Madeleine L'Engle has died. She was 88 years old, and her most famous book, A Wrinkle in Time, became an early, formative, and profound influence on both me and my children. This is from the Washington Post.
"A Wrinkle in Time" was an instant sensation and attracted critical praise that culminated in the Newbery. The novel consistently encouraged debate, with some literary observers speculating that Ms. L'Engle's strong Anglican faith was a major influence. Writing in the New Yorker in 2004, poet Cynthia Zarin said the book can be read as "science fiction, a warm tale of family life, a response to the Cold War, a book about a search for a father, a feminist tract, a religious fable, a coming-of-age novel, a work of Satanism" -- Ms. L'Engle said that Christian fundamentalists continually tried to ban it -- "or a prescient meditation on the future of the United States after the Kennedy assassination." Ms. L'Engle demurred from analyzing the book too much, once saying, "It was only after it was written that I realized what some of it meant."This past spring, I purchased some of her non-fiction work about writing and creativity and what it means to find a human voice for the Truth that can be expressed in words. A deep hunger keeps growing in the pit of me - a kind of yearning - an impatience with all the things that interrupt the thought process, and a realization that in order for me to be able to tell the Truth I need space and orderliness in my day. I need a place to go. Madeleine knew about this too - she bore and raised children, and was passionately married to her husband, and wrote when she could.
I brought the August issue of O Magazine home with me from the library this past week, and only last night discovered a special section with fascinating comments from various writers regarding the process of writing. Susanna Moore quotes Ivy Compton Burnett: "It is not true that people have nothing to fear if they speak the truth. They have everything to fear. That is the reason for falsehood." I think she's right.
And I think Walter Mosley is right. In his unmerciful and excruciatingly helpful book (yes, those are the words I meant to use), he says,
If you skip a day or more between your writing sessions, your mind will drift away from these deep moments of your story. You will find that you'll have to slog back to a place that would have been easily attained if only you wrote every day.
I know he's right.
And this week another voice calls to us through that unique moment of union between the seen and the unseen - the moment of "falling asleep" - sometimes called "death" or "passing away." We have nearly no words for this moment, and even fewer for the Moment that follows it. And when that moment happens for those who seem to us to be part of our thoughts, or to one of the sounds in our backgrounds, or to a pressure or presence against which we measure ourselves ... then we know the fear and shock of separation. That is the best and most succinct definition of the word death. Death is separation.
This week our separation came from the so-called "children's writer" (ha! what a hoot that label is! Read A Severed Wasp and tell me she was a children's writer - or, rather, read her books shelved in the children's section and tell me whether this oft-banned writer wrote simplistically enough for all the dulled and self-protected adults!) ... and our separation also came from Luciano Pavarotti.
He scandalized the opera elite by bumming around with the pop stars, and he made the opera elite vie for position next to him on the stages of the world, just for a chance to be in concert with his nearly unbearably emotional voice. He was often capricious. And he called his voice "she" - she was a gift to him from God, he said. She was a gift to us too.
God rest their souls - it's the least that should happen now - they have rested mine. And they have made me restless too. Walter Kirn says,
At the beginning of a novel, a writer needs confidence, but after that what's required is persistence. These traits sound similar. They aren't. Confidence is what politicians, seducers, and currency speculators have, but persistence is a quality found in termites.
Sing, Luciano. Speak God's glory, Madeleine. And pray for me. I need to chew for awhile, and when I join you, I want to have been able - at least a little - to tell the truth.