too. It was fun to see how numerals worked together, not the same as letters, but in their own unique way. They had an order to them that letters didn’t.

Oh, sure, letters had to march just so onto the page to spell this word or that, and those of us who got them all in the right order, words one through 20 on the spelling list, got a bright shiny, colorful star and a letter A, followed by an arithmetic sign, +. Funny, isn’t it, how even then, back in first grade, numbers and letters, writing and ‘rithmetic, were intertwined.

But there was more latitude with letters, with words. You could mix them up and they still worked. Do that with numbers and you’d have a disaster. No matter how you tried to explain it to the teacher, two plus two were never going to equal five.

Just as those words and numbers were intertwined, so it was to be in my life.

As a senior in high school, trying to decide what my major in college should be, I was torn between the math formulas that kept me mesmerized, nose to the grindstone in Sister Charles Ellen’s math class, and the words that drew me to the page in the Mike Royko articles we studied in Sister Theresa Rose’s journalism class and the contemporary novels we studied in Sister Denise’s senior English class.

In college, I ended up being drawn to my school’s English program. When I left two years later, I spent more than 20 years working with – balancing – numbers everyday as I worked with grocery store ledgers.

In the long run, the call of the words was louder, so when I returned to college in my late 30s, they won out.

Today, as a writer and online editor for a communication news website, I “skip, scan and retrieve” thoughts written in hundreds of online articles each week. Yet, when my time’s my own, as it is more often at this stage of life, I do what I love most.

I read about writing, write about reading and often do either – just because I can.

I still know how to work a mean equation when I have to – but, don’t get too excited, my math-loving friends. I’m not so crazy about ‘rithmetic that I celebrate or count down to “Pi day.”

Carl Sandburg’s birthday, yes. But, wait, what was that one poem he wrote?

Ah, yes … “Arithmetic.”

On second thought, for the sake of all those numbers I juggled, I guess I could at least treat myself to a piece of pie on March 14, couldn’t I?

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