The Clever Quill – READ. LEARN. INSPIRE.

An Educated Mind ~ Come Along On My Quest to Finish 1350 Great Works

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    In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with a debilitating illness that forced me to forego a more traditional path to a classical education, leaving University shy of achieving a formal degree. But I won't give up! I believe in everyone's right to learn, no matter what health challenges they face. I'm determined to leave this life with a more cultured mind regardless of the time I have to make it happen, whether it be a year or five. Be my witness as I embark on this Epic, Gargantuan Adventure! My Quest to battle imposed limitations, slaying the fiery Dragons of Injustice, Intolerance, Disdain and Complacency... = 1350 GREAT WORKS = ~~ : ME versus TIME : ~~ Join TEAM AJ and cheer me on!!!
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Archive for the ‘Personal Observations’ Category

Days 18-22: Are You There God? It’s Me, AJ.

Posted by Amanda Jane on May 6, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 2 | Finished: 2 | Remaining: 1348

Currently Reading: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

Day 18-22 Reading: Chapters 1-25 | Pages: 1-149


My parents bought this book for me, on my insistence, as a little girl and I have kept it all these years!  My worn-out paperback copy is from the 80’s.  I think that was around the last time I read it, too–somewhere between my last Barbie and my first bra.  It made me sentimental to reminisce on those times from my childhood that most of us went through in some form or another.  Judy Blume captured the very heart of a preteen girl’s life, with all its accompanying turmoil and refreshing, youthful innocence.

I grew up with two older sisters, one 18 years older, the other 13 years older.  At times I almost felt like I was an only child like the protagonist, Margaret Ann Simon.  What I remember most from my childhood was how much I really wanted to be like my lovely, popular big sisters.  I was always into their things and business–any pesky little sister can relate!  I’m sure I bugged them to their wits’ end, but I was so in awe of them! I needed to be around them, to learn what they did and how they did it so I could be just like them when I was old enough.

When my preteen years came around, I was tall, awkward, and painfully shy.  Nothing like my sisters, much to my dismay.  They always seemed to know how to light up a room, how to make friends easily, how to fall into conversation with strangers–I didn’t.  They had beautiful, long silky hair with just the right amount of curl, I had a tangled, frizzy mop that defied gravity.  Needless to say, when I hit my preteen years, I was eager to grow up, thinking that perhaps aging was my last hope to be the swan instead of the gangly duckling.

In the book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret the main character, Margaret has moved to a new town where she doesn’t know anyone, is about to enter the sixth grade, and still has an underdeveloped prepubescent body.  She doesn’t even wear a bra yet!  She meets a few other girls from her neighborhood and together they form a club called the Pre Teen Sensations.  To make matters worse, she has just found out her teacher is new and has never had a class before–and he’s a MAN!

We follow Margaret through her becoming more aware of her body and her underdeveloped bustline, friendships, life lessons about believing gossip, the first stirrings of a crush, her first kiss, her first dance, her first bra, and getting her period for the first time.   The book is interspersed with Margaret’s quest to figure out which religion she should belong to.  She has a fully developed relationship with God, regardless of the fact that she has been brought up without any religion.  Her parents decided that Margaret should be allowed to choose her own belief system when she was older, as her father was Jewish and her mother was Christian, and there had been terrible family turmoil and estrangement for that very reason.

Margaret feels that she should figure out which church she should belong to and attends services in many different denominations, but doesn’t feel any closer to God there than when she speaks to him in her room at night.

I love the way Margaret speaks to God, as if she were speaking to a close friend and authority figure.  I forgot what that kind of child-like faith was like.

“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.  I just did an exercise to help me grow.  Have you thought about it God?  About my growing, I mean.  I’ve got a bra now.  It would be nice if I had something to put in it.  Of course, if you don’t think I’m ready, I’ll understand.  I’m having a test in school tomorrow.  Please let me get a good grade on it God.  I want you to be proud of me.  Thank you” (50).

The passages where she speaks to God like that really touch my heart.  Regardless of whether you believe in a higher power or not, her small innocent conversations with God have a way of reminding all of one’s naivetë at that age.  The way she speaks what is in her heart remind me of a time when I had the world before me, and had that kind of trust and confidence–that faith–that someday all my dreams would come true if I was patient enough.

Gotta love the 90’s!

*     *     *     *     *

I waited and waited until it was my turn to blossom, and finally, I did, especially once high school came around.  I wish I could return to middle school and have a talk with myself, assuring that girl that the things she is wishing so hard for will happen, that all the necessary parts are on their way, to counsel her to enjoy her age and innocence, to not be in such a hurry to grow up, to assure her that one day she will be a woman who is confident, happy, and loves herself…that although she will not quite be like her sisters, she will be something beautiful in her own unique way.


Posted in Children's Classics, Personal Observations, Reading Commentary | Leave a Comment »

Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales

Posted by Amanda Jane on May 1, 2015

Geoffrey Chaucer

Today I finished The Canterbury Tales, and to celebrate I ordered from Netflix (my new love) the DVD “Chaucer & The Canterbury Tales” featuring Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, as the host.

It was a fascinating 120 minutes! Jones was Oxford educated and knows a lot about Chaucer and the history surrounding his life and writings.  In hilarious contrast from the buck-naked portrait in the background, the serious conversation with Terry Jones regarding the history of England during the reign of Edward III and Richard II seemed to bring forth the satirical spirit of The Canterbury Tales themselves.

Geoffrey Chaucer, often called the Father of English Literature, was born circa 1340 AD to a wealthy vintner, who was himself the son of a wealthy vintner, and as such was born into prosperity and had the privilege of an education.  His family resided in Cheapside at the heart of the mercantile thoroughfare.

Not too much is known about his youth other than he probably attended school at nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral School, like boys of his station did.  We know he lived through The Black Death and survived the terrible plague.  Around the age of 12, he was kidnapped by an aunt who tried to force him to marry her daughter, but she was arrested and fined for that.  By 17, he was working as a page for the Countess of Ulster, wife of the 1st Duke of Clarence, Lionel, who was the second son of the current king, Edward III.

Somewhere at the beginning of the 100 Years War, he went to the battle under the service of the Duke of Clarence.  He was captured by the French Army during the siege at Rheims and held for ransom.  Since England had captured King John of France during the Battle of Poitiers, they had the upper hand in getting back their prisoners of war.  King Edward paid the sum of £16 for Chaucer’s release. In 1366 or so, he married Philippa de Roet, a lady in waiting to Queen Philippa, Edward III’s wife.  He is believed to have fathered three or four children with her during their marriage.

During little Richard II’s turbulent reign, even when he was deemed a “royalist” and though he had gotten on the bad side of the Lords Apellant, Chaucer was at the peak of his writing abilities, cranking out The Canterbury Tales and many other great works, including his masterpiece Troilus and Cressida.  He served under King Richard II in many responsible positions, moved to Kent and was  appointed to parliament there.  Even though he was somewhat tied to people of the court who found trouble with the Lords Apellant, he did not.  When Richard II was overthrown and Henry IV was put in power, his annual pension from the King was discontinued, but later reinstated by Henry IV.

Toward the end of his life, he took quarters at Westminster Abbey.  It is not known whether he did this for sanctuary from Archbishop Thomas Arundel and his supporters, or just because he felt like it.  He died in 1400.  Terry Jones believes there might have even been foul play.  Chaucer is buried in Westminster Abbey.  He was the first writer to be buried in the Poet’s Corner section of the Abbey, wherein also rest other greats such as Tennyson, Kipling, Hardy and Dickens.  Even Laurence Olivier is buried there!

I feel I have formed a connection through the centuries to Mr. Chaucer.  It is a poignant reminder of the power of the pen.  The writer’s soul seems to be laid bare on the page.  The inner workings of one’s mind and thought process can touch people in distant places and throughout time to form a bond of unity and likemindedness.

I think I have a new friend.  What do you say, Geoff?  You game? 😀

Posted in Personal Observations, The Canterbury Tales | Leave a Comment »

Day 4 Post Script: Secrets and Guys

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 18, 2015

Before I bid adieu to wise Prudence and the noble Melibeus, there is one point which called to me that I felt I should share.

The Tiger Woods scandal from recent years brought about conflicting views and opinions, including some of my own.  Now first, I must argue that public figures need to understand that in so becoming, they will lose some of their privacy and their actions will be scrutinized.  People will form opinions of them.  It “comes with the territory” as some would say.  If you sign up to be in the public eye, then you have to understand that we, the public, and most especially your fans, will callously pick apart your life in our own minds to see how, and indeed whether, you measure up to our individual expectations.

Having said that, I ask you, truly what business is it of ours what his personal demons are?  His failings as a husband are honestly neither here nor there to us and should only concern his wife or girlfriend or people whose lives are intimately connected to his.  It should suffice us (the public) to know that he is aware of having let down his family and those who admire him, and that he is trying to change and grow in order to restore his family’s faith in him. I doubt any of us would be able to stand in the glare of the limelight and have our personal failings scrutinized and appear free from blemish.

Though many of us were eager to hear him explain his behavior, I personally don’t think we the public needed, or that he owed us an apology.  However, he did indeed apologize to his family and his fans.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have but little knowledge of golf beyond that which is played with giant clown heads and windmills, so I wouldn’t necessarily count myself a fan.  Nevertheless, I do respect him as a celebrity figure and I laud the work he does with his charity.

In his press conference, he eloquently acknowledged his guilt and the fact that he had disappointed those who looked up to him.  He made no excuses for his behavior but explained his faulty reasoning so that we could understand what was going through his mind.  In short, he took all the necessary steps to begin to rebuild his reputation.  He didn’t try to excuse his behavior.  He apologized.  He was remorseful, and not just as one who had been caught in his transgression, but as one who now truly understands the ramifications of his actions.

When Prudence had gone to the people who had wronged her family and heard their remorse, she went back to Melibeus and implored him to have pity on them.  Melibeus says:

“Then…he is well worthy of pardon and to have his sins forgiven who excuses not his crime but acknowledges it and repents, asking indulgence. For Seneca says: ‘There is the remission and the forgiveness where confession is.’ For confession is neighbour to innocence.  And he says in another place: ‘He that is ashamed for his sin and acknowledges it, is worthy of remission.’ “

What say we give Tiger a break and another chance?

Posted in Personal Observations, Reading Commentary | Leave a Comment »

An Educated Mind… For All!

Posted by Amanda Jane on March 8, 2015

I’ve always believed myself to be compassionate, altruistic, well-mannered, friendly, vivacious and eternally optimistic (sound familiar, Twitterverse? 😀 ) I’ve admired those qualities in myself and tried to live up to the standards I have set for myself.  There is an attribute that I prize highly above all the rest–my mind and its innate intelligence.  OK, so perhaps I’ve not applied to join MENSA (yet), but I have always done extremely well in school and really thrive in a classroom environment. This might be why I decided to become a teacher, perhaps hoping someday to become a professor of literature.

A few years ago, at the age of 23, I was diagnosed with a disabling illness that affects my lungs, and due to the long years of treatments,  is now beginning to debilitate my body at a rapid pace.  At the time when I first fell ill, I was still in University, working toward becoming a teacher.   Due to my frequent hospitalizations, I wasn’t able to continue; there ended my formal education.

I have since attempted to return to school several times– tried everything from online schools, to correspondence schools, to part-time technical/trade schools that felt as challenging as kindergarten.  My illness has been my adversary every time, succeeding in ousting me from even the most menial career education.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to share this with the world.  By looking at me, you would never guess that I battle an illness.  I’m not looking to garner sympathy or pity, but rather always prefer to do my best to earn respect, so my personal issues are not something I’ve readily shared with people in the past.  Having done alright in the business and professional arena, with many responsible positions, people assume that I have more titles than I really do.  Whatever education I have attained beyond my years of college have been the result of my own personal study and innate ability.

I am not satisfied.  I have decided that this incomplete education ends now.  I have looked for years for a program that would allow me to learn even if I had to be in hospital at times.  Guess what? No luck yet.  So, I have decided to take the reins of my own life, educating myself because no one seems to want to do it!   Maybe I won’t receive a yearned-for degree or certificate, but I will get what I prize above all else–a more learned and cultured mind.

I hope this endeavor helps me to keep striving for excellence within myself, to continue gaining wisdom to live what’s left of my life to its full extent, and to help me leave a lasting legacy for those who find themselves in a similar position.  I am determined to never stop learning and to make a purposeful life from the wreckage, finding a way around the obstacles that stand between me and further formal education, and sharing with the world what I learn along the way.

As long as my mind is alert and capable, I have the right to learn.  That is my ultimate wish for myself and for others like me–to learn until the end. Who knows? Maybe even longer than that.

Posted in Personal Observations | 5 Comments »