The night before I went into labor with my first child, I was up until two o’clock, reading Anne of the Island.
I smile now to think of that little yellow book resting innocently on my nightstand, perhaps a contributor to what turned out to be a very long labor and delivery, because the Anne books weren’t a favorite with me in the beginning. I first read them in a sleeping bag on the floor of my cousin’s room as a child, and when I placed them back on the shelf I felt that I had been sufficiently entertained. But over the years — I’m not sure how — I began to remember storylines and scenes from Avonlea and its wider world, and came back searching for them in their pages, until I had a little store of phrases and memories linked to Anne Shirley and Rilla Blythe.
And when I settled on a name for this space a year ago, very pleased that I had finally hit on an original something that could plumb the depth of what I meant, I searched to see if I’d be stepping on anyone’s toes with Sun Steeped Days.
It turned out I wasn’t treading toes as much as I was riding someone’s coattails.
So much for originality! — and yet it was a fitting tribute to the stories that have, in the most unobtrusive way, taught me how to keep a sense of humor and to live a little more courageously and shamelessly than I have the natural muster to do sometimes.
Years ago, I had strong opinions about words. That preference served me well when writing about Shakespeare and medieval literature, but then I became a mother, and there was no more avoiding certain terms that I’d labeled distasteful.
That maternal practicality has altered my general train of thought too: with restraints on my creative time, interruptions that have entered the normal flow of the day, and brain cells that persist in unconsciously turning off the oven and then demanding to know who did it, I’ve learned to come to the point quicker, and in some cases, to be blunter in what I say. On the whole, the change has been good for me.
But I still write in words and voices that differ from how I speak.
The way that I write is probably more reflective of the way I think. Shaping sentences and considering how they will fall on someone else’s ears takes effort, and sometimes I’ve thought about paring it down to bare bones. A subject, a verb, a direct object. But the more I read, and the more I identify the kind of words that lend encouragement to me, the more hope I have of finding space for words beyond “plain speak.”
In all the conversations and exchanges I can remember, the words that took editing and effort were the ones often received graciously, and which went on to have a lasting impact. Today many think “edited” equals “contrived,” but I believe there is ample room in our world to learn to speak with gentleness and respect, and that is the hope — and effort — behind the language used in these posts.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
– I Peter 3:15, NIV
I’m learning how to do this: always learning, and clumsily. And I’m finding this kind of speech doesn’t develop as much through a thesaurus as it does through storms — the really thorough, battering tempest kind that make you speak more tenderly to people on other life-boats — but I do draw on both, and the words I carve here are my way of trying to have my answer at the ready, in the right way.
The little girl who was born in the wake of that midnight dose of L.M. Montgomery, perhaps unsurprisingly, now has storybook-speak running in her veins.
“And then you would run across an open glade!” I heard her saying to her sister, a month ago.
“Did you just say ‘glade?'” I asked. “Where did you pick that one up? I think the last time I heard it might have been in Sleeping Beauty.”
She thought for a minute. “Oh! The Velveteen Rabbit.” And so it was.
When she was three, eyes smarting from my very exasperated tone as I repeated a request to her, she turned the tables on me and used a phrase that we often asked of her in those days.
“Can you say that kindly, Mommy?”
Yes, I thought, curbing my tongue.
Yes, and I’ll keep trying.