Thursday, July 23, 2009

Face to Face with Greatness

I have been feeling very uncreative lately. Like someone stuck a cork in my bottle of creative juices. I was blaming this on Madeline L'Engle's "Circle of Quiet," which I am currently reading. Hands down one of the best books I've read. Beautiful and inspiring, full of greatness and truth, but maybe my head is so full of that that until I'm done with it my own thoughts won't flow as freely. Or maybe it's something else entirely. Maybe I just have nothing to say.

Because of that I'm going to share some of Madeline's greatness. There are so so many things I could share (and I'm sure you'll be hearing more of her), but there is something that makes me say "YES!" every time she mentions something about it, because it's something I strive for and is a goal in teaching my children as well - coming face to face with greatness.

Oliver DeMille states that "reading and working with greatness inspires selves to become greater," and "who we are changes as we aspire."

Madeline L'Engle talks about it in this way:

"When we talk about ourselves as being part of the company of such people as Mozart or van Gogh or Dostoevsky, it has nothing to do with comparisons, or pitting talent against talent; it has everything to do with a way of looking at the universe. My husband said, "But people might think you're putting yourself alongside Dostoevsky." The idea is so impossible that I can only laugh in incredulity. Dostoevsky is a giant; I look up to him; I sit at his feet; perhaps I will be able to learn something from him. But we do face the same direction, no matter how giant his stride, how small mine" (38).

When she was being rejected by publishers, "It was great writing which kept me going" (39).

And more:

"Nobody can teach creative writing--run like made from anybody who thinks he can. But one can teach practices, like finger exercises on the piano; one can share the tools of the trade, and what one has gleaned from the great writers: it is the great writers themselves who do the teaching" (61).

"A great painting, or symphony, or play, doesn't diminish us, but enlarges us, and we, too, want to make our own cry of affirmation to the power of creation behind the universe. This surge of creativity has nothing to do with competition, or degree of talent. When I hear a superb pianist, I can't wait to get to my own piano, and I play about as well now as I did when I was ten. A great novel, rather than discouraging me, simply makes me want to write. This response on the part of any artist is the need to make incarnate the new awareness we have been granted through the genius of someone else...

"It is beauty crying out for more beauty" (147).

I actually feel terrible in a way for sharing this now, knowing that she'll be dropping more gems on this through the rest of the book. But here I go to hit the publish button, all in the name of sharing greatness.

I am loving learning from Madeline.


  1. Oh, I just love all of these quotes, especially the first one!! Wonderful. I can't wait to read the book!!

  2. I have been writing and underlining all over in my copy. We need to get together and share all the gems, just for the joy of repeating them. Then figure out what all of this can mean for our daily lives. I am so engrossed in this book that I haven't even thought about August's book club selection.

  3. Facing the same direction. I like that. I never envy others and their things and I used to envy their talents but now I just envy their goodness. Hopefully I am facing the right direction and will meet up with them some day.

  4. Karen - Yes! I can't wait to talk and talk and talk about this. I'm so glad Jamie already read it. We'll both be reading on the couch and I can turn and say, "I'm at the [whatever] part. I love how she says [this]."

    Lara - The "facing the same direction" is probably one of my (many) favorites of the entire book. Ten pages before that she says something that to me goes right with just that one.

    "My husband is my most ruthless critic... Sometimes he sill say, "It's been said better before." Of course. It's all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I'd never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me, ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes our through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn't what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die."