I confess I have procrastinated with this assignment, though I was excited and honored to be asked. I’ve felt squeamish sharing what you “should” listen to or look at or read. I realized my reaction comes from two places. First, I typically seek recommendations rather than give them. Second, as someone with a doctorate in Counseling and Human Development, “should” statements are generally things to be avoided. So, I’d like to offer a twist on this assignment; rather than recommending “what” you should choose to bring the Humanities into your life, I’d like to suggest “how” you should do it.
First – multitask. I listened to three soundtracks – Immortal Beloved, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Last of the Mohicans – while studying for comprehensive examinations and writing my dissertation. I could feel myself coming up for air sometimes and I’d relax into familiar melodies and percussions, breathe deeply, and dive back down into work. I read multiple books at the same time because I like the juxtaposition and can pick what I read based on my mood.
Second – connect with the past. History is about context and the human condition. As a history major I learned you must seek differing perspectives. I’m currently reading my second book about the history of my new hometown because place and belonging are important to me. I also love to re-read books. Beyond the cozy feeling of reconnecting with old friends, I learn how I’ve changed since the last time I read the book.
Third – connect with others. My favorite time of day is reading to my son at night. We are reading all of the Harry Potter books as a family. We take turns reading them aloud (we’re on Order of the Phoenix, a favorite!). We ask him how the characters feel, what words mean, and we talk about good and evil, light and dark, and the importance of magic and believing in it. We want him to be a good reader and have a good vocabulary and all those parental things. But mostly we want him to learn about himself through empathizing with others. It’s perhaps the most important thing we can teach him right now given the current state of our world.
My honors student self wouldn’t be fully satisfied, though, if I didn’t actually answer the question. So here you go: If it’s music – try Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas or Ralph Vaughn Williams for relaxation; Beethoven for studying and concentration; Foo Fighters or Silversun Pickups to rock out. Art? Art is what you like; go outside and find beauty in simple things. Literature – Jane Austen is always the answer. I have a mug on my desk emblazoned with Mrs. Darcy and a tiny book entitled “What Would Jane Austen Do?” Both are quite useful at work. Whatever you do, find time to engage, connect, and feed your soul with the Humanities. That’s a “should” I feel quite comfortable telling you.