Personal Essay for Uni – Can literature have an affect on and change lives?

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I thought I’d share with you a Personal Essay I wrote for Uni. The prompt for this essay was “Can literature have an affect on and change lives?” Personal essays are written by writers who want to argue a point but also want to give insight into their own experience of what has brought them to their current place in life. They are supposed to be entirely auto-biographical but there is room for error where memory may not be as strong as it should. Personal Essayists often depict themselves as lazy and try to add humour on this and other points. If my essay puts in your mind a picture of an older person who has retired from the world to her/his library of words, including expensive cigar and smoking jacket, then I’m on the right track. 🙂

PERSONAL ESSAY LMM:

My next blog post will be entitled How To End Up Broke, Alone and Falsely (perhaps) Accused of Laziness At Mid-life As A Result of Literature. Walking the circuit at the local man-made lake, my mind makes mental notes – I have a sneaking suspicion that the literature I’ve read over the course of my life may have inadvertently influenced me negatively – when in my peripheral vision I catch a family of ducks out for their daily walk in the glorious sunshine. Mum, dad and six little ducklings waddle across the path and veer directly in front of me into the reeds of the lakeshore. Oh, how marvellous to be part of a family unit in that way! I was propelled into a memory …

“If only they would expand their minds instead of indulging every craving their senses ever experienced! And those children, all five, living in filth & squalor, it’s a disgrace!” I was six years old and had stolen into my neighbour’s house – the owner of a huge collection of Little Golden Books. My family did not own books. Mrs Mc Cormick was having a very important conversation on the telephone (I had a feeling it concerned me but was not quite sure) and didn’t know that I was listening. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
“Don’t read in the dark, Linda, or you’ll strain your eyes!” Mrs McCormick shouted from the doorway, flipping on the light. I was surprised! How did she know I was there reading her children’s books all alone under the bed? I thought I’d crept in so stealthily. And then I heard her make another telephone call.
“I’m keeping Linda here for dinner and to stay the night,” she said into the receiver and then hung up the phone, quite aggressively, with many sighs and tongue clicks. I was thrilled! The idea of reading books ALL NIGHT LONG! That was the day my life changed; I was taken under the wing of neighbour and school teacher, Mrs Mac. I learnt that books had the ability to take the reader away from reality. From that day on, I set myself apart from family, friends and society as a bookworm who wasn’t quite in touch with the everyday – lesson one of how to end up alone & broke at mid-life.
“Class, I want you to view this picture in your textbook and then write an essay to match the picture.” I was in Mrs Harris’ Year 8 English class. Mrs Harris was my favourite teacher. I soaked up everything she said like a sponge and was absolutely thrilled when she handed my essay back the following week with an A+. Also, she used it as an example and held it up for the whole class to see. Then she knelt beside me and, making full eye contact, told me that she thought I was a gifted writer and that I could do writing as a job when I grew up. My heart contracted and then tied itself in a triple knot. No adult had ever encouraged or praised me or acknowledged my gift with the English language which stemmed from my love of books, so this was also a pivotal moment in my life. I was simultaneously established as, not only uncool but also the teacher’s pet and nerd girl from then on who fancied herself able to make a living from novel writing – lesson two…
Over the course of the years, I read and re-read many books that taught me the value of a being a stay at home person who thrives on solitude and is happy reading and scribbling away up in the back room. There was a wealth of classic literature to guide me: Jane Austen’s heroines were always women who were well read, able to converse intelligently, behave prudently, live frugally, entertain themselves, often walk in nature, adore solitude and were unimpressed by wealth. Tolstoy preached about celibacy in his Tolstoyan Movement. D.H. Lawrence’s heroine, Ursula, much preferred her own company and wished to remain unmarried in Rainbow. Emily Dickinson lived happily as a single hermit almost her entire life. JRR Tolkien wrote about brave, little hobbits who rarely ventured beyond their own village but felt like “butter spread over too much bread” when they did. And even the Wind in the Willows characters loved their homes – whether river dwellers or underground sorts. Naturally, I related mostly to Badger. But perhaps being a person out in the world would have prevented the aforementioned mid-life situations? Lesson three…
But the ducks!? I turned the corner just in time to see the little black duck in the rear venture off on his own and my heart leapt! Surely it was a sign – this must be a metaphor for my life – I would continue with my vocation of reading, writing and studying. When I arrived home, imagine my delight when I found a cheque in my letterbox from the Australian Government, The Ministry for the Arts, for $300 as my recently published book had been borrowed from libraries all around Australia 150 times. What a joy! If there’s one thing literature has taught me, it’s how to make a $300 cheque last an entire month. I also received a message from a woman from Writer’s group asking me out for coffee. Synchronicity in action!
It’s not just the books that have influenced me and affected my life, it’s also the people who owned the books, who wrote them and even who studied and taught from them. Even the literature I have written has affected my life. It’s clear to me now; I didn’t choose literature, it chose me and in many ways, it has saved me. Where literature is concerned, there can only be positive outcomes. It was Mr’s Mac and Mr’s Harris who wrapped up my life in a cocoon. It was a storehouse of literature, nourishing it, that sustained it while held within the fur walled constraints. And when the time was right – the metamorphosis complete – my life burst forth from its hiding place and all that remained then was a divine retrospection, an epiphany really, and a wonderful new future life. In the words of LMMontgomery, “it is so beautiful that it hurts me, the pain of finality, when there is nothing beyond but retrogression … the prisoned infinite in us calls out to its kindred infinite as expressed in that visible perfection.”

 

My new blog post will be entitled; A Celebration Of A Lifelong Love of Literature and How It Can Lead to Success and Friendship.
©LMM – written 15th March 2017

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