So Long to Summer

The summer is coming to an end, and there are always things in my world to tell me fall is coming. The school year is now a week away, and everyone is gearing up. September and the beginning of the year has dictated my life for more than thirty years, and here it comes again.
I try to use these points in the year to reflect and think about where I’ve been and where I’m going next. I use the summer to read books I don’t normally read during the term, although this summer I’ve been rereading more than usual.
I started the summer with the Percy Jackson books—always a fun read—and I spent part of July rereading the Lockwood and Co. series. I returned to Pullman’s His Dark Materials, but did that because I’m teaching The Golden Compass this fall, and I want to move onto Pullman’s next series, The Book of Dust. I read M. K. Humes’s The Merlin Prophecy series, and I returned to a favourite author, Bernard Cornwell, to read The War of the Wolf, the eleventh book in The Last Kingdom series.
Some people never reread books, but I do it all the time. The summer can often be hard for me—I tend to get depressed. It’s as though I have seasonal affective disorder in reverse. This has to do with the accident that took my sight, which happened in the middle of August in 1974. This is part of the reason why I’ve taken to writing memoir. Writing about that event in my life has helped me to, in part, reframe it—to rewrite the story of what happened. Earlier this year, “Running Blind” appeared in The Real Story, and “Fractured” should appear this fall. Both of these pieces attempt to talk about the adjustment I had to make as an eleven-year-old who lost his sight. I have two other pieces in circulation, “My Cowboy Cousin” and “Standing by My Cousin’s Grave, May, 2016.” Both these pieces talk about the death of my cousin Graham in the same accident that took my sight.
My other big challenge this summer was writing two academic articles, one on Anne of Green Gables and the other on C. S. Lewis. Academic writing has always been far more difficult for me than any other kind of writing. It’s just hard. I’ve also had something of a block for nearly three years. Faced with these commitments, I had to find a different way to write academically. I took the advice of my therapist. She always tells me that if things become overwhelming, then break them down into smaller and smaller pieces. If, for example, your anxiety is so crippling that it prevents you from getting through your day, then take one piece at a time—have a shower and get ready to leave the house, then celebrate the accomplishment. By the way, this method has been invaluable to me over the years.
That’s what I did. I took the stuff I had written about Anne, and I broke it down into short sections. Some were only two or three-hundred words. I relied on my hard-won sense of discipline to get me started, and I worked on these various bits until I could start assembling them into a larger whole. It worked. I ended up with an eight-thousand-word chapter, which I submitted in August.
I’ve spent much of my life feeling badly about those things I couldn’t manage and those things I couldn’t complete. My sense of guilt as a result has helped prevent me from doing other things I’ve wanted to try. I’m learning, slowly, that the energy required to feel badly, regretful, or guilty is energy that could be spent in learning something new or to undo old habits. Think of it as rewriting the story. You don’t want the story to end with the hero wandering forever in the wilderness—what sort of ending is that? Better to have her find her way back home, or, better yet, find a new home. Either way, such endings allow you to close off those old stories and begin anew.

Anne, Continued

When I posted the link to Eastern Iowa Review’s call for Anne submissions last week, I thought that would be it. Apparently not. August is going to contain more Anne than I expected.
Eastern Iowa Review is already publishing pieces on Anne. Here are two samples:
Lily MacKenzie’s short story, “The Dollhouse,”
And
Marilyn Kriete’s essay, “Anne Shirley Revisited.”
These are two examples of ways to write about Anne. However, and as always, I would encourage #AnneFans to explore their love for this character in as many ways as possible: how you met her, why you love her. I’m one of those people who discovered Anne as an adult, which you can read more about here.
As a reader and a teacher, I never grow tired of hearing stories from students who encounter particular books or characters for the first time. Especially as a young reader, such encounters can be overwhelming. It’s like discovering a whole world just outside your window you didn’t know was there. C. S. Lewis understood this experience more than most:
“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more moth-balls?” she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hands. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold, “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further.
Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. “Why, it is just like branches of trees!” exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.
(Lewis, C. S. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. “Lucy Looks into a Wardrobe.”)
Lucy’s first encounter with Narnia captures for me the experience of discovering a new character or book for the first time. And there have been many over the years: Anne, Bilbo, Ged, Meg Murray, Will Stanton, Marlo, Ishmael, Emma Woodhouse, Pip, and the Wart, all characters who have enriched my life more than I can measure.

More About Anne

After posting the call for submissions to “All Things Anne,” I decided to hunt around to see how people are responding to Anne these days. I didn’t have to look far.
Bear in mind, L. M. Montgomery published Anne of Green Gables in 1908. At the time, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberals formed the government of Canada; as provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan were just three years-old; and a loaf of bread, if you didn’t make it yourself, would cost you around five cents. Anne has had over a century to filter her way through the imaginations of thousands of readers. Here are some responses to Anne that are worth checking out.
Ann Foster writes, “The Forgotten History of Anne of Green Gables” on the occasion of season two of Anne with an E on Netflix;
Samantha Ellis, from The Guardian, writes, “Ten Things Anne of Green Gables Taught Me;”
And, if you’re a dedicated #AnneFan, then you might want to consider reading or writing some Anne of Green Gables fanfic.
Finally, check out this video of a visit to Green Gables Heritage Place on Prince Edward Island—always, always worth a trip. When you visit, one of the first things they explain is that Anne—spoiler alert—is a fictional character. Enjoy!