Most people know of A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve always listed it as one of my influences, a creative muse from my past that helped fill the reserve. I remember seeing a quick trailer for the movie last year and got really excited and told my girls we should see it. A few months ago my 10 year old was looking for something to read and I suggested A Wrinkle In Time, which had been hiding, tucked in a quiet, dusty corner in her bookcase.
She looked at it and then asked me what it was about. My answer, “Umm…. I don’t remember.” She wasn’t a fan of that answer. She wanted me to tell her everything, to convince her it was amazing. I tried to run some of the details in my mind, but really, had I forgotten everything about this book? “There is this girl, and her father goes missing and I think he was a scientist. I don’t remember where he is. I remember it starts with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ which has made it into our social-culture….” Her body language told me enough that she was not interested. “Promise. It’s really good.” Oh boy. Losing Mom points here. “I could read it too.” She perked up at this idea.
I’m not a person how enjoys re-reading books (unless it’s Harry Potter and that’s actually categorized as Memorizing). Re-reading is hard for me, and it really doesn’t have to do with remembering the details, it’s all about disrupting the memories.
Trapped within these printed words, among the browning of each folded edge of paper, lies a memory. The memory has to do with how old I was when I read it or what was happening around me, sometimes foods I ate, the oily fingerprint visible on the pages… but also the feeling of experiencing it for the first time. How I like to relive a book is through recommending it to others, talking about it with friends, or writing a blog post :).
Memories can be trapped in everything. Remember the smell of baking bread? It’s your grandma’s bread. She passed away years ago, but when you follow her recipe, it smells like Grandma’s house, more personal to me, it’s my grandma’s caramel popcorn. But, it’s not like I don’t want to re-experience my memories of caramel popcorn, that’s easy. Books are much more involved, more complicated. And I don’t like touching those memories, because it was a journey and it took a long time to feel and experience and triumph. I feel like I lived through something and depending on the book, I may not have the strength to relive it again.
Re-reading A Wrinkle In Time was opening a memory, and I didn’t know it was there until I read the first page.
Fifth grade. Ten years old.
I was attending my third school that year. My parents uprooted us from our simple, country living to the big city. I started my fifth grade actually in middle school, then went back to elementary in November when we moved. I felt like I had been demoted. My parents were building a house, so in February we moved yet again, to our new home. This was really hard. There wasn’t Facebook that could keep me involved with my old friends’ lives, it felt like I moved a million miles away and all my friends were gone forever. To start a new school was hard, as anyone who has moved can attest to, and back then I was shy and kept to myself, so shy I didn’t ask for a pencil when I needed it and would fail tests because I pretended I had one. I didn’t make friends easily, I mean, I never had to. I was awkward and came from a strange family that didn’t conform to the suburban lifestyle. My memories of the second school are all me being made fun of—how everyone thought I farted when I actually sneezed and cracked my lip open, being called ‘Star Underwear’ because I was growing too fast and my clothes no longer fit and boys saw my panties (which was mortifying and I went to wearing a sweatshirt around my waist), and living in the rented house the neighborhood kids thought was haunted. Yes. I was that kid. But I knew it was temporary, so I just kept quiet and stayed weird.
When we moved to our new house, everything changed, and not in the best way. Here was a different environment, this neighborhood was new and the kids were believe it! not as friendly. I came the last few months of elementary before moving to jr. high, already discouraged and friendless. And here, a carefree spirited country girl, didn’t fit in AT ALL. Because of all the moving, I missed my Maturation program and felt rather clueless with all the girlie issues happening around me, and I was too damn shy to ask about it. And my grades were all over the place. I drifted in imagination all the time and got in trouble for daydreaming and not paying attention. How could anyone keep track of a shy nobody transferring from place to place?
So there is the stage for you – a shy ten year old with poor reading comprehension and imagination as her only friend.
Mrs. Hickman, my tired older teacher, who did not really impact my life any beyond this, decided to read A Wrinkle In Time to the entire 5th grade. I wasn’t interested in listening, I tended to draw on my shoes during Reading Time. During the first chapter I learned about Meg Murry and how much of an outsider she was at school. This… THIS! is a very important fact. Meg was like me, in so many ways. This was when I started to pay attention.
This is the memory – the feeling – I felt when I heard A Wrinkle In Time for the first time. I was ten, and lost, and somehow found a compass. Meg was a girl, like me, and she had a starring role in a science fiction novel. I wasn’t interested in the Babysitter’s Club or Ramona the Brave, they lacked imagination. Instead of pretending to be Shea Ohmsford or Frodo Baggins, I could pretend to be Meg Murry. She’s the one that saved everything. It wasn’t her dad. The book also had wild imagination that I gravitated to. I wanted to tesseract other places and disappear from my life. I think everyone has felt that. These four points were what I really remembered, what helped root my imagination.
In my re-reading as an adult, I discovered some very interesting things. This book was very forward-thinking, something I didn’t think about when I was ten. L’Engle had a very hard time publishing it, because it was too grown-up for children. It’s science-driven and bazaar, and pushed imagination to different planets, realms, bridged time-travel, quantum theory, and ended in love being the power that can conquer any evil.
The book is all about diversity, about being different. Everything in Camazotz was about being the same, about not having new ideas, or feeling pain. This is why this book has such a strong purpose and has been around for so many years. Life is about experiencing, about making mistakes and about being an individual. I was different – I still AM different – and this book was one of my first lessons that it’s okay to be different.
Meg is slightly complain-y. She wasn’t when I was ten, but I think I was more complain-y then. I think that’s important to the character and for the reader to feel that, because it makes for such a powerful ending. As a writer, I understand character development and journey and I was okay with accepting the whinier Meg.
But the thing that is most surprising, a lot of what I write and what I read stems from this tender encounter. I search for creativity that blows my mind and this is certainly not like anything else. This book made a footprint on my creative path, an imprint in my brain that made me ache to find something equal, similar. I’ve been searching my whole life for powerful imagination that leaves footprints just like this did. I have found and worked on some gems that I cherish, and that has done this very thing.
A Wrinkle In Time is reading a memory. For the good and the bad of it, I am stronger, more creative, more energized, and more thoughtful in my writing because of this. It was good for me to be that shy, awkward girl, or I wouldn’t have identified with Meg. We might not have been friends.
Thank you Meg, for being my friend and teaching me how to Tesseract.