"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

31 May 2007

Walking on Water

I've been re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water, as I am using it in my Creative Nonfiction course this fall. It always amazes me how a truly good book, when one returns to it, seems both like an old friend and a text one has never read before. I have been enjoying it immensely.

L'Engle writes at one point about reading someone's theory that all artists are "neurotic, psychotic [. . .], not one is normal." She admits her first reaction was outrage, but since then she has accepted that such labels are not worth getting upset over ("he means one thing by his labels; I would call it something quite different"). Then she goes on to discuss what she thinks makes an artist the way he is:

"[T]here is no denying that the artist is someone who is full of questions, who cries them out in great angst, who discovers rainbow answers in the darkness, and then rushes to canvas or paper. An artist is someone who cannot rest, who can never rest as long as there is one suffering creature in this world. Along with Plato's divine madness, there is also divine discontent, a longing to find the melody in the discords of chaos, the rhyme in the cacophony, the surprised smile in time of stress or strain.

"It is not that what is is not enough, for it is; it is that what is [has] been disarranged, and is crying out to be put in place. Perhaps the artist longs to sleep well at night, to eat anything without indigestion; to feel no moral qualms; to turn off the television news and make a bologna sandwich after seeing the devastation and death caused by famine and drought and earthquake and flood. But the artist cannot manage this normalcy. Vision keeps breaking through, and must find means of expression."

If it's only the suffering, the discontentment, that keeps one awake, then indeed that way lies real madness. But L'Engle seems to suggest that it's also the search for the melody, the rhyme, the surprised smile that keeps one awake, -- because these exist, they are real, and they tell us that suffering is not all there is. Vision . . . the little pictures of hope, of order in the midst of the seeming chaos, these are what make life worth living, and these are what I hope to capture in my writing. I write about the suffering because one must process it somehow and because it is real. But it's the little gems of loveliness that remind me that suffering is not, in fact, all there is.

L'Engle's book itself has been one of those gems for me this past week.


predictablepoet said...

You thoroughly convinced me to go and find this book TOMORROW. I love your reviews; they enlighten the path to so much more reading beyond what I can reach in a month or even a several years. You're fueling the addiction; you know that, don't you?

predictablepoet said...

Oops--sorry about that little typo. Lonely articles like to slip into my sentences...

Cindy said...

L'Engle's Walking on Water is absolutely necessary. :)

Beth, I was reading an MBTI book today, and one of the words that was used to describe the quintessential INFJ was "visionary." I thought of you immediately and made a mental note to tell you. Tonight, reading over this post again, I can see why you leapt to mind so quickly when I saw that word. It is a part of who you are so much that you ooze it. (Sorry. Couldn't think of a more accurate word, although there might have been less messy ones.) :)

alaiyo said...

Oh, yes, Megan, you will LOVE this book. As for addictions, well, it's better than most kinds, yes? :-) I'll work the harder to fuel it so you won't decide you need drugs or something instead! By the way, typos are allowed on blog comments; you aren't in my classes anymore!

LuCindy, thank you. If I must "ooze" something, that seems good . . . :-) I too have been reading MBTI books lately, and I've always kind of wondered exactly what "visionary" means when they use it -- their examples tend to be not exactly analogous to my life, as they are of people who get huge things done in the world . . . But if it simply means seeing beyond what actually is to what could be, and wanting to communicate that vision to others so that they might see it and want to work for it, too, then . . . well, that's exactly what some of us are spending the whole summer doing here at the college . . .

Fieldfleur said...

Thanks for sharing this, Beth. I haven't read "Walking on Water". Should, appears.
I like your views on her views.

Hope other things are well! I've not been blogging too much lately!

Take care,

alaiyo said...

Thanks for visiting, Teri. I haven't been doing much here, either -- too much reading and lazing to do in the summer!