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In My Own Words

The Books That Shaped Me – Part II

Sorry, I left you hanging a bit for the rest of my list. One thing I didn’t expect when I decided to run for office was how much more hectic my already full days would become. 

One of the books I really wanted to talk about was “The Shining”. I grew up in a family that loved Stephen King. My grandmother, my mother, my sister, my brother – we all loved Stephen King. I believe I was 13 when I read my first novel by King, “The Dark Half”. I was hooked after that and still to this day I feel like a kid on Christmas morning when he releases a new book. My parents were a bit strict when it came to television and movies, no Married With Children or most anything on Fox, but when it came to books they didn’t censor our choices at all.

So, at age 16, I decided to read “The Shining”. As a backstory, I grew up in a haunted house (yes, I truly believe that) and since my sister had left for college I slept on the third floor of the house all by my lonesome. As was normal, I read for a while before going to sleep. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to read the terrifying bathtub scene, a great way to guarantee no sleep at all. For those of you who have read the book, you can fully grasp the terror of the words on the page. If you have seen the movie, you have a pretty good idea. After finishing the section, I put the book down and tried my damnedest to fall asleep. It eluded me.

In a cruel twist, my bladder called out for me to use the restroom. The third floor bathroom was located in the smaller of the two upstairs bedrooms. In addition, the light switch for said bathroom was above the sink, which required me to pass the bathtub in the dark to get to the light. I truly don’t have a word for the level of fear that I was experiencing. It wasn’t just a fast beating heart or chicken skin. I was convinced that as I passed the bathtub, a cold and soggy gray hand would grab my wrist and stop me. Even though the ghost at my house was not evil, I was sure King’s character had left the pages and materialized in that bathroom. 

Obviously, she didn’t. King is powerful, but maybe not quite THAT powerful. However, 26 years later, I can fully recall the fear. I can see the 16-year-old girl trying to work up the courage to walk past a bathtub she had walked past countless times. 

The moral of this story though, and the reason I consider it so influential, isn’t the fear, but the enormous impact of words. I can’t quote that chapter of that book, but I can tell you exactly how it made me feel. Words are powerful, and this is why we have an obligation to choose our words wisely. We must be willing to deal with the consequences and reality of how our words make other people feel. It is why I alway choose to err on the side of kindness. People sometimes think I am weak because I choose to not engage in an argument. I can assure you I am not weak. I am just fully aware of what impact the wrong words can have, and so I choose to be more of a proactive person than a reactive person.

Since we are already on the topic of the incredible Mr. King, let’s talk about The Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is the final book in King’s most epic literary journey – the series being the same name as this book. If you are currently reading the series, I encourage you to stop reading now. I will try to be vague, though, while still expressing the reason this book is so impactful to me. Roland, the gunslinger and main character of the series, arrives at his final destination – The Dark Tower. We, the Constant Reader, get to see Roland through different worlds and loves and losses. By the time you reach this book, Roland feels like someone you’ve known your entire life.

When the story ends, though, you have no clear answer. You have to decide for yourself what it is all about. What is the moral? Is the message that none of our choices are definitive and we always have a chance to redo it and make things right, or is it that when we figure out who we are, we are destined to live the life that brings? I can tell you my brother and I disagree about the message. While I wonder if King knows what the take away was, I haven’t researched it so I can have the meaning I want. 

In my opinion, the message is that we are given many opportunities to decide our path. And even when we think we have hit the last  or most pivotal road to our destination, we can always give it another go. We can always look at where we have landed and try to do better – try to be better. Look at me. After 17 years as a full time mom, I am entering politics. 

King’s journey was inspired by another author’s – J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien is best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I’m focussing on The Hobbit. What I love about this book is that here we have this quiet, private Hobbit, Bilbo, living his life and minding his own business. Then, one day, he is pulled into the greatest adventure of his life. His routine and comfort are turned into chaos. Second breakfast is replaced with dragons and trolls and friendships greater than he ever imagined.

I have had the amazing blessing of chasing unexpected adventures and meeting the most amazing people. I see myself in this dear little Hobbit who didn’t say no, even when it was the easy and most sensical answer. My life in Hawaii, going back to college, a date with a really cute basketball player, motherhood, running for office – these are just some of the choices that have made my life a lot more interesting and fulfilled.

The next book is another one about adventure, The Alchemist. This one is sort of a mix of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Hobbit. The title character, Santiago, sets off on a quest to find a treasure, and to do so must learn to listen to his inner voice and follow his heart. His adventure takes Santiago to places he had never heard of and meets people unlike those he’s met before. 

Finally, Lyrics of a Lowly Life, is a book of poetry written by Paul Laurence Dunbar. To be honest, this book is on the list partially for the poems and partially because of the author. Dunbar was the son of freed slaves and was raised in Dayton, Ohio. He was the only African American in his class and was class president and class poet. He wrote poems in both standard English as well as dialect verse. My mother introduced me to this book of poetry and I was immediately enthralled by the variety of themes, from the Black struggle to the light hearted, fun work “Spelling Bee.” Perhaps Dunbar’s best known poem, “Sympathy”, does not appear in this collection, but inspired Maya Angelou’s title, “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” 

Dunbar published a large number of works, both poetry and novels. Although he only lived to be 33, he was considered America’s foremost Black poet. To me, this book represents what is possible when we don’t allow society’s oppression define who we are and what we are capable of. Dunbar followed his dreams and left an important mark on the literary world.

I hope some of you are inspired to pick up one of these titles. If you do, please share your thoughts with me. As is the case with all forms of art, we don’t all have to agree or see things the same way. Such is the case with politics, too, I suppose!