30 June 2007

And now for something completely different...

I'm really enjoying this Harry Potter blog stuff. It gives me an excuse to write what I like to talk about only with fewer annoying interruptions ;). To Dan I have only one word: delusional. If you would like to know the reference, read the Leaky/Mug interview with Jo that occurred the day after the book came out. You might be better off learning to like Ron and giving up your Harry/Hermione dreams. In fact, I think I'll do a blog on ships and why they have to work out in certain ways...hmm...how kind of Scholastic to give me that prompt for two blogs down the road!

In the mean time, I thought I would post up a bit of my better writing from England (in my opinion anyway) as a kind of explanation for what we did there and what I actually learned. My first essay is much more structured. After this first essay I was told to do nothing but stream of thought writing-something I enjoyed immensely. Read what you will-I'll post up my next Harry Potter question later tonight. Keep in mind of course, that all these essays are highly unfinished and, in some cases, not really meant for much else but my own computer. Comments are, of course, welcome.

Essay 1:

Living in the Impossible

I am sitting on a park bench outside Wordsworth’s grave. By now I have been in England for a week and many things I gawked over and thought quaint right after I arrived are now a little more normal. Driving on the left side of the road isn’t a novelty. Rhododendron bushes full of bold magenta and scarlet flowers are still beautiful, but not as exciting. I still take pictures of sheep, but not with quite so much enthusiasm as I did a few days ago. I’ve grown used to the sounds of new birds and the smell of dung that occasionally permeates through the romance of the Lake District, and I’ve started to think that I will never be going home. Six more weeks seems like an eternity, and imagining myself in Utah studying for finals seems like some kind of dream instead of the reality it was ten days ago. Haven’t I lived here forever like a flower child wandering the parks and mountains in search of a muse for my writing?

Grasmere is, on all accounts, the stereotypical Britain I imagined after years of watching BBC’s Keeping Up Appearances with my parents. The houses have flower boxes. The pubs are called things like “The Kings Head”. The roads are narrow, winding, and lined with stone walls. Nearly every house has a garden with a rhododendron bush growing in the yard. Men with plaid caps and women with shopping bags-it feels like the town that didn’t grow up because it’s frozen in time like a postcard. Just when I thought that Grasmere couldn’t become any more stereotypical, a little robin lands on my bench, just inches from my arm. He’s a small, curious little thing. I can see his heart beating underneath his crest of red and dirty brown feathers. He stays on the bench for a minute or so, preening for me a little, then hops down on the ground. I smile at his cheek, and open my bag to pull out my journal to write about him. By the time I have my pen uncapped, the robin is back, this time clutching breakfast in his beak – a bug with legs still twitching in pain. I congratulate my little bird friend on his success and he leaves again after a small nod. I date the page on my journal – “4 April 2007, Grasmere, Wordsworth’s Grave” and the robin is back again, bugless and watching me with as much curiosity as I have given him.

Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, was once asked if Anne was a real character. In her journals she says that she hated to answer no to such a question, because she felt that if she did, she would turn around and see Anne staring at her because she felt so real. I feel the same way about the child that still lives in me somewhere. It is because of this that I slowly hold out my pointer and middle fingers for the robin to jump on if he chooses. I know he won’t, but I have to do it anyway. I grew up watching Mary Poppins sing duets with the red breasted robin at Jane and Michael’s window, and now I offer my company or risk feeling that I have let my child-like self down. When I was younger I would chase birds up and down the street, whistling and holding out my fingers, begging for them to land on my hand and give me a little more faith in magic. I do so now not for confirmation in magic, but because I half expect a scowl from a miniature version of me if I don’t. He doesn’t jump onto my fingers, but he doesn’t fly away this time either. I’ve intrigued him.

My little robin friend reminds me of another robin too. In the book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett the snobbish Mary Lenox is charmed into civility in part through the friendship of a robin, who leads her to a key. The key unlocks a forbidden, half forgotten garden. I never had a secret garden or a robin for a friend, and I hope I was never as rude as Mary was, but I imagined myself into her shoes hundreds of times. I collected old keys and used to try and find the gate that they would open, even though most of the keys came from buildings that were long since torn down, or even across the ocean, since some of them had come from the grandfather of a friend of mine in South Africa. It wouldn’t stop me from trying. The older and more ornate the key was the better. I tried growing gardens too. Underneath the porch in the back yard of our home, I dug little holes and put seeds for carrots and peas in the ground to make them grow. I watched for weeks as the little shoots popped up out of the ground, but the poor plants were never destined for greatness. They didn’t reach anything past an inch out of the ground. I tried again with flower seeds. I tried again with little pellets of dirt I bought at the store where all you had to do was water them and you would have an instant garden, but I never met with success. Plants would see me and wither from fear.

It never mattered though. The withered plants made me sad for a while, and watching birds fly from me with fear did nothing for my ego, but the world I built in my head was better than any carrot root or a visit from a bird. In my imagination I could go anywhere and be anything I wanted. I could live in a world where anything was possible. I would fly to Neverland in my room and talk with hares over tea. I could be an Olympic gymnast or a renowned writer who made a difference in the world. I could be important. I could be something truly great.

It was seeing the robin hop around that reminded me of this feeling of infinite possibility. I remember my dream to fly both physically and metaphorically and mourn the loss of innocence that I experienced. It gave me logic and reason in place of imagination and dreams, and took away the belief I once had in myself and whether or not I will ever mean anything to anyone. Just as soon as I start to mourn the loss of my innocence I laugh at myself. Who am I kidding? I am still caught up in the world of innocence. I didn’t know what beer smelled like until I was eighteen. I am still na├»ve about many things most college students have known about for years. I am not simply caught up in that world, I sometimes embellish it for my own amusement. Hadn’t I spent the last week climbing mountains and pretending that it was Mount Doom instead of Ben Lomond? My world of imagination never really left because I never really wanted to give it up. If I did consent to giving it up, it would feel like giving up a part of myself that still believes I can be great.

I’m not as innocent as I was as a child any longer. I don’t believe that I can clean my room by snapping my fingers any more. I shut my window to Peter Pan a long time ago. I’ve stopped knocking on the back of every wardrobe and searching for rabbit holes. When I do find myself slipping into dreamland, however, I don’t think I’m wrong or unique any more. I think that most people need a bit of fantasy in their lives. The Lord of the Rings took the world by storm again when they were released as movies. The Harry Potter franchise has impacted more people than anyone ever would have thought possible. What is it about fantasy and dreaming that is so popular? Is there something in us that needs to dream? In one of his discussions on fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien stated that “Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode: because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker”. Does not this desire to create magic also relate to our desire to create for ourselves? We dream of being great. We dream of being wonderful.

In the parable of the talents, it is the man who hides his talent in the ground that is punished. I used to find this depressing. Why is it that the man who is given least is punished? It wasn’t fair for the men given more to be given even more still. The poor man who received only one talent was being left out. But what if this parable also related to our dreams and goals and visions for ourselves? We learn in Sunday school that we are literal children of God, destined to be Gods if we are righteous. When we try to achieve easy ends, or when we decide not to pursue great things, are we not essentially burying our talents in the dirt? It feels like we are denying our own Godliness if we do not try to reach important goals. It feels like we are denying God’s ability to help us reach our dreams. Perhaps this has little to do with imagining magical lands through wardrobes and birds that sing in harmony with me, but it does relate to an old dream of being an author. Of doing something that is important in the world, and of being a person that is unique and significant to someone somewhere in the void.

I take a picture of the robin who poses obligingly on the end of my bench before flying off to find another bug for breakfast, or perhaps to meet an unrequited lover, or to visit another bench and another writer. Our group is getting ready to leave. I put my camera and journal away, still thinking about the bird and the pleasant wave of childhood memories I’ve just had. I think about what Wordsworth would have written if he had experienced what I did, or what he would have said if he could have read my thoughts. I think about robins and hiking and the hero’s journey and fantasy and how I’ve always felt so foolish allowing my dreams to take such hold of my way of thinking and dealing with life, and then I see the robin again. He’s watching me go. I change my mind. Why should I feel foolish? If I live in a world of impossible dreams, then I am opening up several hundred more possibilities by reaching for something that feels impossible. Living in the possible isn’t enough. It isn’t courageous to accept the mundane. It’s living in impossibility that shows us what we’re made of. I leave the garden with a backwards glance towards where the robin was as I left. He isn’t there.

Essay #2 (Selections)
DAY ONE: The night is dark and damp. We’ve just heard the poet Terry Gifford give us a wonderful lecture on how he constructs his poetry. Or rather, the rest of the group has heard Terry Gifford give a wonderful lecture on how he constructs poetry. I was in the kitchen making curry for dinner. The only part of it I heard was at the very end when he pulled out a folded book that contained a series of images he made while visiting Australia. Each page contained only one image. He challenged us to try doing the same thing, so I was on the watch for images. We turned down an alleyway. The street was completely empty. Lamp posts made pools of light on damp pavement. No-not completely empty. There is a couple on the walk ahead of us. The boys lead the group across the street so that we’re not interrupting their goodbyes. I hesitate because I’m curious. The man has his forehead buried against the neck of the woman. Was she taller than him? Was she wearing heals? I don’t know. It was strange. Then she kissed his forehead and I turned away, feeling like an intruder. Something about watching romance on a movie or reading about it in a book seems displaced compared to this scene. Kisses on foreheads are supposed to mean something related to comfort or the order of things because the forehead is higher than the cheek and the man kisses the forehead because he is the man and the woman kisses the cheek because she is the woman but not on this street. On this street the woman kisses the forehead and that’s how the relationship works. I wonder about their relationship and how the dynamic works. Arms and heads and whatever else intertwined the way things are it doesn’t seem like they could be unequal exactly. I see stars. I look for stars at night because I want to fly there some day and see that they really do exist even though science says they don’t but I know better. I know that stars exist because they are God’s. I know that on one of those stars is a place where new flowers grow and new buildings are built and sciences are different and people walk backwards and the animals are in charge. I look at the stars because they should give light but don’t. Starless nights aren’t much different to me than a night full of stars except one has the stars and the other doesn’t. There are so many songs about stars that make me sick and I hate thinking about them in sappy ways because it reminds me that I’m a girl and I like to be giddy but I don’t like to feel foolish so I embrace romance and push it away, like when I watch the couple on the street and then look away because I’m intruding on something that belongs to them and not to a bunch of American tourists. I’ve developed a fascination with tea and how it tastes after I take a sip. Peppermint leaves a taste like Christmas and Lemon Ginger leaves a taste like being sick at home even though I never drank Lemon Ginger when I was sick at home because my parents don’t buy herbal tea. I like the look of the liquid in the cup and wonder about how the tea bags are put together so that every single time I drink a cup it tastes the same even though the ratio of different spices probably changes and who came up with tea anyway? Or the idea for the wheel? Maybe God didn’t talk to Adam just about naming the animals or Joseph just about interpreting dreams but told them where to find tea and wheels and dogs that make good pets and cats that can be house trained. No-it was probably earlier than that. Wheels came before Joseph and after Adam and I don’t know about the tea except the Chinese are famous for it and the English drink it all the time and I drink it because I wanted to be more English and now I really like it instead of pretending to like I did when I was twelve.

Essay #3 (Selections)

I wrote a story once late at night the night before it was due on a blind woman who liked to garden. This story was completely anti-everything-I-do-in-fiction-writing because I tend to research things to death before I write about them for fear of screwing things up but I didn’t have time to research what it was like to be blind in more detail than I already had so I just made up most of it so that it sounded good. I needed a gimmick to bring out the sensory details in my writing and I needed a way to write a story without ever saying that she was blind and just letting it be figured out as it went along. It worked pretty well as a page and a half story about a woman who could smell the difference in colors of flowers. I don’t know if such a thing is possible or not. I don’t know if it matters though. Artist’s liberty. Harry Potter can make things fly with a wand, I can make a blind woman smell color. There it is. I love looking at the different colors. When we hiked to Tintern Abbey from St. Briavel’s Castle almost every green looked exactly the same at first until I really started to think about the colors and look at them and then I realized that, of course, as I thought I would be, I was wrong. It makes a really good cheesy metaphor about being unique or something but I won’t use it because the end is too obvious from the beginning. There’s no point in that. There’s no struggle for understanding or…whatever else it takes to get a good jaunt out of a metaphor. I wish we didn’t train ourselves to find so much meaning in everything. We spend so much time as English people hashing and re hashing stories to the point where we start looking for meanings and double meanings in everything because taking something at face value isn’t good enough for an essay but what if something is just fine at face value? One of these days I’ll hand in an essay that goes like this: “Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful romance,” and then hand it in without any explanation because it’s true and that’s just fine, isn’t it? Do we really want any more essays on how complex Darcy is? Is he complex? Or did years of over-analysis thrust complexity on him? What about Elizabeth? Does she really change? And what about how superficial it is that she sees Darcy’s metaphorical house and falls in love with him instantly? Does anyone look at the story from that angle? About how instead of being a romance, it’s actually about a money-hungry girl who takes Charlotte Lucas’ advice and turns into Lady Catherine version 2.0? Of course not. But then, someone probably has which means even that analysis is old and what’s the point of that? There’s nothing for it. So I will stick with my one sentence essay and go on enjoying things at face value every once in a while without the analysis if I can. I’m like a trained monkey.

Synthesis Essay:

“From the point of yonder rolling cloud I plunge into my past being and revel there . . . and I begin to feel, think, and be myself again . . . mine is that undisturbed silence of the heart which alone is perfect eloquence.” ~William Hazlitt

I came into this trip not feeling exactly secure with myself. I wasn’t unhappy with my life necessarily but there were things about myself that I felt were childish or stupid or probably could do with some change. There is a very strong part of my mind that loves to dream and imagine and pretend in a way that no one else does and I felt like it should probably change. At the same time though, I didn’t want it to change. I thought I should, but I didn’t feel any real urgency to do so because I like doing it. I like the way I think. Sometimes I feel bad feeling the spirit more in fictional books and metaphors that sectional writers come up with than when I read the scriptures, for example. But God will speak to me in ways that I am ready to listen and if that means that I can find God through books I read and movies I see or whatever other means I find him then so be it. I am unique but I am not wrong or strange. At least not any more wrong or strange than anyone else. I am still unhappy with some of my life, but not that part of my life.

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” ~Genesis 1:31

“And out the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” ~Genesis 2:9

“For God so loved the world . . .” John 3:16

The Bronte’s were wrong. We talk so much about how we should separate ourselves from the world in the church. We should, in a symbolic way of moving away from the secular things that won’t bring us eternal happiness, but in another way, we should be very much a part of this world. God loves this earth. It is his creation every bit as much as we are. We might be greater because we are his children, but this earth is beautiful and it is his and there is no crime in loving the out doors. My mindset about being outdoors changed from the beginning of the trip. I’m not always keen on being outside, but there are times when I just need to be out and feel the sun on my face. I wish the states had a park system as they do here. I will have to hunt when I get home to find places where I can ‘be one with the gods’.

Phew. There it is. If you made it to the end I might make you brownies.

1 comment:

Dan the Echo Boomer said...

I may be delusional, but at least I don't love Chachi.