Some Culture, Please

This semester I am taking a literature course at NYU called Women Write Their Lives. On the day I purchased the pile of books for the class, I was daunted yet excited – Virginia Woolf, Annie Ernaux, Jamaica Kincaid and Natalia Ginzburg, among others.

I am learning much from these women, but I think far more important is what I am learning about life by signing up for this class. Sometimes we need to force the issue of growth.

Had you told me a year ago that I would be able to find time to read massive amounts of quality writing every week, I would have shook my head repeatedly. No, no, no and no. When will I get it done? What will have to suffer?

Well, my friends are cleaning up at Columbus Day sales at Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor as I write this. My home could use a dust mop. I, on the other hand, spent the bulk of the day reading A Frozen Woman on a bench by the Hudson River, taking in the wonderfully crafted words of Ernaux. I have wanted to read this book for years and now I am. It is so satisfying.

As I go about my work as a life coach, sometimes helping to guide people to more structure, and other times getting them to see they need less, I keep coming back to what I call “Conscious Culture.” As in, make the time to take in others’ creativity or expression of their gifts. You just can’t underestimate the value of that to your own life. This is especially true if you spend most of your time at a job that doesn’t tap your gifts or passions.

Feed that other part of you, the one that likes to marvel at things. What, you’re not familiar with that feeling? Quick, get thee to a park or a library. Watch a sporting event. Yes, the wide receiver plucking a ball out of the air on a long and gutsy throw by a quarterback has beauty in it. Appreciate that for a moment, instead of calculating the hit to your fantasy football team as the ball travels through the air.

I got the urge to feed my love of literature over the summer (actually, I’ve always had the urge but finally chose to pay attention in a real way), when I started with a class in Dante’s Inferno. After that experience, I noted how it made me feel – more knowledgeable, exhilarated at one man’s enormous vision, and more grounded in my own creative juices.

Why would I not keep that train rolling?

Certainly reading lights me up, but translate this to what interests you. In small ways and big. Each morning I receive a little gem called The Writer’s Almanac delivered to my email box courtesy of Garrison Keillor. If nothing else, my day always begins with information about great writing and/or people across disciplines. Take this story from Sept. 27, for instance.

“On this day in 1905, the German physics journal published Albert Einstein’s “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content,” which produced arguably the most famous equation in all of physics, E=mc2,” according to The Writer’s Almanac.

It went on to tick off the enormous amount of work Einstein did that year, essentially answering “questions that had plagued scientists for generations” and overturning “hundreds of years of understanding of how the universe operated.” It culminated in him retreating, exhausted, to his bed for two weeks and still telling a friend, “My joy is indescribable.”

I am at an age where almost everyone in my generation has lost at least one parent. Death seems more real, more imminent. How about we grab some more joy? I’m no Einstein and neither are you, but you’ve got something – a mind, a will, a choice. Go see the photo exhibit and be unimpressed because you could do better. Then do better.

Watch the inspiring YouTube video someone posts on Facebook or Twitter. Not to procrastinate but to expose yourself to something new. Or to take a much-needed break from the grind. I wouldn’t typically buy a theatre ticket for a drama, but I accepted a friend’s invitation to see “The Raft of Medusa” by Joe Pintauro in New York last weekend and saw a group of actors pour themselves into compelling writing and well-drawn characters.

I came away enriched, better for having had the experience of such physical expression of pain and camaraderie through art.

As for my literature class, I find Woolf a kindred spirit in so many ways, one of which is her fond memories of childhood vacations by the sea.

“It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind,” Woolf writes in the essay, A Sketch of the Past. “It is of hearing the blind draw its little acorn across the floor as the wind blew the blind out. It is of lying and hearing this splash, and seeing this light, and feeling, it is almost impossible that I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive.”

I find it breathtaking. How happy I am to have forced the issue.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to