Just Good Writing

Here’s another beautiful bit from Madeleine L’Engle’s Ring of Endless Light, a dolphin healing service for Vicky, who is “going under,” emotionally.


by flashing silvery bodies
tossed up into the air
held between the sleekness of two dolphins
holding me but not hurting
holding and swimming
and then leaping with me up into the air
Basil and Norberta leaping into joy
with me between them
and before us and behind us and beside us
the others of the pod flashing and leaping
and I was being passed from pair to pair
And I knew they were trying to bring me out of the darkness and into the light, but the darkness remained because the light was too heavy to bear
Then I sensed a withdrawing
the pod moved away from me
not out to sea, but away, swimming backward and looking at me, so that I was in the center of a circle
but I was not alone
Norberta was with me
Suddenly she rose so that her flipper was raised, and then she brought it down, wham, on my backside
I submerged, down into the strange green darkness of sea, shot through with ribbons of gold
gulping sea water
rising, sputtering, up into the air
into the blazing blue of sky
and Njord was there, nudging me, and laughing as I choked and spat out salt water, coughing and heaving
And the light no longer bore down on me
but was light
and Njord nudged and poked and made laugh noises
and I grabbed his fin and he soared into the air.
And I played with Njord.

The pod began to sing, the same alien alleluias I had heard first from Basil, then from Norberta and Njord, and the sound wove into the sunlight and into the sparkles of the tiny wavelets and into the darkest depths of the sea.

One last alleluia and they were gone, leaving Basil and Norberta to watch Njord and me play.

And then they were gone, too, flashing out to sea, their great resilient pewter bodies spraying off dazzles of light, pure and endless light.

Thanks to Chatallot for the wonderful dolphin image.

Madeleine L’EngleThe first book I read by Madeleine L’Engle was Walking on Water, a meditation on what it means to be a Christian and an Artist.

She made it possible for me to write.

She showed me how to tell the truth about my faith – my faith, life with God as I experience it, without regard to the way I think I should experience it. Madeleine taught me to think my own thoughts, and ask my own questions, and trust that God is big enough to handle both.

She taught me all about wonder. She taught me that writing is an act of faith.

Now she is gone. She was 88; I can hardly begrudge her going. This moment she is learning more about wonder than even she imagined, and that’s a good thing.

But I feel so sad to say good bye. So few of my heroes are alive. Now one less.

Over the next few days I’ll treat you to several of my favorite quotes from Madeleine. Today I’ll start with this one, from her YA novel, Ring of Endless Light.

So that you’ll understand what’s being said, here’s the set up: Vicky, the main character, is helping to study a pod of dolphins, who in this story are un-fallen creatures who know God intimately. She’s also grieving deeply, having recently suffered, in quick succession, the loss of a dear friend named Commander Rodney, of her beloved grandfather, and of a baby dolphin, whose mother she calls Ynid. In this passage she’s questioning a dolphin named Basil:

What I wanted to do was to ask Basil to give me all the answers to everything, as though he weren’t a dolphin but some kind of cosmic computer. And I knew that this was not only not realistic, it wasn’t fair. But I wondered…

I thought of Ynid and her grief at her dead baby, and I asked Basil, Is Ynid’s baby all right? (Is Commander Rodney all right? Is my grandfather all right? Am I? Is it all right?)

Basil pulled himself up out of the water and a series of sounds came from him, singing sounds.

And what it reminded me of was Grandfather standing by Commander Rodney’s open grave and saying those terrible words and then crying out, full of joy, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Then Basil was gone, flashing through sea and sky, to disappear at the horizon.

Thank you, Madeleine. I’ll miss you. Alleluia, alleluia!

October is a fine and dangerous season in America. It is dry and cool and the land is wild with red and gold and crimson, and all the lassitudes of August have seeped out of your blood, and you are full of ambition. It is a wonderful time to begin anything at all. You go to college, and every course in the catalogue looks wonderful. The names of the subjects all seem to lay open the way to a new world. Your arms are full of new, clean notebooks, waiting to be filled. You pass through the doors of the library, and the smell of thousands of well-kept books makes your head swim with a clean and subtle pleasure.
~Thomas Merton

Somewhere West of LaramieNobody, nobody has ever written better than Ned Jordan did when he wrote this ad in 1923 about his automobile, the Jordan Playboy. His inspiration was a beautiful woman on horseback he spotted out the window of his train while he travelled across Wyoming.

She must really have been something.

Every time I see this, I want to buy that car:

“Somewhere west of Laramie there’s a broncho-busting,
steer-roping girl who knows what I’m talking about.

She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between
greased lightning and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds
of steel and action when he’s going high, wide and handsome.

The truth is–the Playboy was built for her.

Built for the lass whose face is brown with the sun when
the day is done of revel and romp and race.

She loves the cross of the wild and the tame.

There’s a savor of links about that car–of laughter and
lilt and light–a hint of old loves–and saddle and quirt. It’s a brawny
thing–yet a graceful thing for the sweep o’ the Avenue.

Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things
gone dead and stale.

Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of
the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight.”

My. Oh my, oh my.

Some days I look in my mind and find absolutely nothing there but a fine film of dust. That’s frustrating when I have to write anyway, but somehow things do get done. They just don’t get done on this blog.

On rare occasions, I have the opposite problem, a mind just so full of, well, stuff, that I can’t pour it out fast enough. Sometimes it pours out here, and sometimes in the novel.

But blogs nag. Not quite as effectively as dogs do with their whining and scratching and drooping eyes, but the message gets across .

So what do I do? I post quotes. I collect them, I have a program for collecting them, so I’m never at a loss.

But it’s occurred to me, there’s another thing I collect that would fit well here, something I call “Just Good Writing.” So I’m starting a new category, for bits of prose that just astound me with their brilliance. Expect to see a lot of Walter Wangerin Jr. here, and Madeleine L’Engle, and Ron Hanson, and Marilynne Robinson…

“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”~Marilynne Robinson, Gilead