Clip from a Winter Journal

I have read so many books . . . .

And yet, like so many other bibliophiles—bookworms, I am never quite sure of what I have gained from them. There are times when I feel I have been able to understand all there is to know in one single gaze, as if invisible branches spring out of nowhere, weaving together all the strands of my reading, all my learning, and then suddenly the meaning escapes me, the essence evaporates, and no matter how often I read the same lines, they seem to float past me until I have nothing left to make of them. 

Books are nothing new to me. As a child, authors had the ability to take me away to foreign places; they protected me and gave me shelter. By the time I was thirteen, I had perfected my reading posture: I had developed a method of slouching down in a chair so radically that my book, that fort of paper and glue and cloth, guarded my face. No one could see me when I was reading. They still can’t. It was a time in my life, just as it still remains, when I stepped out of one world and into another, the parallel universe of literature, and felt that it welcomed me.  

I marvel at the way a book, made of various textures, has the ability to solve problems, depending on the nature of the dilemma. When I have difficulty beginning an essay, I turn to my books, eyeing the multiple bookshelves, like an addict looking for a fix, knowing it’s close, just beyond my fingertips, somewhere on the tattered page. I spot an anthology, In Briefs, and to the right of it stands a thickly bound book titled, The Next American Essay. I thumb madly through the pages, as if I’m shuffling a deck of cards, performing a magic trick, and then I begin to read, searching for a phrase or topic that resonates with a memory and suddenly it dawns on me what my essay is all really about and then the revision begins.   

In the early morning, an hour past midnight, I sit puzzled in my recliner thinking about a misunderstanding with a close acquaintance. My house remains silent except for the soft breathing sounds that accompany restful sleep as I gaze at my dog and my husband nestled comfortably in their beds. I think for a fleeting moment how I need to rest, but not before I clear my mind, see past the haze, beyond the fog. I listen to the synchronization of their respirations, like a gentle lullaby tempting me to rest, but instead, I page through a book, The Sportswriter, hoping to read about a character whose very thoughts might put a different spin on an unresolved issue.  

I turn to an early chapter and read about the effects of illness as it slowly consumes a home, how it takes hold of a body and weaves a dark web between hearts, a web where hope is trapped—making it difficult to breath. It begins to overwhelm a life. I take a deep breath and think about how books bring us closer to the world, connect us with people going through similar situations, and give the reader a clear understanding and appreciation of the fragility of mortality.

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About TRatner

Terry Ratner is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and writing instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. In June of 2004, she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Writing has always served a purpose in her life, but it wasn't until her son died in a motorcycle accident in March, 1999, that she began to publish her works. What's unique about Terry is the way she balances the life of a nurse with the life of a writer. "Nursing allows me to give back to the community and then write about those experiences." Ratner teaches creative writing in a variety of settings from community colleges to a school for homeless children (Thomas J. Pappas) to wellness communities throughout the Valley of the Sun. In 2004, Terry launched an Arts and Healing program for children undergoing dialysis at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. She has published numerous personal essays, cover stories, interviews, and book reviews for a variety of national and regional publications. Her manuscript, a work in progress, features a series of twelve essays, ten of which are introduced with black and white photos, dealing with issues of family and identity.
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