Has a book ever changed your life?
When I was seventeen, one changed mine. I read a book that gently informed the rest of my teenage years and continues to guide me today. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet fell into my hands as a gift from my father. It remained on my bedside table for a month before I tentatively reached for it on my way out one day and cracked it open at a Second Cup one faithful summer afternoon. I remember not being able to put the book down and I still remember Rilke’s words: “No experience has been too slight, and the least incident unfolds like a destiny, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide web in which each thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another and held and borne up by a hundred others”…. A cold coffee had never tasted so good.
I was reminded of that passage recently. To me, it speaks to life’s little moments that we sometimes take for granted – the ones that seem little yet, in the grand scheme of things, have the power to greatly shape our lives.
A couple weeks ago, Literacy Quebec had its first free book giveaway. Book donation boxes had piled up in our Verdun office that deserved to be opened and shared. So we set up a table on the sidewalk outside and gave each book a spot in our moveable library. The response was incredible. Before we even had a chance to finish setting up the full table and boxes beneath it, our first curious street-goer ventured over. And then another and another and…another.
I pulled up a chair next to the table and watched joyfully as…
We really had a bit of everything on that table – War and Peace, books on the wines of Burgundy, a guide for first-time elementary school teachers, The Wind in the Willows, books on fashion, books on chocolate cake, parenting advice, poetry and books on places to visit. A bit of everything. And at the end of the day, we were surprised to find most books had cleared out. We were surprised about what people in our community gravitated toward and it turned out that “a bit of everything” had become our sweet spot. A bit of everything appealed to a bit of every one on the sidewalk that day and it was a fantastic thing to see.
A small event like this one also strengthened a sense of community in Verdun. At one point, two women reached to take the same book - something that, for dramatic effect, could've spurred a small quarrel. However, they instead agreed to share the book. They exchanged phone numbers and agreed that when the first was finished reading, she'd call the other to arrange a meeting to exchange.
And for some of our visitors, this initiative was an opportunity to grow their love of reading. Two little boys from the school across the street came by our table after their class let out. They were each holding a small plant and after they both chose their books, they scurried off. With a plant still in one hand, one boy had chosen a book about how pencils are made. He cradled it tightly with his other available hand. Perfect balance.
The magic of the printed word is definitely not dead. People still reach for books when they can. It's just that, nowadays, buying new books and even some used ones can be costly and not everyone has time to browse a library. Sometimes a small sidewalk giveaway is needed to remind them of their love of reading.
As I watched people come by our table, I caught a glimpse into the excitement that reading and books still spark. An event of this nature can have tremendous impact that isn’t necessarily quantifiable but can be subtly, powerfully informative to the rest of our lives. Mexican artist Jorgé Mendez Blake illustrated this in his viral art installation “The Impact of a Book”. The installation itself was 23 metres long and used 5000 bricks. Yet, only one book was needed for the message to be conveyed and sometimes that’s all it takes. A book, an illustration, a poem, a sentence, a word and an idea – they can all act as threads that support the wonderful, wide web of our lives.
Every Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episode begins in the same way. As he enters his TV house, he starts by singing.
It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Revisiting episodes of this beloved show is thought-provoking. I wasn’t born when Mr. Rogers debuted but I still find something enchanting about his daily ritual. When he was interviewed on the Charlie Rose show, Rose asked him how many children he thinks he’s influenced over the years and Mr. Rogers responded:
“I don’t care how many, even if it’s just one. We get so wrapped up in numbers in our society. The most important thing is that we are able to be one-to-one, you and I with each other at the moment. If we can be present to the moment with the person that we happen to be with, that’s what’s important.”
The one-to-one moment is key. And those moments are hard to come by today. We do live in a culture of sharing but much of that sharing is focused on maximizing the amount of people reached rather than individual impact. For example, if you think about our version of stories today – you might think of Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook stories where one can string together pictures and videos taken throughout the day that normally only stay posted for 24 hours before fading away.
A couple weeks ago, Literacy Quebec ran a Community Storytelling Workshop in partnership with fellow local organization, Suspicious Fish. All were welcome to come, listen to stories, write their own, receive feedback, engage with the Verdun community, and explore storytelling in its various forms. One of the best parts of the workshop was that it felt intimate and easy-going. We all shared stories with one another and listened to what each other wanted to say. It didn’t matter how many people were being influenced as much as it mattered that the people in the room felt comfortable to share. I racked my brain for a funny family anecdote to tell but came up with nothing. I talked about something I read in a magazine that I loved instead and it was great. Some of the best stories don’t even have a phenomenal ending or an extraordinary plot but are simply told with heart and that seems to be what matters most.
Mr. Rogers once said, “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self”. Through sharing stories we cherish, we can tell about our honest selves. And that gets us closer to those one-on-one magic connections.
We all have stories to tell. Except right before telling them, we occasionally get stumped thinking that they aren’t worth sharing or aren’t noteworthy enough for people to care about. What if we replaced this doubt with another sentiment that Mr. Rogers frequently referred to in his shows? He finished every episode the same way in his closing song – by saying: "You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you. There's only one person in the whole world that's like you, and that's you. And people can like you just the way you are. I'll be back next time. Bye-bye!"
He would enforce this notion constantly and as Morgan Neville’s new documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? explores, contemporaries of Rogers would sometimes blame him for breeding a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness among children. He responded to these critics in his 2002 Dartmouth commencement speech:
“It’s you I like…And what that ultimately means, of course, is that you don't ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you. When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see, or hear, or touch.”
As Literacy Quebec and Suspicious Fish prepare for our next storytelling event on July 12th, I think about the value of the stories we tell. The simple act of sharing one story may seem like a drop in the ocean but maybe its impact is invisible to the eye. Each word has an undercurrent that reaches further. Had Mr. Rogers been so focused on impact and numbers, would the messages of his show have traveled as far as they have today? Our stories have power when we believe in them and no matter how many people they reach; they are special because they share a part of our honest self.
DO YOU HAVE A STORY ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD IN VERDUN? SUBMIT IT TO EVENTS@LITERACYQUEBEC.ORG UNTIL AUGUST 10TH.
This happened in the mid-80’s when I was in elementary school, grade six to be exact. I won’t use anyone’s names even though the story isn’t negative or critical of anyone. It is a bit graphic though and I’m still a bit embarrassed about the way I behaved at the end even if I was just acting like a goofy 11 year old caught up in school drama.
So, I was in the 6th grade at St.Thomas More Elementary School back when there were enough English Schools that you may not have known every other English kid your age living in Verdun. From what I can remember, it was late fall and there was a small gang of us who had started to hang around each other enough that we thought of ourselves as a little gang among other little gangs.
Again, this was 35 years ago and I can’t remember all the details. One piece that I’m a fairly clear of, but can’t completely see even if I close my eyes, is where our classroom was on the top floor of the building. There was a main stairway in the middle of the floor that all of the classes used. There was also a stairway that was at the end of the hall close to our classroom. This stairway was used at times, but for the most part students were not supposed to use it unless there was a real good excuse. If I remember correctly, one of the big attractions was that it was a bit of a shortcut to the school lunchroom. Looking back now, I have no idea why there was any big reason to want to get there before anyone else, but then again, who can remember much of what make us tick at that age?
It was lunchtime and as the hall filled with students pushing and screaming and punching and screaming some more, myself and two of the guys in our little gang made a dash for the back door leading to these other stairs.
Something else I remember about the layout was that unlike the main stairway that was covered in artwork and signs telling us to do this and that, this back one was bare and dark.
Getting through the door unnoticed was no problem with the teachers distracted by all the noise. We did a quick check to make sure weren’t noticed and then made for the staircase. Like I already said, there was this need to get down there before anyone else and this feeling to win the race was combined with our love for sliding down banisters.
Each floor was made up of two staircases that turned in the opposite direction. There were three floors to get down and so we would be taking six sets of rails in all. I can’t remember who went first down the first one, but in a few short seconds we had covered one set and had jumped off to get on the next one.
This part I remember vividly. I had turned to look somewhere else for a moment, maybe up to see if anyone had followed us, and when I looked back only one of my friends was still there, but he wasn’t getting on the next rail, he was running down the stairs screaming the other one’s name. I watched him going down and then looked straight down between the opening of the crossing staircases. There I saw my other friend sitting upright against the wall at the bottom. He was in shock and staring straight ahead.
I can’t say much about the details from here. In my memory, I next remember a teacher squatting next to him and trying to comfort him. From there, I feel like I remained at the top of the stairs and watched as he was attended to by paramedics, although I don’t think that I really stayed up there through all of that. I think that just comes from my memory of having it been retold. What I still think about in my own shock now is how he managed to cleanly fall between the narrow openings of the staircases all the way down to the bottom.
My friend was okay in the end. Again, from memory I remember that we were told he suffered a ruptured spleen and other injuries, and that he missed what must have been a couple of months of school. I also remember that we rallied around him, made him cards and other get well gifts and collected money to pay for a new sweater to replace the one that the paramedics had to cut when they attended to him.
I don’t know how this affected me as a kid. I don’t think it was too traumatic since we knew shortly afterwards that he was going to be okay. There was one incident not too long afterwards though that has stuck with me.
I mentioned at the beginning of this story that we had our little gangs at St. Thomas More. I know that there were rivalries among the gangs and that like most kids, we weren’t always nice to those who weren’t in our cliques.
It was an afternoon recess about a week after the fall and we were still in a state of breaking down that fall. I felt safe in my little group and also unified in our shared dislike of a kid in another group. I can’t remember how the conversation led to this other boy, but in the heat of our conversation I let it be known that I wished it was this other boy who had taken the fall between all those stairs.
There was a hush and I knew right away that I had crossed a line. No one shared my preference for this and one of our members even went to our rival and told him what I said.
Whatever followed makes me glad that we can’t recall our memories with perfect clarity. What I do remember was feeling shamed by the others in my gang. While I was still allowed to remain and while there was no real retribution for my mean sentiment, I was reprimanded by their distant behaviour towards me for the next few days.
So while I do remember the shame and regret for saying what I said, there is a part of me that
looks back at that time with a sense of gratitude for being surrounded by kids who had a sense
of kindness and balance for just how far to push a good rivalry.
Some of those kids are still friends of mine today. I kind of hope their memory of that time doesn’t include which kid said what I said.
Every city has its neighborhoods, every neighborhood has its sites to see, every site has its people to meet and every person you meet has a story to tell.
I’m back in Montreal from my exchange in Manchester. And being back has brought on a newfound appreciation for the neighborhoods I call home. The Summer walk down Notre-Dame W in St-Henri is charming. The heat of the sun radiates through the air – so hot that the air itself is visible, coating every building with a mirage-like veil. I’m visiting a local bookstore today: St-Henri Books. It’s tucked away right off of Notre Dame on Rue Thérien, stowed in the pocket of a street that’s always buzzing with activity…St-Henri Books or as people in the neighborhood simply call it: “the bookstore”.
There’s a quote I love from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods that goes like this: “What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”
Somehow, independent bookstores have a quietly powerful presence in every neighborhood. Maybe it’s because they are a reflection of our longings. At least, that’s the sense I got when I walked into St-Henri Books.
The store space is curated for us. Windows near the entranceway give natural lighting to the handpicked books that line the shelves. Everything has its place here. It almost feels like a community art space. Books are hand picked for readers as one would imagine curators select pieces for gallery-goers. Except these are artworks that we can reach out and touch. The record player, the children's books corner, the classics and the recent releases...all layered in French and English - jive together in harmony.
When I spoke with Alex, one of the store’s managers, his enthusiasm for the space and his job was absolutely contagious. One would think that it’s rare to see an independent bookstore open nowadays. In fact, statistics show that Canadian book consumption has been steadily declining over the last five years, with a slight spike in 2014. However, arriving at the St-Henri Books made me realize that it is needed now more than ever. Books are gateways to new understandings of the world. Even Alex describes experiencing a huge learning curve working at the bookstore. When selecting books to purchase for the store, it isn’t uncommon to wonder whether “they’ll move”. In other words, everyone in the neighborhood has different tastes in what they prefer - some don’t even know what they want. It’s hard to predict which books will find a home. Except they do move. Seemingly without rhyme or reason, people look for something new – their next favorite read recommended to them by the bookstore staff and something new in the bookstore space itself. Nestled in the neighborhood – the bookstore satisfies that desire for the new but reflects the familiar as well. In each book that lines the shelves, we find the stories that speak to us as individuals. Under one roof, our literary tastes coincide. And in the bookstore as a whole, we find a story about our neighborhood and us.
When I was a child, I remember being enchanted by my little world. As my tiny feet walked through life, I found that almost everything was a reason for wonder and joy.
These days, I try my best to emulate that perspective. Luckily, I got the chance to feel that side of me shine again in Manchester.
As I look back on my time in this remarkable city, I think that participating in RocketWorld was one of the highlights of my time in Manchester. RocketWorld is an initiative that brings together international students around Manchester universities to visit primary schools across Greater Manchester. During these visits, university students have the opportunity to share stories about their country with 7-11 year olds. RocketWorld aims to help tackle intolerance, prejudice and racism by dispelling fear and ignorance through fun and adventure. Over 18 000 children have now taken part in the projects and over 1500 volunteers from all over the world have taken part as well. All visits involve a giant EarthBall with NASA satellite imagery. This shows our planet as it is seen from outer space without borders.
RocketWorld is part of the International Society’s One Love school projects. The International Society is a not for profit organization that works with Manchester Universities to offer its members opportunities to go on trips across the UK, attend language classes and participate in projects such as RocketWorld. Being away from home can be tough but if you’re lucky, you meet people who make you feel at home wherever you are. The International Society was my home away from home throughout my exchange.
Rocketworld is a mission for international peace and friendship. My part in the mission involved talking all about Canada. I told the kids about our crazy Canadian winters, our love for hockey, the color-changing maple leaves and I even told them about maple taffy (or as I described it there – a sweet syrup lolly). They were all ears. Staring at the photo of syrup drizzled on a bed of snow, one boy exclaimed: “That’s wicked!!” Their infectious energy made me excited about all those Canadian gems that I often take for granted. At one point, I asked the kids if any of them knew how to make a snow angel. Their hands darted up as they exclaimed “Me! Me! I do!” then proceeded to sprawl across the gym floor and show me. My heart was full.
Everything new that I shared was a catalyst for greater curiosity. And every funny part of our country I showed them was met with a sense of intense wonder untarnished by prejudice or judgement. In the eyes of a child, we are all equally deserving of the chance to tell our story. You see, from little worlds, big worlds grow.
Throughout my time in Manchester, I’ve looked for stories to share with you. From the Learning Commons to the John Rylands Library to Radio Lollipop to Trafford Tales to everything in between…stories have abounded my time in this city. They have an unparalleled connecting quality and they can fill us with wonder and joy again. As I share this final Insights into Manchester post, I hope to share one more message: Where there is life, there are stories waiting to be uncovered - stories we will read, stories we will learn, stories we will remember and stories we will write ourselves.
“I’m on my way”, I tell Suzanne Wild, a Service Development Officer for Manchester Libraries, who I am meeting this morning.
The sun shines on the nape of my neck and seems to emanate from all angles of the sidewalks as well. I am heading to Gorton, an area in Manchester where the City Council Depot is located and where the Books to Go office is. Spring has arrived in Manchester and lately, flower sightings have been welcome affirmations that the persistent Mancunian rain paid off. As I wander down this back road, I am hard-pressed to find real flowers peeping through the sidewalk. So I settle for the next best thing: Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers”. Insert headphones. Walk onward.
In a suddenly transported state of mind, the shining sun plants flowers in my footsteps. Seeing The Nutcracker with my family used to be a Christmas tradition. I distinctly remember my anticipation leading up to the opening act. The lights would dim and there would be a moment of silence before the magic began. I loved to relish that moment. I would dwell in the silent presence of anticipation, waiting for the curtains to draw and reveal all that I had dreamt of.
Before I knew it, I had arrived at the Gorton depot. Suzi was waiting for me there and together, we were going to work counting out and placing book copies into bundles ready for distribution during National Bookstart Week.
Bookstart is the world’s first national bookgifting programme. It ensures that children and families across England and Wales are given access to free resources through their local nurseries, libraries and schools that encourage reading for pleasure from birth. Every year, National Bookstart Week sees this project at its peak - Events and distribution are organized around a chosen book and delight ensues. This year, the spotlight is on Lucy Cousins’ A Busy Day for Birds.
I had never seen that many copies of a single book before. The depot was filled with boxes and storage containers that we spent the morning filling up, labeling, and sending off. Throughout our time there, the depot truck drivers came by to pick up the packages and deliver them to their respective destinations. As mechanical as the process may sound, it felt magical to be a part of this chain of events. Actually, I was standing on the cusp of a magic moment. These books were on their way to meet children across Manchester. Kids would soon get to marvel at the rich colors and the delightful coos and caws of Cousins’ work. We were there, standing in the silent presence of anticipation waiting for that first act to begin.
I don’t think a book can arrive in a child’s hands by accident. Books mobilize people. Before the orchestra strikes its first chord, an innumerable amount of forces align to make sure all runs smoothly. As we packed up the boxes, the books seemed to whisper “I’m on my way”. And there I was - sitting in the audience waiting for the curtains to pull back and for the magic of reading to begin.
Yesterday, I traveled to Stratford-Upon-Avon and had the chance to visit William Shakespeare’s birthplace and several of the properties where he lived over the course of his life. It was a stupendous day. As I strolled through the yards where the Bard of Avon once himself wandered, I remembered all of his stories that I have come to love and appreciate over the years. I grew up admiring Walter Crane’s Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden and much of high school was spent pouring over Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and the Tempest along with his sonnets. In university, I now realize that it is thanks to my teachers who introduced me to all of these stories that my love of stories has persisted. In the gallery of the Stratford museum, a quotation from the end of The Tempest greets visitors. It is taken from an exchange between Alonso and Prospero and reads simply: “I long to hear the story of your life”.
From a very young age, we learn about stories. We learn to listen to them and we learn to tell them ourselves. We seek to understand them and we learn to write our own. From a very young age, knowing about stories – writing and reading them – can change a child’s life.
In 2017, the Community Learning team at Trafford College in the Greater Manchester area invited local Trafford primary schools to participate in a Creative Writing project. Over the course of four weeks, parents got the opportunity to participate in a creative story-writing workshop alongside their children. They learned about how to get started, how to develop characters and how to create plot. The goal was to impart parents with the creative tools to continue supporting their children writing for pleasure at home. I spoke with Sarah Roiditis, an English tutor at the college and a member of the functional skills team who told me more about the initiative.
The project is called Trafford Tales and was created to help parents support children with their learning. As Sarah said, it not only “helped parents improve their own writing” but also “gave parents the opportunity to write their own story with the help of their child”. After the workshop concluded, children became published authors. With the tangible Tales, they got the chance to see their names printed and shared – who knows whether that precious proud moment could be the impetus for much more writing to come. Parents had the happiness of experiencing the rewards of the project in a more subtle way. Through the Trafford Tales, they had the chance to share a writing experience with their children in school and create a special time and memory with them.
Maybe, through workshops such as these, we realize that we have the power to shape our stories. Maybe, we also realize that stories have the power to shape us. Parents have a marvelous influence in introducing their children to a love of stories. Effectively, parents who participate in workshops that encourage writing for children are raising readers.
The Montreal Gazette published an article called, “Getting the word out about children's literature in Montreal” by Bernie Goedhart last November. In it, Goedhart speaks with Robert Paterson, a member on the board of the Knowlton Literary Festival Association, who emphasizes the importance of reading to the very young. Below is an excerpt from the article:
“Children need to hear a lot of words by the age of two,” he said, noting that it’s crucial to the acquisition of language and vocabulary. “The wonderful thing about being read to as an infant is that you’re bathing that child in words. Parents are holding the babies in their arms and that touch is important — the touch, the words, and the culture of reading for pleasure.”
Reading to children and introducing them to stories from a young age contributes greatly to stimulating their imagination and encouraging their natural creativity. Children and Parents reading and writing together can be even more beneficial. A decade ago, Literacy in Action and the Yamaska Literacy Council released a booklet entitled Learning with your Child. In it, they describe the multi-faceted role that parents have in raising readers. You can view it here.
Eventually, children learn to read themselves and are imparted with the tools they need to write their own stories. And somehow, there isn’t a word to describe how valuable that is. However, it can be gleaned in the way we write the story of our lives. Earlier in The Tempest, Prospero famously says, “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep”. The more we read, the more we expose ourselves to different life stories. More often times than not, these stories expand our world view and help us realize the power we have as storied individuals. As we celebrate Shakespeare's birthday this week, let us remember his immortal words: We are such stuff as dreams are made on. And so the story goes.
Support the Trafford Tales initiative and order your book copy here.
Insights into Manchester Part 6: Radio Lollipop and the Power of Play at Manchester's Children's Hospital
Covered in drawings and playful colors, I wondered what lay behind the door marked Radio Lollipop. I had walked into the Manchester Children’s Hospital earlier that morning to visit a friend volunteering in one of the hospital wards. In my explorations, I had come across the door and upon further exploration and curious questions to hospital staff, I was told to come back that evening to find out what lay behind it.
At 7:15pm that evening, I made my way back to the hospital. The hallways were considerably less crowded. I listened to all that could be heard: faint footsteps of lingering visitors and a distant vacuum noise cleaning the remnants of a long day. I rounded the corner and suddenly, the door was no longer closed.
With happy expressions, a group of people in red t-shirts filed out of the Radio Lollipop room carrying balloons. Watching them felt energizing. I approached John, one gentleman in the group and he told me about Radio Lollipop. A volunteer for the past 22 years, he told me all about this incredible organization that encourages play through radio. Radio Lollipop brings together “volunteers providing care, comfort, play and entertainment for children and young people in hospital”. And I was lucky to catch up with him because volunteers of the organization are only in after hours. Below is part of my conversation with John.
Gabrielle: What differences do you feel the presence of Radio Lollipop has made in the Manchester children’s hospital?
Mr. Rogers once said, ”Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” One of Radio Lollipop’s signature taglines is Serious Fun. Play and the positive impact it can have on the morale and creativity of children is something to be taken seriously. Another beautiful aspect of play for children is that it can be one of the best forms of therapy. Through play, a child can find security and stability. Experience has shown that a happy, motivated child can respond faster to treatment. Radio Lollipop initiatives “help normalize a young person’s day, support their psychological well being, and reduce the emotional challenges of a hospital stay” all through play and entertainment activities run by passionate volunteers.
When I’m listening to something I really connect with on the radio, I feel momentarily as though the people on air are speaking directly to me, even thinking of me, and responding to my ideas. That feeling of intimacy never loses its novelty. Every patient in Manchester’s Children’s Hospital has a radio next to their bed. At any moment, they can tune in, experience that same feeling of connectedness and know that they are not alone. Radio Lollipop is now in more than 30 hospitals in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and South Africa – working after hours and broadcasting the power of play on air 24/7.
A service such as Radio Lollipop in Canada would be brilliant. Children possess an innate sense of curiosity that deserves to be encouraged and stimulated in all circumstances, especially in illness. The pursuit of curiosity leads to creativity and children deserve the freedom to pursue their ideas with their unabashed curiosity. In his article “Enhancing Creativity”, Raymond Nickerson describes the characteristic of “childlike naïveté” that is common among great scientists – including Albert Einstein. As Nickerson recounts, the famous logician Bertrand Russell once praised Einstein because he did not take familiar things for granted. In an interaction between Russell and Einstein, Russell noted Einstein’s expression of “surprised thankfulness” that four equal rods can make a square. It is dazzling to imagine Einstein marvelling over the components of a square because it is something that seems so commonplace. However, it is just the faith in those moments of surprised thankfulness that lead to the persistence and realization of creativity.
The innate playful curiosity that children keep and protect in their earliest years is often taken for granted. However, Radio Lollipop is a guardian for children and their parents in hospitals across the world, providing them with the tools to pursue their interests and desire for play regardless of the circumstances. Having worked with over 5 million sick children with over 100 000 hours of volunteer time every year, Radio Lollipop continues serving patients with an open door – encouraging children everywhere to play on.
For more information on Radio Lollipop, visit their website
Nickerson, Raymond S. “Enhancing Creativity.” Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert J. Sternberg, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, pp. 392–430.
Happy International Women’s Day from across the pond in Manchester.
I’ve stopped for a coffee on the main road and watch as city-going people walk by. The sun is out today and everyone who passes is accompanied by a shadow following at their feet. I think of the shadows that accompany me today.
More than a hundred years ago, Emmeline Pankhurst walked these Mancunian streets. Born in Moss Side in Manchester, she was one of the most important and influential figures in the history of women’s suffrage. Described by TIME as “The Agitator”, Pankhurst “shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back”. She was a founding member of the Women’s Social and Political Union. With her as its figurehead, in the face of increased government repression and violence, the suffragette movement deployed several controversial tactics, including arson, violent protest and hunger strikes. Although many people disagreed with her, today her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in Britain.
Emmeline Pankhurst may not be the sum total of the suffragette movement but all of her voiced ideas, words and deeds played key roles in the social and political reform that came afterward. She recognized that she was a part of a whole, bigger picture but had a deep conviction that she had the power to make an impact. Each person belongs to a bigger picture but behind each person, another picture can be uncovered. In her autobiography Suffragette: My Own Story, Pankhurst discusses her relationship with her husband, Richard Pankhurst, a barrister who was known for supporting women's rights to vote. She writes:
To have the unwavering support of someone you love is powerful and so lucky. To stay believing in something unashamedly in the face of critics and disbelievers is miraculous. To fight for equality in your life time and to empower those around you to follow is meaningful in a way that surpasses words. These feelings are not unique to Emmeline Pankhurst’s life or even to those of British women – they are universal truths.
This year marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act that gave 8.5 million more women the right to vote in the UK. It is so hard to imagine the feeling of being given something we so often take for granted today. When I put myself in that time, I’m always stumped by a question: Would I have been one of those courageous women? I’d certainly like to think so but still, I don’t know.
However, I do know that some day, people will be writing articles about the time we live in now. They’ll be talking about what women are currently living through around the world with the #MeToo and Times Up movements and they’ll be talking about the persisting lack of education access equality in developing countries. They will also be talking about what we did to fix things. They’ll still be talking about Emmeline Pankhurst and they’ll be talking about all those people who weren’t necessarily the sum totals of their movements but who dedicated their lives to making a difference. I certainly still have a chance to be one of those people.
Today, as I leave my spot on the side of the road, the sun illuminates the shadows and the stories of the women who came before me. It’s our turn to give our projects our all now and I think of that line from Mary Oliver's poem “The Summer Day”…“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Read the Guardian’s piece on the centenary here
On New Years Day in 1900, a library opened its doors in Manchester. It was a gift to the Mancunians that had been over ten years in the making. Housing over 70 000 books and about 100 manuscripts in the beginning, it was a wife’s tribute to her husband and the beginning of a love story – a love story about books.
Over the course of more than 100 years, the John Rylands Library has become a centerpiece in this vibrant city. In 1834, Manchester was the commercial heart of the cotton industry, propelling it to become the world’s first modern industrialized city. John Rylands (1801-1888) was a driving force in this movement and when he passed away, his wife Enriqueta Rylands (1843-1908) had a vision to establish a major library for Manchester in his honor. She wanted to share the treasures of this library collection with the widest possible audience. She invested time and much of her fortune into building the institution and chose the grand Neo-Gothic architectural style to create an instant cultural heritage for Manchester to rival that of the ancient university cities. It all started with her vision.
One of the most special gifts to give someone is a book you love. And truly, giving someone you love a library is special on another level. Enriqueta’s creation of the John Rylands library was a giant gift that to this day, we can have the pleasure of enjoying every day of the week for free. There are stories told about special people and their lives, there are often monuments erected in their honor…What does it mean to have a library carry on your legacy? Within the library is contained boundless precious resources that encourage our imagination and the pursuit of knowledge more than 100 years after its establishment. A legacy that has inspired generations to pursue learning in the library is powerful and speaks volumes even today.
Even today, the John Rylands library still stands as a pillar of Mancunian city life. Having opened in 1900, its structure survived both World Wars and was eventually purchased by the University of Manchester. It has seen a century’s worth of curious visitors from all walks of life and its walls have lived to tell a million tales. After all these years, it is the people who have worked at the library who have kept it so strong. Fundamentally, if so many continue to invest their time to preserve books and this storied structure, it must be for love. The sheer wonder one feels when walking through the grand walls of the library is unlike any other feeling. The desire to protect this treasure for generations to come is only fueled by a fundamental love of books, reading and libraries. Some may say it’s merely nostalgic but really, it is so much more. This library represents a collective life.
In his essay, “What is an Author?” Michel Foucault discusses the idea of an author’s “work”.
“Even when an individual has been accepted as an author, we must still ask whether everything that he wrote, said, or left behind is part of his work. The problem is both theoretical and technical. When undertaking the publication of Nietzsche's works, for example, where should one stop? Surely everything must be published, but what is "everything"? …What if, within a workbook filled with aphorisms, one finds a reference, the notation of a meeting or of an address, or a laundry list: is it a work, or not? Why not? And so on, ad infinitum. How can one define a work amid the millions of traces left by someone after his death?”
When we consider our life’s work, we can think about it in terms of the differences we’ve made in our communities, maybe in the books that have inspired us, the conversations that we have always remembered or the people we have loved. What is our “everything”? If we aim to encompass the Foucauldian “everything” maybe our life can’t be contained in one work but rather, a series of works contained in a library of our own.
Today is World Book Day in the UK. On this day, let us open the doors of local libraries and let us remember all the love and life times they contain.