All the World's a Classroom

A Book Can Change Your Life

A Book Can Change Your Life


Like a comet pulled from orbit

As it passes the sun

Like a stream that meets a boulder

Halfway through the wood


The song “For Good” from Stephen Schwartz’s popular musical, Wicked, sings to the alteration in one’s life trajectory as a result of meeting another person. I love the imagery the lines create: when a force or the momentum from a chance encounter or collision with an object causes something to travel in a slightly different direction.


As much as with people, this phenomenon also happens with books. A single book can open your eyes and make an impact such that you cannot return to who you were before. Your path forward then takes on a different shape.


Most recently, my orbit-altering sun was a book titled Just Mercy. Bryan Stevenson was my white rabbit signaling me to the world of the incarcerated, the poor, and the condemned. I followed the trail onward to Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, and other related articles. I was getting an education in the legacy of slavery and racism in our society, and the many shapes it materializes into.


Along the way I learned about women, children, and the mentally ill in prison—the vulnerable that tends to be the most defenseless in the case of abuse. I learned about the lack of sanitary pads or tampons for incarcerated women and their monthly humiliation. I learned about the difficulty of re-starting life after prison, where employers avoid those with criminal records, which then can cause people to spiral in debt. Here is a world where being poor can be a crime.


Last week, when sorting through stacks of magazines, I wondered if there was an alternative to dropping them off at Goodwill. Maybe I could donate them to a prison library or a juvenile detention facility. I then came across Chicago Books to Women in Prison, whose work does exactly as its name says. Books, women issues, and prison—it seemed like a perfect convergence of what I’ve been learning this year.


The timing was perfect because they hold trainings for new volunteers on the last Sunday of each month. So on Sunday, my husband and I went over and volunteered for a few hours. It was a powerful experience.


Chicago BWP receives letters from incarcerated women from detention facilities around the country. In them, the women indicate their preferred genres or specific titles, and occasionally, tidbits about themselves. The volunteers then would try to match their requests, find the books from the shelves (not as easy as I expected), add a little note (optional, but recommended), and package them for mail. People would help by taking what they can to the post office. It’s quite a system, and they have many dedicated volunteers.


There, they also keep a box of letters from inmates saying how grateful they are for the books they have received. The books are like a light to them…


I can’t easily describe the experience, but the human connection from holding the letters in my hand impacts me deeply. I know they were not addressed to me, but somehow, they arrived in my hands. Some of them have dreams to accomplish after their release, some are well read, and some have really nice handwriting. I said a little prayer for each letter I worked on.


Books are so important to me as a source of knowledge, insight, pleasure, and relief from the ‘real world’. I’d want to believe they could be those too and much more within prison walls. I know how a book can change my life. I hope that those mailed books may change some lives too, for the better.


Needless to say, we will be back to Chicago BWP.


Related articles:

Books Kept Me Alive in Prison

Women in New York State Prisons Don’t Have Enough Sanitary Pads, Not to Mention Other Daily Indignities

Prisons that withhold menstrual pads humiliate women and violate basic rights

Image by Edukeralam, Navaneeth Krishnan S (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons



Image source here.


Of all creatures living on this earth, none is more deserving of hatred than mosquitoes. With their buzzing in your ear and biting into your vein, no wonder a small feeling of victory follows when you’ve successfully slapped them dead: you have just saved humanity one or more mosquito bites.


I am dessert for mosquitoes. My blood is like sweet, creamy tiramisu that they smoothly swallow without chewing. I worked in the garden once—not that I do it often—and covered myself in eucalyptus bug spray. Not the best smelling stuff. But I made the mistake of only spraying my exposed skin. Five minutes later, I got 2 bites through my legging. I mean, seriously?!


The most annoying part about revenge, the you-eat-me-I-kill-you philosophy, is the irreversibility of the bites. I still suffer for an extended amount of time whether the vampire lives or not.


Further, notwithstanding the ease of annihilating a mosquito that’s drunk with blood, acting upon it would literally result in blood on my hands. My own blood, probably. I’d still do it, but what a waste of blood…


Indonesian Mosquitoes


Growing up in Indonesia, the land where mosquitoes abound, means cohabitating with mosquitoes. In my house, it’s hard to isolate the living rooms from mosquitoes since they are exposed to the outside one way or another. Bedrooms are sanctuaries—we try very hard to keep them out. This means that doors are always closed and we enter/exit the rooms as swiftly as possible. When a mosquito gets in, we go to war. We will not sleep until it’s dead.


There are things I must do in the living areas though. The worst one is the hour-long piano practice. I might as well offer my blood in golden bowls. For an hour, I’d be a captive victim for mosquitoes to feast on. To mitigate this, I’d wear long sleeves, top and bottom. But this is Indonesia. It’s hot and humid, morning and evening. So there I was, fully clothed, hot, itching, and playing piano. No wonder I hated almost all of my piano pieces.


Mosquitoes and Technology


The war against mosquitoes can be won with the right weapons. Our weapon of choice is the electrified mosquito-zapper racket. I remember an earlier version of the racket with a single layer of horizontal grids. It helped, but some of the tiny vampires flew through them. They might have evolved to be skinnier when these rackets came out, who knows. Then the improved version came out with triple layers of horizontal and vertical grids. Now these babies get them 100%. If you swing at a mosquito, it will surely die.


We also had this trap fluorescent lamp that was shaped like a cage. Mosquitoes would be attracted to the light and fly into the cage, then be zapped by the electrical rods inside. Suckers.


American Mosquitoes


Part of my coming to America, the land of the free, is gaining freedom from mosquitoes. I can move freely, hang out in any part of the house, and not be haunted by blood-sucking creatures. I mean, I can leave my bedroom door open…how amazing is that?


When I see mosquitoes, probably because I engage in activities that seek them out, I notice that they fly slower here than their Indonesian cousins. It makes them easier to kill, but their proclivity to eating me is all the same.


A NYT article cites the World Health Organization, “mosquitoes remain the deadliest animal on the planet, carrying diseases like West Nile, chikungunya, and malaria that kill more than a million people a year.” Apparently, hating mosquitoes is completely justified.



Mosquitoes, I hate you.


This post was conceived during recent camping trips.

The Solitude of Thinking

The Solitude of Thinking

Photo credit: Sunset Girl


My head is my address. I live there, most of the time, alone.


Sometimes there are guests, but they’re usually only a few steps inside or peeking in through the window.


Introverts Anonymous, anyone?


I recently revisited an old blog post due to a renewed realization at how private the act of thinking is to an individual. I tend to rate thinking—solitary thinking and reflection—as the most sacred activity in our existence as human beings. No one can touch that space where a fountain of insights and creativity resides.


Thinking of the deepest kind is, by nature, lonely. And it is not a bad thing to be lonely in this sense. In fact, it is a necessity for the birth of individuality.


“Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. The men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character. It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought.” Ellen G. White in Education, p 17.


I sometimes go overboard with cherishing moments of contemplation. When an issue or situation perplexes me, I could ruminate silently for days. But out of this silence and solitude comes the most profound ideas that last a lifetime. Personal truths, as it were. The deeper the solitude, the stronger it is anchored to the soul.


Being a thinker and not a mere reflector of others’ thoughts is a lofty goal that requires utmost diligence. It involves iterations of asking, Whose voice is it that I’m hearing? Who are influencing my thoughts? Add knowledge, refine the mental model, reshape, reshape.


This, by definition, must be done alone. If anyone else does the work, then it ceases to be independent thinking. And if the power to think is foregone, identity will follow not far behind.



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