inspirations and ambitions

...No matter how many books one ought to be reading, nothing will do for an afternoon in April but the short stories of Lucy Maud Montgomery...

I’ve been reading a lot of Lucy Maud lately. Dipping into one of her novels or re-reading her short stories for the umpteenth time touches such a deep, elemental place inside of me. There’s something about the awakening of the world in spring that makes me long for the companionship of her words—words which awakened me as a child to the beauty of my own aliveness. I’ve never been the same since the day I picked up Anne of Green Gables. As I wrote in my preface to the Low Door Press edition of Kilmeny of the Orchard:

[Anne of Green Gables] touched a flame to the secret yearnings of an awkward and absent-minded and excruciatingly shy twelve year-old girl so that they flared into a glow by which I could see myself at last: not as a vicarious Anne, as might be imagined, but as the Lanier which God had in His heart when He dreamed me up in the first place. He had dreamed up everybody, I saw with a throb of freedom and joy. And it was allright simply to be the person He had in mind, however imperfectly one might keep pace with their companions.

I still get choked up when I try to tell someone what Lucy Maud Montgomery and her writings have meant to me. Spending so much time over the past week indulging myself amid the old friends of her stories has made me think hard about her influence, however, and that of other authors who have kindled my creative ambitions in truly life-changing ways. I’ve been reading and slowly digesting Twyla Tharpe’s The Creative Habit in an attempt to understand and harness my own artistic processes, and one of the exercises she recommends is a long questionnaire entitled “My Creative Autobiography”. It was a fascinating assignment, as she probes you to go back into your earliest memories, tapping the first springs of delight and imagination. At the risk of appearing to interview myself (which would be weird!) I thought I would share some of the questions and my answers in an attempt to express my appreciation to Montgomery and her counterparts in my life:

Which artists do you admire most?

L.M. Montgomery. Alcott, Austen, George Eliot. These are my big heroes. Also Elizabeth Goudge.

Why are they your role models?

For one thing they are all women who literally fought for their creative life. They all led very quiet lives for the most part, but they left an indelible imprint not only on literature, but on me. George Eliot worked under conditions of enormous social censure and she was also up against some mighty ferocious self-consciousness concerning her work. That always staggers me—that she was able to press through that, silence those inner voices. George Lewes had to shield her from all critical reviews of her work and he had to reinterpret her editor’s comments to make sure they were coming across as positively as possible. But she didn’t let this weakness keep her from writing.

Montgomery was clinically depressive, and I am astounded 1) that she was able to work at all, 2) that she put forth so many works of such great beauty, and 3) that these inner ravages never colored her work with a melancholy tone. She did not deny the shadows—but she focused on the light and the beauty that stood out all the more radiantly against them. Her books broke my heart with beauty and made me wildly joyful to be alive. The fact that she was hurting so very much (and in a time when you just couldn’t talk about it) and yet gave such gifts to the world and to me—I love her devotedly for that.

Austen just made it happen in a time when there weren’t a lot of female novelists, and still fewer truly good ones. And she was great, a giantess in a diminutive frame. She just sat in her little parlor and wrote what she knew and what she observed every single day. She changed the face of literature. And she ‘let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.’ I might just love that most about her.

Alcott was fearless and unstoppable. And she was able to write about virtue without ever descending to anything that even smelled like moralizing or preachiness. I don’t know how she did it and I don’t know of anyone who ever came close to her in that.

And dear Elizabeth Goudge. She gave me hope for the modern world and for the aliveness and wellness of beauty in this tired old era of ours. She wrote tenaciously of beauty in a dark time. And she is a mistress of expressing spiritual truths and realities without ever resorting to clichés or anything else that would make people dismiss her. She was incredible at that and I’ve learned of God’s heart and love in reading her books. I also love her beautifully flawed characters. The ones who are shy or who hate sickrooms or who bump the teacart over the carpet. They are all complex, they all have a past and inner demons. They are all so real that one can relate to them. But she never gives up on beauty.

What do you and your role models have in common?

Like Eliot, I am paralyzingly terrified of criticism of my work. It kills me.

Like Austen, I have no wish whatever to write of misery and despair.

Like Alcott, I want to be the Jo March she created, scribbling feverishly away in my ‘garret’. I want to be able to communicate truths about life and human relationships. And she’s my only American on the list—maybe that’s something.

Like Goudge, (and Dostoyevsky!) I believe that beauty will save the world. I believe that pointing people to beauty is essentially pointing them to God, whether they realize it or not. And like her I am pretty private and reserved outside of my sphere. I don’t like the business that has to do with an author’s life (or I won’t, I guess, if I ever become one) and I require enormous amounts of solitude in order to get anything done.

Like Montgomery, the beauty of this world broke my heart, and, like her, I can’t bear not to tell about it. She wrote of a place that she knew and loved intimately and she gave it to me and made me love it. She showed me that was what I was to do with my place.

~

This last question isn’t really related to the inspiring authors theme, but I couldn’t help tacking it on. Whenever I read over this answer, I get tears in my eyes. Although I dashed it off in a tare of writerly passion, I meant every word with all my heart.

What is your greatest dream?

To write something that would show someone else that God is as good as they have always secretly dreamed He would be. And more.

To create a world through story that would be a place in which other souls might encounter something of who God is—something they might not have otherwise encountered.

To awaken hearts with beauty. To carry cups of cold water to a parched, heartbroken, homesick world.

I want to write stories that tell the truth and that are laced and haunted with the beauty of Eden.

I want to do what my most beloved authors have done for me: not only point the way home, but throw light on the loveliness of the journey. I want people to read my stories and know that they are not alone.

Jesu, juva.

18 Responses to “inspirations and ambitions”

  1. tonia says:

    Your mission statement….yes and amen. Me too. And really, this whole thing, all of it. Me too.

    Sending this on to my favorite author (the redhead who calls me mom).

    Love to you, beautiful girl.

  2. Paige says:

    Lanier -I think your loyal readers here think you have already achieved your dream with this blog. A hard covered published book will just let so many more in on the secret. Thanks!!

  3. Jessica T. says:

    I agree that you’re already accomplishing your dream here on your blog…I can’t wait to read a book by you as well!

  4. BONNIE BUCKINGHAM says:

    I am reading Twyla Tharp’s book too. Not a dancer but love her creative ideas. Using one with my students this coming week. ( her childhood photo) . I didn’t know LM Montgomery had depression and I have been to PEI. Emily Dickinson could be added too. Makoto Fujimura writes of her writing from a 17 by 17 desk & changed the world. Keep on. Pray for the work of your hands.

  5. Pam says:

    I’m always so happy after taking time to stop whatever I’m doing in order to read your latest entry. You break my heart with the lovliness of your words, Lanier and for that I am grateful. I have one of your journal entries next to my easel so it’s available to read when things aren’t going so well on my canvas. Thank you.

  6. Abby Maddox says:

    First, if I ever hear you use a phrase like “if I ever become one” about being an author, I am going to drive up there and give you a spanking ;) You are more of an author, already, than many of us who ache to tuck ourselves away in the upper Garrett as well could ever hope to be. You inspire me and sprinkle me with His greatness every time you write. You have a way of capturing beauty and describing it in a way that makes me cherish life more. But that, ultimately, points me upwards–to our creative Creator, Author of all beauty, and Perfector of my flawed heart. I cried while reading your last question, so true did it ring within me as well. What greater joy can there be, than to be used by Him in the exact manner He created us for. Finally, I have been trying to convince Jeremiah that I want to use one of Louisa May Alcott’s names in the name of our last little rosebud. I don’t even care which of the three names Louisa or May or Alcott–but she touched me as a girl–first (with much too eager ambitions for my reading level at the time) reading my Moms old, worn (abridged) copy of Little Women from when she was a girl–I still can’t name all the regions it touched in my heart. Then, as an adolescent picking up my old copy and realizing it was ABRIDGED. It was equal parts horror at being cheated and endless delight to know there was MORE to discover. Sorry I’ve rambled so long. Not even sure what I’ve said. Would love to be snug by your fire, with a pile of embroidery in my lap, Lauren making a chorus of three with so much to spill out about books and writing and recipes over a cup of tea, with sweet Philip disappearing on the most delightful errand of kindling a real fire in my PERSONAL hearth for the night. In that one brief visit, I took away so many treasures of what I long to be as a homemaker-as a hostess. I really am going to be quiet now. And I’m scared if I try to scroll back through all I just wrote on my little phone, I will erase my comment, as I have managed to do on here many times before. Thank you for being a writer, that speaks to me.

    • Lanier Ivester says:

      Sweetest Abby, I stand corrected for indulging in such an…indulgent…slip of self-deprecation. :) Thank you, my lovely friend, for your life-giving words–and for not letting me get away with that. I think I was really trying to use the word “author” in the most honest sense possible–that being, someone who actually has their name on the cover of a book. But your friendly reproof went to my heart and reminded me, all over again, just what it is I long to do–and why. Thank you for that. I just love you so much. xx

  7. Nancy says:

    Lanier,
    I wish I could write as beautifully and evocatively as you. Then I could– just maybe–express the gratitude of the MANY people that you have already touched with your writing and love of beauty and God. You have been blessed with a great talent and I, for one, feel very fortunate that you have used your talent to bless others.

  8. BONNIE BUCKINGHAM says:

    Just finished The Creative Habit! Excellent. Now to look at some of Twyla’s dances.
    My high school students are writing about a childhood photo. ( from her book)

  9. wanderer says:

    Oh, where have you been all my life?

    And how can you have so many of my favorite books on your shelf?

    Please tell me you love Bess Streeter Aldrich, besides my dear Montgomery and Alcott, and then I shall know you are quite, quite perfect.

  10. Sharon says:

    Lanier; I may have previously mentioned the published journals of LMM. At any rate, I hope you’ve found them. Reading them is almost over-whelming emotionally.
    ‘Writing a Life: Lucy Maude Montgomery” by Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston is an interesting biography.
    I think we write because we must–whether our words are read by many or few. Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Goudge and LMM were strong influences for me as well. To that list I would now add Madeleine L’Engle and Gladys Hasty Carroll.

  11. efi says:

    Lanier this blog is an oasis in an ugly turbulent world.please write often and PLEASE publish a book.efi from Greece.

  12. Mrs. P says:

    “To awaken hearts with beauty. To carry cups of cold water to a parched, heartbroken, homesick world.”

    ^I must say, as a somewhat lurking reader, your blog has often been as such to my heart. Especially during my first married years as a wife. Your writings inspired, and encouraged me on many different levels.

  13. Kiersti says:

    I enjoyed this post so much, Lanier–but your answer to the last question turned me quiet and near-teary. I think every bit of your writing reflects that dream–though I’ve only mainly read this blog so far. And your words point us toward what all we scribblers for Him should aim for. Thank you and may He bless you.

  14. Merry says:

    Beautiful post! I hope to buy some $0.01 Lucy Maud books off of Amazon soon. I also love her as well as Alcott. Haven’t gotten to really read Austen yet, but I will soon.

    -Merry

    P.S. I agree with other comments, your writing is lovely, and I would love to see a book of yours. :D

  15. I just found your blog through Roost, and I have to say I LOVE it! As soon as I read this post that you’ve never been the same since the day you picked up Anne of Green Gables, I was hooked . You have such a delightful bookshop, too – I’m eyeing a few copies as we speak!

  16. Josie Ray says:

    Do you ever, perhaps in an old, used-book store, encounter a magical title that makes your heart leap with hope, then pull the book from the shelf to discover that the story has none of the beauty of the title, then long to write the story that the title invokes? If I never write anything else, I would love once to do that. Your goals, however, are nobler.

    I, too, reached for the blossom-scented breeze from PEI orchards this spring, along with The Secret Garden, which I read in very slow motion each spring, stretching it out through April and May. I didn’t realize LMM was depressive; you inspire me to read her biography (The Wheel of Things, I think?) that has been sitting on my shelf for several years.

    You underscored, “I love her devotedly for that.” I love *you* for that. Even Anne had to give up her italics, but the emphatic is lovely here, as are authors who sometimes let it slip out past the restraint.

    “I require enormous amounts of solitude in order to get anything done.” One of my favorite E. Goudge passages:

    “Utopias are best built in isolation”…”I’ve always thought it rather selfish”…”Again and again, men have gone into solitude to create beauty, and the beauty, created, has revolutionized a whole country.”…”If nothing can get through the mountains to contaminate your Utopia, how can the beauty you create get out into the world?” “If you light a bonfire in a sheltered valley the protection makes such a huge blaze of it that those outside see the whole sky lit up.” (The Middle Window, I.v.)

    (But it still makes me feel selfish…which is one thing I fight….)

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