Saturday, June 11, 2011

My life with Madeleine L'Engle

I can't tell you exactly when I was introduced to the books of Madeline L'Engle, but I do know that it was sometime as a child by my mother - most likely over a cup of tea. The first was A Dance in the Desert - published the year I was born. It tells the story of a young family crossing the desert and the animals they encounter along the way. As a little girl, I listened with wide eyes and was entranced by the illustrations and enchanted by the idea of creatures like lions, eagles, dragons, and unicorns - seemingly predatory at first - coming to dance and interact with the family's young son. It wasn't until later in my life when I re-read the book (after many other readings), I realized the family in the book was the holy family fleeing into Egypt.

In late elementary school, I read - well, devoured, A Wrinkle in Time. It had the perfect combination of reality: Meg, the un-heroine with a one-sided brilliant mind and a temper like a tempest. Calvin: her unexpected hero with a troubled home. Charles Wallace: her genius little brother with a penchant for liverwurst sandwiches. And fantasy with the Mrs Whatsit, Who, and Which: mystical magical creatures who could tesser through time. The sequels, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet followed, and were the perfect antidote or accompaniment (depending on the day) for the ups and downs of Junior High and High School.

Those early books were an introduction to the realm of what is now genre-titled "fantasy and science fiction;" a niche of literature, television, and film I love to this day. But had you asked Madeline L'Engle is she were a fantasy fiction writer, I believe she would have laughed. She once said in her acceptance speech upon receiving the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association that, " We live in a fantastic universe, and subatomic particles and quantum mechanics are even more fantastic than the macrocosm. Often the only way to look clearly at this extraordinary universe is through fantasy, fairy tale, and myth." Madeline L'Engle's ability to transcend genres and to break down walls between what many looked to as "normal," both in literature and in how she lived her life, encouraged me to constantly look outside the lines that were frequently drawn around me to discover the extraordinary in my own world.

I often jokingly say that I've been writing, "since birth." Not likely, but my parents seem to support the idea that this might have been possible. Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and a vehicle not only for communication, but for that discovery of the extraordinary. Sometimes the extraordinary is a poem that comes to me with a whisper and a thought. Sometimes the extraordinary is being able to capture an event in the memory of my journal. And sometimes the extraordinary is just being able to put into words truly and simply my feelings for someone I care for.

And it isn't just my personal writing where Madeline L'Engle has left her mark. As a communications professional, I'm constantly striving to make connections for people: whether it be to a product, to other colleagues, or to their customers, and one of the best ways I've found to do that is through the story. Stories make things personal. They give the audience a reason to be invested in the idea. They make things matter. And no one taught me more about the story than Madeline L'Engle. Whether it's an admonition to keep the story moving, encouragement to stop and read what I've written aloud to make sure that it sounds authentic, or a lesson on writing my way into a story. Thankfully, many of her lectures and classes have been captured and excerpted in pages of a book called, Madeline L'Engle Herself. I keep her words with me on the shelves at work and at home as my own North Star.

Madeline L'Engle was a woman of faith, a woman of fantasy, a woman of mystery, a woman of strength. She has shown me through her words and through her writing that it is possible to have a deep spiritual faith and still be open to the mystical ideas of the universe and of the imagination. By reading her candid autobiographical trilogy, I have been encouraged to consider the road not taken - or at least to mind a little less if I took that path with fewer companions. Through her reflections on a writing life, I am gifted with gems of wisdom that hone and improve my writing and my ability to share a story with an audience. I will always be grateful to my mother for making this introduction and ever grateful to Madeline L'Engle herself for never giving up, but honoring her gift that has gifted me.

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