I just passed another milestone in my life a couple of month ago, although it was not something I looked forward to, much less something I wanted to celebrate. I had dreaded it for a whole year and was still in denial when I finally crossed the threshold. Nothing in the past had fully prepared me for that moment, not those once-inspiring self-help books and famous quotes, which, all of a sudden, seemed to become useless and meaningless to me.
I had no interest in getting older, or getting wiser or mellower for that matter. I felt resentful and helplessness when I noticed what happened to my physical being over the last decade, gray hair slowly and silently creeping upon me, the skin, I was once proudest of, literally turning from blemish-free peach skin to potato skin. The sad thing is that nothing else about my look will get any better or even stay the same in the future.
Turning 50 isn’t the end of world, but it was like a quantum leap transporting me to another dimension, and I had to reset my mind and shift my thinking completely. Facing yet another crossroad in my life, I asked myself: what is next? Shall I continue to work hard or to slow down to smell the roses? How will I spend my allotted time from now on? Shall I spend more time on maintenance, a vain attempt to turn back the clock, or on mental activities to fend off Alzheimer’s? Shall I continue to work on my English, even though I would probably never have the chance to deliver a speech to a large crowd or write a book that sells?
Trying to push those mind-boggling thoughts out of my mind, I watched several movies, including The Shawshank Redemption and Julie and Julia. I had watched those movies before, but this time I watched them with a fresh pair of eyes, sharpened by my newly acquired reading glasses. I had a few “light bulb” moments while watching them. These movies inspired and enlightened me in a new way. I was so touched by The Shawshank Redemption that I want to be like Andy Dufresne, the main character in the movie, to “get busy living”. I want to be like Julia Child in Julie and Julia, finding something I am passionate about and keeping tremendously interested in it till my ripe old age. And finally, I read Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours with WenQing, which triggered an enlightening epiphany for me: the meaning of life is to live EVERY HOUR to the fullest, no matter how old you are, and the pleasure of life can be found in THE HOURS when you feel happy and satisfied, regardless of your age.
Yet another inspiration came to me a few days ago while walking with my friend and colleague on the new rubber track on the campus. It sure felt good to walk on a springy track, the sun shining softly and breeze blowing gently. My colleague is one year older than me, and we have been friends for over ten years, growing together professionally and personally. She told me that she just started to take guitar lessons as well as spend 15 minutes writing each day. She said she always wanted to learn how to play guitar and finally she has time to do it. She is a good writer, teaching Technical Writing, writing grants and papers, and editing her graduate students’ theses/dissertations on a daily basis, yet she still wants to keep improving her craft. She said that she does not want to lose her edge as she gets older. Her words struck a chord with me, because I was feeling that I was losing my edge to younger people with a creative mind, an eager spirit, and a new set of skills. The fact of life is: we either keep moving forward or we get left behind, like what the Red Queen said in Through the Looking-Glass: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." Yes, I will.
To read or not to read, that is not my question. Reading is a necessity to me just as breathing and eating. My dilemma about reading is what to read – classical or contemporary, fiction or nonfiction, reading for purpose or reading for pleasure. I would like to read a wide variety of books, but I know I don’t have the time to read all the wonderful books in the world, so often I agonize over which book to choose.
When WenQing launched the book club at the forum, I decided to put the other books aside and focus on reading The Great Gastby for a while. However, reading The Great Gatsby is more like a job than a fun activity; even though I tried to stay the course, I was sidetracked several times, stealing a few moments to read some “fun stuff”. Yet I felt a great sense of satisfaction and elation after completing a chapter or understanding the hidden meaning of a sentence in the book. Reading the “hard stuff” is indeed like a mental exercise, which keeps our minds agile and alive, just as a physical exercise does to our bodies.
As my memory starts to fade, I am amazed to find that the books that are stuck in my memory and survive in my mind over the years are those time-proven classics – To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, The Awakening, The Grapes of Wrath, and many others. A timeless classic is like a time-machine that transports us to the past or the future, and a pathway that leads us to a world without any geographic boundaries, so even though one and half centuries have passed since Charlotte Bronte wrote her Jane Eyre, we can still feel the breeze of love and warmth of compassion while reading it. Through reading, one can truly transcend cultures, nationalities, and times to arrive at a place where one can experience the universal human emotions of love and hate with people of another time and place.
I started to read with a main purpose of improving my English several years ago. I admit that I have learned a lot of English through reading. But I come to realize that I have learned a great deal beyond English. The real meaning of reading is not about learning grammar and acquiring vocabulary; the true meaning of reading is to learn life lessons from the books and to empower ourselves with the wisdom of the great minds. For instance, there have been countless times that I have to remind myself of a famous quote I learned from To Kill a Mockingbird, whenever I have hard time in a relationship, whether with my husband, my children, my bosses, my colleagues, or someone at the forum (just kidding, haha). This famous quote have echoed again and again through my head and kept me in line over the years:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I am glad that I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in my thirties, so that I have been using it since as a moral compass to help me navigate through the maze of human relationships. Reading indeed can change people’s life, for better or worse. In my case, reading has made a positive and long-lasting impact on me, so I am a better person than I was one, five, or ten years ago.
Here are the ten books that have changed my life:
1. To Kill a Mocking Bird (Harper Lee)
2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)
哈金和李翊云都得到专家的肯定，得到过很多写作上的大奖。个人觉得他们的英文很地道，特别是李翊云的英文。觉得一个好的作家并不一定要语言华丽，堆砌词汇。好的作家要会讲故事，知道怎样和读者 connect。这几个人都是 Good Storytellers，所以都很成功。另外，听过几个人的访谈，口语表达都不错。李翊云更好些，可能是她年轻一些。从这几个人的例子可以看出，学好英文写作和口语还是可能的。哈金虽然是学英语的，但起步较晚。闽安琪二，三十岁才开始学英文。
Finally my promotion came through after being rejected three times during the last 5 years. It is a little bit ironic that my promotion was declined when I was most productive, ambitious, and dedicated. Now I am very laid-back and relaxed, and definitely not performing any better now than I was one, three, or five years ago. I always thought that I was victimized by the politics, and felt bitter over each of the rejections. This time I can’t help wondering why I was approved for promotion, even thought I am still the same but only older.I dawned on me that I might have benefitted from politics this time. It seems that everything gets its compensations, and in the end, it all evens up.
I don’t feel very excited about this belated promotion. But still it is the highest rank one can achieve in an academic setting.It was the hope of being promoted that had kept me in line over the years - publishing papers, writing grants, offering new courses et al. But now what? That is it? Am I done? Some of my younger colleagues congratulated me on my promotion, and in the meantime expressed anxiety about their own tenure and promotion. I was obliged to accept their congratulations, but at the same time I envied their youth, their eagerness, their mild anxiety, and their competitive spirit to get ahead and move forward in their career paths.
For the most part of my life, I have been mostly motivated by extrinsic factors, such as money, prestige, and promotion, and have worked hard to move up the hierarchy – from assistant to associate professor, and then from associate to full professor. Now I am at a loss and don’t know where to go. I know I can have an easy and comfortable life from now on, but that is not the life I want to live. I want to open myself to new quests and conquests; I want to acquire a fresh pair of eyes to see things I have never seen before, and a new voice to say things I have been afraid to say in the past; I want to discover a new path that was previously obscured and a new calling that come from the deepest part of my heart.
I am ready to enter another phase of my life and embark on a new journey of self-discovery. From now on, I will spend more time on what I really want to do, not what I have to do.
I re-watched the movie The Way We Were – a 1973 romantic movie. It is one of a few movies I have watched many times. It is a romantic story between two young people, Hubbell and Katie, who were seemingly polar opposites of each other in every way; He was strikingly handsome, easy-going, and gifted in writing, whereas she was homely, quick-tempered, and passionate about politics. Yet they were attracted to each other and fell head over heels in love despite their differences. But their views on politics, writing, and life clashed violently and could not be reconciled, and on top of that, Hubbell had an affair with his former girlfriend, which was the last straw that broke their marriage.
In the movie, Katie seems to be a crazy one, a misfit, and a trouble maker, and Hubbell was a smooth and go-with-flow sort of guy. But in the end, it is Katie who really lived her life and stood up for what she believed in; whereas Hubbell always took the easy way out and lived for others’ expectations.
Nevertheless, when something ends, the memory stays. Hubbell and Katie shared an unforgettable memory – a memory of cherishable love and youth. The movie stirred up my own memories – those “misty watercolor memories”. The movie’s theme song, sang by Barbara Streisand, is such a hauntingly beautiful song that after the song ended, its melody lingered in my mind for a long, long time.
The Way We Were Lyrics
Memories, Like the corners of my mind Misty water-colored memories Of the way we were Scattered pictures, Of the smiles we left behind Smiles we gave to one another For the way we were Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line? If we had the chance to do it all again Tell me, would we? could we? Memories, may be beautiful and yet What's too painful to remember We simply choose to forget So it's the laughter We will remember Whenever we remember... The way we were... The way we were...