My mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends

One of my favorite authors is Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984). She wrote in England, about England, and from her own place in the midst of things, the daughter of a professorial clergyman type of man and his golden, lively, "shockingly modern" wife - who decided to marry him rather than pursue her own dream of being a doctor.

I'm reading Goudge's autobiography, The Joy of the Snow, and once again marveling at myself. I've tried to read this book before. Couldn't get into it. Couldn't relate to it. It meant nothing to me. And now, suddenly I see (my personal theme song), and once again the latter half of my life seems interesting and exciting and expansive and anything but boring or settled. I'm bigger inside than I used to be - more of the world fits in there now. (Who knew!)

Little by little, I'm getting to know the women who helped form my mind and heart and vision. The currently fashionable Jane Austen ... the ever-engaging Madeleine L'Engle, whose "Time Quintet" of books will, I'm sure, mean as much to young people for generations and generations as they meant to me ... and Elizabeth Goudge. Anglican women, all. That's one surprising thing to discover. My Anglican brain and heart began to form about forty years ago because these women wrote books in 1815, 1940, and 1960.

Later, I met Dorothy Sayers as well. Austen, Goudge, and L'Engle feel like mothers - or trusted and admired, especially beloved aunties - Sayers is the wildly intelligent and fiercely perceptive neighbor lady I can sometimes dare to visit. I love her, but she is a little scary. Women. Anglicans. Authors. Educated. Odd. Funny. Intense. Conscious. Determined. Understanding. Women. There are others, of course. Not all the influences on my life have been female (there's C. S. Lewis, after all), English (because my life would have been much poorer if I had not met modern Americans like Pat Conroy, Clyde Edgerton, and Beverly Cleary), or even authors - singers, playwrights, painters, and the friends who've been brave enough to love me ... lots of people made me who I am. But these three women - Jane, Elizabeth, and Madeleine - have left their ink and fingerprints on my soul.

That is why I am very happy - chuckling about it happy - to have read this.
I have never tried to do carpentry but am sure the process is much the same. The love of the wood, the feel of it in the hands, the glow in the mind and then the slow labour of craftsmanship. With a book this labour is so slow that that though writers will tell you they love their work, yet they never want to do it. A book existing in the mind is one thing, enclosed there it is delightful company, but when the glow becomes an explosive personality demanding to get out that is quite another. It must be got out, or the writer will go mad, but getting the thing down on paper is a grinding slog. The thought of starting the process yet again fills one with dark despair. I heard Joyce Grenfell say once in a broadcast that whenever she knew she must get down to writing a sketch she remembered it was her duty to do some very elaborate cooking.
I suppose whenever the true choices on a path are either to stay put (and go mad) or move forward (in a grinding slog), then one knows that one is on the right path. The other paths are pretty or not, easy or hard, boring or diverting ... but the path of creative vocation only leaves us two choices. Madness or mud. (Or very elaborate cookery.)

No comments: