Monday, March 31, 2014

Literacy Map: My "Mountain of Mystery"

[Image: I created this image to be my "literacy map." See key in the article.]
At a workshop with the National Writing Project, it was fun and instructive to answer a prompt calling for a "literacy map" to my life. Mine centered on my childhood interest in reading about magical beings.  That interest was complemented by an urge to write stories of my own, and to draw pictures of what I imagined, and to act it out.

But literature teachers held up realism as the ideal. I put aside my childish interest in fantasy, and tried to write Hemingway-esque slices of life, but they all seemed like dead ends to me.

Then there were long years of school when all I wrote were essays about fiction, never fiction itself (and doesn't that seem odd? If it's worth reading, discussing, taking tests on, and writing about, shouldn't it be worth some time in the attempt?) The drive to write stories died down. 

What remained was the yearning to find magic in every day life, only I learned to think in more grown up terms of religion, moral consciousness, and art -- all dealing with unseen and intangible things that break through our routines and motivate our actions. When I find this kind of "magic," I want others to see it, and I have shown them directly through classes, through essays, through demonstrations, through drama and discussion, for I am a teacher first and a preacher at heart.

Not a book, but a television series, "Bewitched" was the focus of my fascination with any magical story. Mom read me Greek Myths, and Dad read me comic books, and I learned to read children's books that involved witches, genies, ghosts, wizards or any magical creature. This image of a dark castle, a bat, a moon, and a mountain recurred in my own drawings.

2. Lord of the Flies
Does Satan really speak to a boy through a pig's severed head, or does the sensitive boy have a vision of truth during an epileptic seizure? I learn from one page of William Golding's novel that "magic" in a story can enrich a realistic story with a glimpse of a deeper reality.

3. A Little Night Music
Stephen Sondheim's and Hugh Wheeler's Broadway musical was billed as "an adult fairy tale" in 1973, and I learned from it how a story can be magical in its style if not in content. Evocative music, intricate lyrics, and subplots that tie to a theme: the story was a many faceted jewel in which one could lose this world, or else see it reflected beautifully.  

4. Ghost stories of Henry James
Ghosts are manifestations of inner realities; outer realities have inner significance.  

5. Theology of the Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church neither scorns nor fears the world around us. Other Christian theologies do both: the world is a snare, a test, or else just a tribulation to be endured until our entrance to a better place. But the Episcopalian Church is "sacramental," seeing this world as a solid "outward and visible sign" of eternity - part of a whole, not a mere prologue. I learn to substitute the words "mystery" and "metaphysical" for "magic" as I read authors Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene, Robertson Davies, Frederick Buechner, John Updike, and Iris Murdoch. 

(Article reposted from my personal web site because I've been binging on Bewitched videos.)

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