On Nourishers and Squelchers

My toddler is bouncing around the driver’s seat, making zoom-zoom noises under his breath. I’ve popped him up there while I organize the trunk. As I gather a tangle of hats, gloves and grocery receipts, the sky takes on an orange tinge. The sign of a good sunset.

“Lee,” I ask him, “should we drive to the sunset?”

“Lee might drive?” he proposes with a sly grin. 

A few minutes later, both buckled into our appropriate seats, we pull into the lot overlooking the Magnolia bluffs. The Puget Sound below us pulses a nearly-neon shade of pink.

“To the sunset!” Lee screams, hopping across the sidewalk to the grass below. 

“Yup, we’re here. Stay close please. What colors do you see?”

“A little blue, a little purple,” he chirps, tilting his small blond head. “Some white, some pink.” Then he repeats, “To the sunset, now?” 

“Yup, yup,” I sing-song, “Here we are!” I check the time. We have friends coming over for dinner. I text my husband a picture of Lee silhouetted against the sky, and then a reminder to vacuum and preheat the oven.

I picked up Emily of New Moon again looking for an escape. I’ve always considered it a charming, light (if a bit spooky) book for kids, and on one level that’s true. L.M. Montgomery fills the chapters with what her publisher had come to expect: a fake poisoning, a false friend, a narrow escape from a bull, a mean schoolmistress, and of course, Emily’s dreams of becoming a famous author. But this time through, I’m caught up in a different plot altogether. It’s the tension between Emily and her caregivers. Emily is a very sensitive girl, but she has an incredibly strong sense of self. The adults in her life, particularly the women, do everything they can to stifle this spark in her, in the name of “raising a lady.” Can Emily survive the fears and expectations of her narrow-minded caregivers, or will they end up overpowering her and dulling her spirit? And why are all the women in this novel so incredibly mean?

In the opening scenes of Emily of New Moon, Emily Starr, our witchy little heroine, is a twinge feral and so full of wonder that she’s often overcome by spells of otherworldly, fortifying splendor. She calls this sensation The Flash. 

Emily’s beloved dad, Douglas, has primed her to experience the world this way. He’s homeschooled her, nurturing her imagination and her interest in nature. Together they’ve created an insulated, strange, lovely world. Every tree in their backyard has a name. As soon as Emily writes a story, she reads it to her father. He knows all about The Flash. 

But tragically, Douglas is in the late stages of tuberculosis. He’s far too weak to keep up with housework, so that duty falls to a dull hired woman named Ellen Green. Douglas dismisses Ellen as “a fat old thing of no importance,” and Emily mutters this mantra liberally when faced with Ellen’s judgements, rules, and rigid religion. Or when Ellen makes Emily put on her coat before leaving the house. 

Douglas and Ellen are the first to establish a pattern in Emily of New Moon; adults in the novel seem to be sorted into those who nurture and those who squelch. It’s Emily’s job to learn from the nurturers and sidestep (or reform) the squelchers.

After Douglas dies, Emily is sent to New Moon to live with her mother’s family, The Murrays. Here, she meets her next squelcher and nourisher: Aunt Elizabeth and Cousin Jimmy. Aunt Elizabeth runs New Moon with an iron fist, upholding the Murray honor above all. Her strictness borders on cartoonish—she distrusts poetry and novels, she won’t let Emily “cut a bang,” and she despises cats. She couldn’t possibly be bothered to name a tree.

A childhood head injury caused Jimmy significant damage and left him unfit for a life on his own. Yet he can talk of fairies, recite his original poetry by moonlight, and speak with authority on the love of God. He is an unfailing champion of Emily’s, the one who first inspires her to try writing poetry herself. Like Douglas’ illness, Jimmy’s injury has forced him to the margins of society. These limitations seem to have rendered both men hyper-receptive to the beauty around them. And as such, both are particularly open to the power and force of Emily’s imagination and talent.

We’ll meet two more “nurtures” later in the book. Dean Priest, a distant relative with a spinal disorder severe enough to earn him the nickname “Jarback,” and Mr. Carpenter, a failed writer demoted to country school teacher, who teaches Emily and takes interest in her writing.

Dean turns out to be a squelcher in disguise—a controlling creep who will attempt to stifle Emily’s talent and spirit more intensely than any other character, out of what he considers love for her. He’ll come closer to succeeding than anyone else, too.

Emily can see only the good in Dean because he challenges her imagination and makes space for her unique perspective. And she struggles to find any good in Aunt Elizabeth, whose lack of imagination seems, to Emily, unforgivable. Still, Emily isn’t the narrator of the novel, and subtle lines foreshadow Dean’s danger, while casting Elizabeth in a bit more sympathetic light. Elizabeth has lived a life constrained by rigid gender roles, unvented grief, dogmatic religion, and endless domestic duties. A life like that doesn’t often nurture wonder.

It’s worth noting that the damaged men in the story, almost universally, find freedom in their marginalization. They’re excused from societal expectations and freed of the burden of daily chores or caretaking. Those duties fall to the women in their lives (wives, cousins, servants). Thus, their imaginations seem to flourish in an almost childlike way, making them excellent companions for Emily.

The marginalized women in the story don’t have that luxury—they are caring for themselves and their families while also shouldering the burden of their otherness. Instead of opening toward wonder, they close off in bitterness. The most glaring example of this is Teddy’s mother, Mrs. Kent, who has been mysteriously abandoned by her husband and lives alone in the Tansy Patch with Teddy.

Far from nurturing, she’s an active, pathological squelcher, setting fire to Teddy’s drawings because she’s afraid his artistic talent might take him away from her. This divide between the damaged, gentle male dreamers excused from societal pressures and the beaten-down, bitter female characters is such a blatant pattern in the novel that must have been intentional on Montgomery’s part. Maybe a comment on the impossibility of being both the heady dreamer and the household manager? Fascinating, considering that Montgomery was taxed with filling both roles for much of her lifetime.

But no, it’s not that simple. Hard as I try to pull a straightforward moral from the book, I can’t get it right. Like a skillful poem or a fairy tale, Emily’s story shrugs off the squeeze of straightforward conclusions. It just exists, in all its strangeness.

Still, I’m fascinated by all this tension between Emily and her caregivers, and I’m paying attention to Elizabeth in a way I never have before. Is she meant to be a villain, a cautionary tale, or a study in what grief does to a person? She’s certainly suffered enough tragedy in her life. Most glaring is her role in Jimmy’s head injury…he fell backwards into the well while dodging her fists, and most folks who know the story believe that she pushed him intentionally. That’s a lot to live with.

Add to that the grief of losing Emily’s mother Juliette, first by way of the family estrangement when Juliette eloped with Douglas, and then through her death by tuberculosis a few years later. At the turn of the century, crowded, unsanitary conditions of city life were considered breeding grounds for TB, so Elizabeth would likely have believed that keeping Juliette on the farm at New Moon (or at least safely married off to an upstanding, wealthy member of the local community) would have kept her alive.

Elizabeth clearly sees Emily’s time at New Moon as a chance to revise the past. Her frantic attempts to keep Emily “in line” range from comical to diabolical, and most of them backfire. The first time I read the book, I found Elizabeth’s behavior straightforwardly horrible. But as a pandemic parent, I’m dismayed to find myself identifying with Elizabeth’s fear-based scramble to keep Emily safe. No one else in the book seems very worried about Emily’s safety. Someone has to be…right?

But while Elizabeth may deserve sympathy, her controlling behavior is, in the end, indefensible. Because Elizabeth lacks imagination, she can’t see Emily, or anyone else for that matter, as having a whole, sacred sense of self, separate from Elizabeth. Elizabeth bullies those around her into conformity, so effectively that she’s come to believe she really can control people with her moods. (Aunt Laura, who also lives at New Moon, has survived Elizabeth with subterfuge—she’s always sneaking Emily cookies, writing paper, or kindness behind Elizabeth’s back, but she refuses to stand up to her.) Maybe Elizabeth does this to feel safe, to avoid having to deal with her grief. But Emily won’t let Elizabeth win—Emily is meant to break this cycle, to become something more than another exhausted woman living a narrow, fearful life.

It’s tough to cultivate wonder amidst laundry, doctor’s appointments, and to-do lists. It can be tempting to require conformity and shut down curiosity in the name of safety, schedules, or even just parental sanity. And sometimes it’s necessary. But if we let our overwhelm win out all the time, we’re aligning with the squelchers. I don’t think I’m anywhere near Elizabeth’s level of controlling, but I do think it takes vigilance to keep your parental imagination alive, to really see the kid you’re raising as a separate, whole little person. And reading Emily again has nudged me in the right direction.

Sometimes I set a timer and flip my phone upside down—out of sight, out of mind—to challenge myself to stay fully in Lee’s world for a bit. I sit down beside him and join in his play, letting him take the lead. (I’m with him all day, but it’s far too easy to let a whole day go by without really getting down on his level.)

When I try this, I’m always shocked by the pull I feel, after only a very few minutes…a compulsion to know what time it is, to check email or Instagram, to make a grocery list or pay a bill, to at least take a cute picture of Lee and text it to someone…to maintain, in some way, a connection to the world of adulthood. Even just to re-direct Lee’s play into the way I’d do it, or how a toy is “meant to be” played with.

It’s tempting to label my restlessness as straightforward boredom, but that’s not quite right. It’s a deeper discomfort, something like panic, even, at suspending my productivity altogether and humbling myself enough to learn from my little son. To witness who he really is, here and now. To enter his world of process-oriented imaginary play, where there is no end goal, just the present moment unfolding magically, again and again (and again).

Walter Brueggemann writes that our culture “shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger.” If our imaginations are in good working order, then we can imagine a truly different world. To those who benefit from the status quo, or those who cling to it because it’s all they know, that’s pretty dangerous.

In this way, kids are little revolutionaries, inviting us to join in their play again and again (and again). Each time we accept their invitation into wonder, we strengthen our own imaginative power. And that means we’re more fully able to see others, to let others be themselves, too.

Emily’s nurturers are able to engage fully with her imagination, to see the value of her curiosity, and we see the impact that makes on her. It’s powerful. I want to provide that more than anything for my son as he grows. But part of me can’t resist pointing out that while the nurturers nurture, someone else is usually cooking dinner.

On the drive back home, Lee asks it again: “Now we go to the sunset?”

“We did it, bud,” I say, suppressing an eye roll, turning up the radio. 

He doesn’t drop it: “But where is the sunset? In the sunset? We can go next time.” 

And it hits me, what he’s been asking. To Lee, nothing is off limits yet. He’d figured we’d go
ahead and drive directly there, into the clouds, into the sun itself. It doesn’t make any sense— it
is a lovely, strange, Emily-ish idea. I pull over for a minute to belatedly accept this invitation into
his world of wild imaginings. And together we watch the last streaks of pink and gold fade and
imagine climbing right on inside all that brilliance.

Christy Lee Barnes is a poet and educator from Los Angeles who now lives in Seattle with her husband and toddler son. Her publications include Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Cream City Review, The Seattle Times, McSweeney’s, Tin House’s “Broadside Thirty,” and other journals.

Writing Myself Out

The first chapter of Emily Climbs is titled “Writing Herself Out.” It is a dark and stormy winter night, and there is Emily, beside the cozy fireplace in her room: “writing, by the light of two tall, white candles […] in a brand-new glossy, black ‘Jimmy book.’” This book is her inner fireplace where the parts of her that “burned for expression and yet were too combustible to be trusted to the ears of any living being” could be safely combussed.

She writes while the storm rages and the fire wanes, until “her candle went out with a splutter
and a hiss in its little pool of melted tallow, and she came back to reality with a sigh and a shiver.”

Same, Emily. All of it.

It took me the whole of the first Emily book, Emily of New Moon, to realize I was not reading Anne of Green Gables 2.0. For Emily Climbs, I’ve been reading for Emily and Emily alone, this girl who, like me, was “born with the fatal itch for writing.” I knew it by second grade. Emily knew it even earlier.

Reading this story about Emily having her first pieces published, I reflected on my own publishing journey. The first time I saw my name in print was in seventh grade, when my mom sent my Christmas poem of rhyming couplets to the local weekly newspaper, and they ran it on the front page. These days I write some things for money and others for love. Sometimes I am lucky enough to write for both. And still, like Emily, words can escape me.

“there is something beyond words—any words—all words—something that always
escapes you when you try to grasp it—and yet leaves something in your hand which you
wouldn’t have had if you hadn’t reached for it.”

Emily Climbs

Writing all these years has taught me to keep grasping, to be unafraid to come up word-empty, heart-full. Sometimes life fuels writing, and sometimes life impedes it — at least for a time, until my pencil can make sense and beauty of it.

In this book Emily navigates all sorts of experiences while away at school. She must write herself out of all of it, and sometimes that is hard on her, on her friends, and on all those aunts trying to raise her right. Bless my poor, sainted mother, who had no idea that, like Emily’s relations, she was “trying to train up a skylark.”

A skylark is known by its voice rather than its plumage, and in this book Emily is finding her writing voice. She finds it in her Jimmy-book, but also in her friendships and loves and rivalries. We skylarks sing a lot because there is oh so much to sing about. Sometimes our passion gets a little tiresome to those around us.

It’s painful to be this sensitive to every wind breath, every charming cottage, every raised eyebrow. To love so big and find words so little, just when we need them. All the beauty in this world fills us, and it is this very beauty “which [we] must later give to the world. We can’t store even one drop of it.”

We can only write it. Share it.

“Rainbow Crow” by Nan Henke

Recently I gave a young mom a copy of my book of children’s poems, Rainbow Crow. Later her
8-year-old son came up to me.

“Did you really write all the poems in Rainbow Crow?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Cool,” he said, then shyly waved goodbye.

The day a crow stole my son’s glasses, when he was about the age of this boy, was stormy. There was nothing beautiful in the moment. But almost as soon as those glasses escaped our grasp, I found myself reaching for my pencil, to try to get the thing into words, to find my way to the beauty in that terrible day.

Rainbow Crow has seventeen crow poems — I’ve easily written over a hundred of them. I’m still writing them, still trying to grasp something about that April day, something that still eludes me. Like Emily, I will forever be writing myself out. Forever being filled with beauty, forever giving
it away.

Megan Willome is a writer, editor, and author of The Joy of Poetry and Rainbow Crow, a children’s poetry book. Her day is incomplete without poetry, tea, and a walk in the dark. More writing links at her website and at Poetry for Life.

The Only Really Interesting Things In The World

I am on the third, and last, of the Emily books, and have felt a sad apprehension over having to let Emily go since I bent the cover of Emily’s Quest and creased the spine just so. Why is a paperback that fits in your hand so delightful? Is it because of its lightness and its ability to hold so much at the same time?

LM Montgomery must’ve known those of us who’d read Emily and in turn would say, “I want to be her,” or, “I AM her,” would experience some anxiety letting go of her. “But what will we do now, LM?” I bet she worried her fans would write. “Who will our writing hero be now? Who will show us how to do it?”

LM was too gracious to tell us – “You must be your own writing heroes, now. You must show yourselves how to go about the writing life.” That wasn’t her style. (Readers, do you appreciate how I write as if I know LM Montgomery?)

Instead, she tests us. She wants to see if we’re paying attention – like a mother who runs behind you when you’re learning to ride a bike and then lets go and you feel the air shift and you are afraid but you keep going because you want to keep going. Because you realize you can keep going.

Here’s what happens: Ilse, Perry, and Teddy all leave for college while Emily stays home. Mr. Carpenter dies. Emily writes and writes and writes, and receives rejection upon rejection. The crew comes back for a visit, and Teddy, who Emily is unequivocally in love with, makes it elusively clear he’s not interested in her anymore. (“The ghosts of things that never happened are worse than the ghosts of things that did,” LM tells us in a gentle slap to the face.) Then, Emily steps on her cousin’s sewing basket at the top of the stairs in her house and I guess that doesn’t sound too bad but there are scissors in the basket, and Emily steps on the scissors. They go through her foot, Emily falls down the stairs, and she almost dies but doesn’t.

As if that weren’t enough, Dean, who I am sorry, is a creeper and I don’t know what Emily sees in him, well he comes along and tells hers that her manuscript is horrible, “and also will you marry me?” (That is not a direct quote, but it may as well be because that’s really close to what happened.) And Emily says yes!

Before all this happens though, LM writes, “But the materials of story weaving are the same in all ages and all spaces. Births, deaths, marriages, scandals, these are the only really interesting things in the world.”

“LM,” I wanted to say, “what has gotten into you? Did you get into a fight with your editor? Publisher? Agent? I know it wasn’t Instagram and whether or not you should dance around like a donkey pointing at words (you were so lucky, LM).” How could she suggest that these are the only things to write about? It is all of what else LM has written about – the small moments – that show me all there is to write about.

This then, is what I think the test is. “Are you paying attention?” I think she is asking from the pages of the beginning of the book.


The other day I was on a walk and a robin popped out of the hedge and onto the path I was on. She hopped in front of me, but despite the fact that I was close enough to see all the splendid shades of brown that made up her coat, for several seconds she never flew away. Instead, she would pivot to look at me, as if to make sure she was heading in the right direction. Sort of like what a toddler does when she first learns to walk and you’re out in the world together and she lets go of your hand and she hobbles ahead and she will turn your way just like the robin and she’ll want to know the same thing: Is this right? “Are we heading in the right direction?” But also, “Are you looking? Are you paying attention?”

The weather has finally changed in Michigan. It was grey for eternity and then God said, “Look again,” and the world was sprinkled with pinks and blues and yellows and greens and how come what was annoying yesterday isn’t a problem today? Bot no matter answering that question. The thing to do is get out into the world. Let go of that sweater. Pull off those wool socks. Take a walk in a world that’s renewed itself and shouts, “Look at me! Look what I did! You don’t need to know where you’re going. Just keep looking!”


LM Montgomery might very well have been in a bad mood when she wrote that line, but it was no mistake. This is no throw away line. The proof is in the title of this last book, and the apostrophe that lays claim on Emily: This is Emily’s quest. The test then, is the question LM offers: Can you see your own life as a quest? Are you paying enough attention to see your life in such a way?

Like any first chapter, this one is a launching. LM launches Emily, but she is launching us, too. Find your own, she tells us.

Look at your lives as quests that only you can take.

Callie Feyen (Project Redux founder) holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is a writer for Coffee+Crumbs, TS Poetry Press, and The Banner. She is the author of two books: The Teacher Diaries, and Twirl, and is working on her third –a book about JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Callie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Jesse, and their two daughters, Hadley and Harper. Follow her on Instagram at @calliefeyen or online at calliefeyen.com.

Here I Stay

“Here I stay,” she said, and they wrote it on her tombstone.

Most of L.M. Montgomery’s books get on the last hot end of my nerves. Dewy-eyed protagonists naming every moment of nature that crosses their paths? No thank you. Even today, I drove down my brand new, prosaically named neighborhood road and felt a malicious glee at how Anne with an “e” would respond to my particularly unmelodious street address. But I’ll tell you who I always did like: Emily of New Moon. The little dark-haired orphan with a grim history and a strange, unsettling young adulthood on Prince Edward Island spoke to my soul as soon as I met her in the pages of her trilogy in Tenth Grade.

Like all Montgomery’s displaced characters, Emily would rather not be where she has ended up, living with emotionally-removed aunts instead of with her beloved father, who has died. But she is also a wanderer and an explorer, always open to the possibilities of story, and at one point, she finds near her new home the bleak grave of her twice-great grandmother, Mary Murray, with no words except a name and the epithet: “Here I stay.” Emily unearths the back story, and it’s funny until you see through to its sadness. Mary Murray, we’re told, rolled miserably across the sick-making waves of a cross-Atlantic trip, from England to Canada, and when her feet hit dry land, she proclaimed – well, as it says on her stone. Her travel companions meant to go on to Quebec, but she wasn’t going anywhere. She dug in. So her husband set up life where she stood, resolute, and the New Moon story goes that she was pretty happy, they both were, relatively fine and blessed in their newfound home, but still, when she died all those years later, it was her husband who quoted his dear, departed wife on her grave, carving out the words unto eternity. “Here I stay.” Something had rankled.

Why did this particular story stick with me? I’ve read a multitude of books between the New Moon trilogy and now, and of those three, there were more essential moments to put in my pocket for future consideration. I couldn’t have known when I first read the series back in early nineties’ high school that I’d leave my home state in 2005 and spend the next decade moving, moving, moving. At one point, we seemed to settle down long enough to buy a house, but always with one eye to the door and the road and a different job possibility than what we had at the moment. My husband and I might stay somewhere long enough to, say, get a functional kitchen going, but not to unpack the china. Long enough to fill the bookshelves with our favorites, but not long enough to pull the childhood books or college tomes out of storage. You get what I’m saying.

“Here I stay.” For the last couple moves, I’ve felt the strong, strong urge to echo Mary Murray. I’ve thought of her, and wanted to be like her, and get the same solid results. And at the same time, I knew Montgomery had drawn her character’s end truly. She may have had a good life where she stayed, may have loved and been loved, even, but there was that something that rankled, whatever it was. There was something wrong with the way she dug in and declared what she did, and her husband felt it, and though he loved her, there in the end, he had his chilly final say. He set it in stone. No. I did not want to grow that way in my heart, hardened around one intense desire to the exclusion of all other possibilities, even though I sure was tired of going anywhere but here.

But then, lo and behold, after years of job searching and option considering and plot hatching that led nowhere firm and settled: a job offer. Out of a field that moved us hither and yon and into a business that would keep us local. It was a no-brainer. We moved cities for this new opportunity because it wouldn’t make us move around any longer. It was, even, a soft move, back to a place we’d been before. Community at the ready, roadways and grocery stores familiar. We checked our finances and were surprised to find we could, actually, buy a house, so we did. And then the packers and the movers and the goodbyes (because we loved our last town and I could have “Here-I-stayed” there easily) and the drive and the packers again, unloading, and the hellos and nice-to-meet-yous and the slow unpacking that is still going on. Slow this time, because there’s no longer an urgency to set up shop right away. I’m undriven by any pending move a year or two from now. What’s the hurry? Thorough this time, because our earthly belongings can all come out; we won’t have to repack any of them anytime again soon. We think.

The “we think” haunts me. How, I ask my husband, how do we settle our emotions between these two binaries? That God has given us these very good things; we’ve wanted them for so long: a house, a home, a place to settle into for (we think) the long-term. Stability for our girls, schools, and people to know long and well. But there’s also this: this fallen world. This sad world, whose disappointments you can almost count on. Also, God’s ways that are neither fallen nor sad, but are above our understanding, and so often different from what we expect or want. How not to live with a sort of fear that what has come true might at any time come undone? How to keep from shifting our feet toward the door – which we don’t actually want to go out of anytime soon – just in case we have to go, just to protect our little hardened hearts against the pain of leaving once again . . . Good grief! We just got here. Why can’t I believe that I might just get to stay? Or live like we’re going to, at any rate, without having to know for sure what’s around the corner? Because if the future is written in stone, it’s no tablet I’ve got my hands on.

“If you want it to last,” says my friend Elizabeth Dark Wiley in her recently-published essay of the same name, “don’t write it in stone.” Well, they put it on Mary Murray’s tombstone after she’d rounded all her life’s corners, so we know for sure her heels stayed put pretty close to the ground she dug them into. I think I want to know what’s around the next corner so I can bolster my emotions, but no. I don’t actually need the luxury of that kind of hindsight about myself or my life; tell me what’s on my gravestone after the fact, which really means don’t tell me at all. I’ll be somewhere else for permanent by then, and I hope you won’t catch me looking back to see what folks needed to say about me. But I get ahead of myself. The moment in question is now; the place in question is right here; my desire is to stay. The question is how to stand firm without digging in. Or how to be where I am altogether without fearing future change, come as it may – or not. 

If the future is written in stone, I believe God has his hands on it. And if I can hang onto the recollection that He is good, then I think I can take my shoes off and leave them forgotten in the hallway. I can be here. This life is, indeed, a liminal kind of place. We’re not here; we’re not there; we are here; we will be there. So yes, okay. Set whatever ended up happening in this meantime on my stone. And if you’re not still here to do it, then that’ll mean you left this place before me, and I’ll be seeing you there. Where we’re sure to stay.

Rebecca D. Martin lives with her family in Central Virginia. Her essays and poems have been published with the Curator, Brevity, Proximity, Isele, and (upcoming) Taproot Magazines, among others. Her memoir—full of books, houses, and neurodiversity— will be out with TS Poetry Press in fall 2023. She can be found on Out for Stars at Substack.

Romantic But Not Comfortable

Emily is growing on me, chapter by chapter, book by book (I just finished the second one, Emily
. More soon!) Like her, my literary ambitions began early. Like her, I’ve had some things
published. Like her, every experience, every conversation, every tree blowing in the wind
becomes seed for my personal Jimmy-book.

In the first book, Emily of New Moon, I loved the chapter titled “Romantic But Not
Comfortable,” when Emily begins to realize that real romance is very different than how it looks
in stories and poems. Well, I had to write a poem about that.

In April I collaborated with an artist and friend named Nan Henke in a joint painting and poetry show called Crossroads. Nan did a painting of wildly exuberant flowers that looked like it was right out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The art itself seemed twitterpated, as all things are in spring.

“Flower Medley #1” by Nan Henke

Spring starts in early March, and it is simultaneously the prettiest, most pleasant season in the Texas Hill Country — ask the 100,000 tourists who visited over spring break — and also the season of unpleasantness. It’s when the live oak trees shed their yucky pollen. It’s when we get thunderstorms and hail. It has often been a season for tragedy.

I met my husband on May 26, thirty-four years ago. We were in training to be camp counselors
that summer. He angled himself to be my partner when they taught us (read: reminded us) how to
two-step for camp dances. It was practically summer. We were uncomfortable, all hot and sweaty
on those tennis courts, under the bright mosquito-infested lights. We were soon to become

“Romantic But Not Comfortable
chapter 21, Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery

Anyone foolish enough to have been twitterpated in spring knows love
is all elbows
and pollen.

One minute your thumper
foot won’t quit thumping, and the next
you’re scribbling verse that would wrest a wince from the Wind Woman.

These young bucks with marriage on their minds,
those flirtatious does, they all assume heartsease. No—
love is a spring storm.

The power goes out and the water runs where you don’t want it and you huddle together
with your newfound beau—his legs too long,
your mouth trembling too much to kiss.

– Megan Willome

Emily won’t be kissed until the second book, and the whole thing is even less romantic and more
uncomfortable than even I could have imagined. But it is wholly, gloriously True.

“This is one of the places where a conscientious biographer feels that, in the good
old phrase, her pen cannot do justice to the scene.”

Emily Climbs

Love is a storm. There is no accounting for it.

A Spent Storm: On Faith and Writing

From the panel I got to be on at church:

I have read tons of books on writing – how to write, why to write – I have an MFA in Creative Writing, I am in constant conversation with others about the craft, but no book has told me more about writing’s call – what it does, how it feels, what it means – than LM Montgomery’s Emily series.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Towards the end of the first book, Emily is talking  about her writing with her teacher, Mr. Carpenter – a cranky, sort of dark, and extremely passionate man. Emily’s given him several poems to critique and for three pages he lays into them sharply:

  • “”Sunset – Lord, how many poems have been written about a sunset?”
  • “And this – To Life – ‘Life, as a gift I ask no rainbow joy’ – is that sincere? Is it, girl? Stop and think. Do you ask ‘no amount of joy’ of life?
  • “You should study the art of titles, Emily – there’s a fashion in them as in everything else. Your titles are as out of date as the candles of New Moon.”

And then: 

“Ten good lines out of four hundred, Emilly – comparatively good, that is – and all the rest balderdash – balderdash, Emily.

I – suppose so,” said Emily faintly.

Her eyes brimmed with tears – her lips quivered. She could not help it. Pride was hopelessly submerged in the bitterness of her disappointment. She felt exactly like a candle that somebody had blown out. 

“What are you crying for?” demanded Mr. Carpenter.

Emily blinked away the tears and tried to laugh.

“I – I’m sorry – you think it’s no good -” she said.

Mr. Carpenter gave the desk a mighty thump.

“No good! Didn’t I tell you there were ten good lines? Jade, for ten righteous men Sodom had been spared.”

“Do you mean – that – after all -” The candle was being relighted again.

“Of course, I mean. If at thirteen you can write ten good lines, at twenty you’ll write ten times ten – if the gods are kind. Stop messing over months, though – and don’t imagine you’re a genius either, if you have written ten decent lines. I think there’s something trying to speak through you – but you’ll have to make yourself a fit instrument for it. You’ve chosen a jealous goddess. And she never lets her votaries go – not even when she shuts her ears forever to their plea.”

These lines Mr. Carpenter says are precisely what I believe about being called to write:

  1. I believe Something is trying to speak through me.
  2. I believe I must make myself available so that I can be used.
  3. I believe in the jealousy of the call. That is, I believe God’s given me this gift, but it’s my choice to work, to figure it out, to take the plot of my days and turn them into stories. I am the most myself when I write. All of what I am – the broken, scattered pieces; the sharp edges – is laid bare in the loving hands of this Jealous Goddess who promises me nothing except to show me each time I come to the page that I am wonderfully and fearfully made. 

This all sounds so dramatic, which is another reason I love these books. I’m dramatic. I can find (and create) drama checking out bananas at Trader Joe’s. Emily shows me the power and the good there is in this trait. 

Like once, Emily and her best friend Ilse get lost and Ilse, who has a horrible temper and who is also someone I can relate to, says, ‘What’ll we do? What are we gonna do?!?” And Emily says, “Admit we’re lost and make a beautiful thing of it.”

So they find a haystack, and “they [sink] down on its top with sighs of content, realising that they were tireder than they had thought. The stack was built of the wild, fragrant grasses of the little pasture, and yielded an indescribably alluring aroma, such as no cultivated clover can give. They could see nothing but a great sky of faint rose above them, pricked with early stars, and the dim fringe of tree-tops around the field. Bats and swallows swooped darkly above them against the paling western gold – delicate fragrances exhaled from the mosses and ferns just over the fence under the trees – a couple of aspen poplars in the corner talked in silvery whispers, of the gossip of the woods. They laughed together in sheer lawless pleasure. An ancient enchantment was suddenly upon them, and the white magic of the sky and the dark magic of the woods wove the final spell of a potent incantation.”

Ilse eventually falls asleep, but Emily does not. She doesn’t want to. “She wanted to lie awake for the pleasure of it and think over a thousand things….Everything in it and out of it ministered to her. It filled her with its beauty, which she must later give to the world.”

I understand this so well, and I also know this is not the beautiful thing that’s being created. This is the thing that’s being given. This is the call of the Jealous Goddess. She gives you this glorious night, this soul mate of a best friend, and you say, ‘Yes, yes, a thousand times over, I will make myself into the fit instrument you are asking me to be. Just stay here. Give me the words.”

“No, no,” the Jealous Goddess says. “My part is done. The words are on you. This is why I’m asking. You need to figure it out. Get off this haystack and go because someone is lost and you need to find a story to bring them home.”

Again, drama. But the fact is, someone is lost. A little boy. Emily and Ilse learn about this when they end up finding refuge in the house of the mother whose boy is lost. Understandably, the mother is beside herself with grief, and doesn’t speak too much, but Emily and Ilse learn that the whole town is looking for him. It is cold though, and there is a storm coming, and at this point most of the people have resigned themselves to believing the boy is dead.

Emily and Ilse knew the storm was on the way. It’s the whole reason they found the house in the first place. That morning, Ilse is doing her darndest to get Emly to stop writing and make a plan to get out of dodge because of the storm. Emliy says, “There’s something delightful in a storm. There’s always something deep down in me – that seems to rise and leap out to meet a storm – wrestle with it.”

This is foreshadowing, and another instance of choosing to make yourself a fit instrument because after hearing about the lost boy, Emily cannot stop thinking about him. What happens next is what it looks like when a writer rises up to meet the storm.

We meet Mrs. McIntyre, who tells a story that frankly is dull and tedious, and pretty creepy. Emily though, sees something in Mrs. McIntye’s “clear blue eyes [that] looked as if their owner had been dreadfully hurt sometime,” and so she listens with the heart of a storyteller. She bears witness to it.

The next morning, Ilse finds a sketch and note showing where the little boy is. It was made by Emily, but she has no recollection of drawing or writing it. All she knows is she couldn’t stop thinking about this little boy and Mrs. McIntyre’s story. They took possession of her, and because of what Emily made, the little boy was found.

“Something used you as an instrument,” someone tells Emily, harkening to what Mr. Carpenter told her about the consequences she’d have to face having chosen a jealous goddess.  It is a joyous moment,  and a serious and haunting one, too. It is clear it’s taken a toll on Emily.

The next morning, the girls leave “the little white house on the windy hill, [and] the sun was breaking through the clouds and the harbour waters were dancing madly in it. The landscape was full of the wild beauty that comes in the wake of a spent storm and the Western Road stretched before them in loop and hill and dip of wet, red allurement; but Emily turned away from it.”

Nothing I have written has brought anyone home. At least, not literally speaking. But I know what it is to be lost, and I know what it is to want to make something beautiful out of it. I know too, how it feels to have moments when everything is ministering to me, when I am filled with such beauty, that all I want to do is give it back to the world. This is why I choose writing and why I believe God chose to make me willing to write.

Here is what you gave me, I tell my Jealous God – nights when I’m turning over a thousand splendid and haunted things, all of them taking possession of me until I can turn them into a story – here is what I did with it.

Fill me up again, God. Make me a spent storm. 

Callie Feyen (Project Redux founder) holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is a writer for Coffee+Crumbs, TS Poetry Press, and The Banner. She is the author of two books: The Teacher Diaries, and Twirl, and is working on her third –a book about JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Callie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Jesse, and their two daughters, Hadley and Harper. Follow her on Instagram at @calliefeyen or online at calliefeyen.com.

  • I handed out goody bags with writing prompts and resources in them on the day I gave my presentation. If you are interested, feel free to grab the downloads from my website: http://www.calliefeyen.com

Some Thoughts on the Wind Woman, Iron Man, and Metaphor

Yesterday my son looked up at me and said, in a thoughtful voice, “I think I live mostly in my imagination.”

He’s five. He’s right. Since his birth, when he wasn’t expected to live and then, miraculously, did, I’ve always thought of him as a changeling, an elfin creature returned to us — with half a mind still wandering in the faerie realm. He’s only half here. In the park he flits from branch to branch; he’s an orangutan, he’s a monster truck, he’s a hummingbird, he’s Iron Man. For him and other children of that age, their bodies are an artistic medium: their limbs are mutable, their forms changeable, and the world, wonderous, welcomes their flickering.

I remember being like him, and like Emily. I remember when the inanimate world filled itself with characters. Emily’s Wind Woman is one marvelous example. In my childhood there was a birch that scratched at my window with witch fingers, and the lovely bower of rhododendron in the backyard, which was home to gnomes. I used to feel sad for objects I had to throw away, weeping for their loneliness. Thus I hoarded rocks and shells in small piles because I felt sorry for them being separated (I suspect my mom would come and periodically empty the room of their small spirits, setting them free to the world again). Like Emily, I used to sit for hours at windows and marvel at the clouds and trees, their relentless motion, their everchanging beauty. Montgomery’s writing illuminates the dynamic nature of how children see the world:

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very
near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain;
she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind
fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm
beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music.

Emily of New Moon

Emily believes herself a wisp away from another world. There is magic nearby, the type of magic that transforms. My son believes this too — the real world is razor-thin and beyond it stretches the unreal, where anything is possible.


A lot of days I am too tired to play with my son. He wants us to swing from branches together and collect bananas. He wants us to hunt down bad guys with clues and gumption. He wants us to fight robot invaders, build spaceships and explore strange new worlds, and morph into dinosaur form (“But the dinosaurs can talk, and like, hold walkie talkies,” he explains). I admire his imagination but I cannot summon the magic needed to transform, again and again, from this tired mommy shape into the various elementals of his imagination.

I know I’m supposed to get down on the floor and play with him (long days, short years, blah blah blah) so I manage to do it, most days, for a little while before I tap out. But what astonishes me more is how easy it is for him to summon his wonder. Awe flows through him. Everything is worthy of huge feelings. It used to be easy for me, too.

I was like Emily. I wrote poems, terrible poems, about the landscape, odes to the little waterfalls I hiked past, stories about the faerie castles in the creek. My mind embraced language as an extension of landscape, and as I got older (around 11, Emily’s age, about six years older than my son) my body was no longer the medium for transformation. Words became the medium. My body shifted into adulthood with its weird hairs and bumps, so it was mutating all on its own, no longer a canvas for imagination. Instead, imagination became a thing to be recorded, then expressed, and then crafted and created on the page. I could change into anything in writing; language was the spell that unwove me from my body and made me new, each time I wrote and read. Emily says that a scene might “hurt her with its beauty until she wrote it down.” Her physical pain, and the relief of that pain, are one manifestation of the way that language lodges in our bodies and shifts them, subtly, from inside.


I’ve been reading Emily of New Moon at night when the baby falls asleep on my shoulder. She’s really a toddler now, but I still sometimes let her fall asleep on me. This is mostly because I then get to read my Kindle in the dark, with her soft breathing on my neck. This last month, I have looked forward to finding myself on Prince Edward Island for a chapter or two each night.

At first I thought, well, no wonder I like this book; it’s easy. Then I checked myself: no, I don’t love Emily because it’s easy. Easy means unchallenging, and Emily doesn’t feel flaccid or dull. Instead, it’s animate, dynamic, and kind. I love it because it’s delightful.

Emily is not quote-on-quote serious reading. Montgomery wrote the book for young people, but more than that I think she’s probing at the idea of children’s literature and what entails serious writing. Because despite Emily’s obviously nascent writing skills, she takes herself seriously, and Montgomery takes her seriously. Her fancies, her feelings, although placed in context as youthful, are not set aside as irrelevant. “Emily hated to be told she was too young to understand,” writes Montgomery. “She felt that she could understand perfectly well if only people would take the trouble to explain things to her and not be so mysterious.” In this passage, Montgomery has the wisdom of age to look at her young character (who obviously does, indeed, not understand some things) (like boys), but she also allows Emily’s indignation and honors her desire to be taken seriously. Her emotions are examined and described with the confidence and compassion of a writer who remembers how often children are brushed aside, and how bad it can feel to be told, “You’ll grow out of it.” When a book has stakes that feel real and characters you care about, it is simply good literature. It is lovely, and fanciful, and youthful — and why should those things remain the realm of the young? Why cannot we tired middle-aged folk also claim delight for ourselves? Why must delight be brushed aside as youthful and silly? Can we not love the sway of the wind and get embarrassed by spectacles with friends and fight with those we love over haircuts? Or maybe we don’t, and what a shame that we’ve forgotten how.

I’m interested in delight these days. I didn’t finished Kristin Lavransdatter for this project, not because I didn’t like it — I really liked it — but because I knew in the last section the Black Death was coming. This 2023 post-pandemic me was not ready to see Kristin mourn the loss of her spouse and children to a deadly plague. My kids already feel tenuous, barely possible. I can’t even rip a tiny, imaginative hole where their bodies are, in sympathy, in empathy. It hurts like hell just to imagine.

When do we lose the capacity to imagine so easily? It has something to do, I think, with the world pressing back on imagination as we age, forcing our fancies to reconcile with reality. When I was young, I made fun of my mom for not being able to watch serious films. She always wanted comedies — no dramas, no Oscar films. It was all light fare on family movie night. My dad and I would watch serious films on our own, and I’d ask him, “What’s up with mom?” He told me she felt the world a little too hard. Sometimes she felt it so hard it hurt. What she wanted from fiction was to feel something joyful — not Pollyanna false, not pretending the world wasn’t hard, but laughing despite and with the hard.

Is this what happens to very imaginative kids when they get older and read the news? Earthquakes, school shootings, wars, climate change … the hurt seeps in and we start to retreat like turtles into our shells, safe in our carapace of unfeeling, until we can’t watch any Oscar nominees or finish Kristin Lavransdatter and want to binge comedies on Netflix and not read poetry and can’t feel wonder anymore but only a dull kind of contentment, a thought like I should really feel something more .(Shit, y’all, am I this tired?) I guess I’m trying to figure out, reading Emily: Where did my wonder go?

Because Emily is full of wonder. Her enchantment has kept me sitting on that couch, baby on my lap, smiling into the darkened room and the weird old-snow glow of the Kindle, to see if she will win over her aunt and get her bang cut — these childish, delightful joys that matter so much to her sensitive, exuberant heart.

The poet and essayist Ross Gay has recently made somewhat of a career of the exploration of delight, and his writing plumbs the depths of sorrow, grief, loss and tenderness even as he discusses the things that bring him joy: good coffee, potlucks, pickup basketball, community gardens, skateboarding. In his newest collection, Inciting Joy, he writes about the misperception of joy as a feeling apart from sorrow: “The joy room, the thinking goes, is snug with every good and nice and cozy thing.” But this sealed-up sense of joy, Gay argues, is no joy at all but a kind of acquisitional satisfaction. Real joy is “not separate from pain,” but a messy, interwoven symbiosis. “What if joy and pain are fundamentally tangled up with one another? Or even more to the point, what if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow, but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through those things?” he asks. What I take from Gay’s line of questioning is that since grief is inevitable, loss is inevitable, and death is inevitable, then our experience of wonder has to come from our fellowship with others, despite and inside of that inevitable pain.

Every night Emily comes to me after a day of adulthood. I hear the news — thousands buried under rubble in Turkey and Syria, the war in Ukraine marching into its second year, some glacier in Washington has disappeared forever, another school shooting. I listen to my students, who are bright kids fighting the tide pull of poverty to get their education, and think about how hard they have to swim, and how unfair it feels that capitalism is this rip tide dragging them backward. I’m just regular tired, from chores and being patient when small people are yelling at me. In that context, with my baby breathing softly against my body, the delight of reading Emily hits closer and sweeter and harder.

And Emily stands there holding her notebook and searching for buried treasure in the garden, amid the glory of the seasonal flowers, with all her vulnerability and pain. Her book begins with the kind of life-changing sadness that is difficult to imagine: the death of a parent. Being orphaned leaves Emily deeply alone in the world, not only physically but emotionally. Her father is the one person who understands and listens to her. When he dies, she has no one with whom to share the imaginary world of childhood.

The other tragedies in Emily’s life (Rhoda’s betrayal! Aunt Elizabeth’s rules!) rock on the cold sea of those first chapters and the devastation of her father’s death. All the rest of the books sings in its wake: Emily’s joy at being at New Moon could not be as sweet if she had not known that emptiness first. In her grief, she is in fellowship with the Wind Woman and the pixies in the forest and the wild neighbor girl in the woods. She is in fellowship with Cousin Jimmy around the fire telling poems, and her cats curled up in her bed, and Teddy’s delicate sketches. And the threat of death lingers. Relatives talk about how she might die early of consumption, and at various points (poisoned apple!) she expects to die imminently. Emily is awake to the possibilities and realities of loss. Therefore, she can touch real wonder, the mystery that is offered only to those who have their eyes all the way open and keep looking anyway.


Parenthood is a profoundly numbing experience, in some ways. Driving to work the other day, I heard a report on NPR titled, “To reignite the joy of childhood, learn to live on ‘toddler time.’” Well, shit, I thought grumpily, this is going to be another story about how I need to get down on the floor and play dinosaurs with my kids more. But I was happily surprised by the reporting. Rhitu Chatterjee describes the same issue I have with staying present (long days, short years, blah blah blah) and how that experience of time can numb a parent out. So she decides to investigate the actual experience of numbness, exploring how repetition can affect our sense of time. Chatterjee writes that we make memories “when we are in a new place, absorbing all the little details around us. It can also happen when we’re having an emotionally charged experience.” In those moments, time slows. We are present, fully alive to the moment, mindful of every whisper of breeze. This is how kids live. This is how Emily lives, fully awake to the world.

Parenthood, Chatterjee explains, is full of “tedious, boring work” like diaper changes and bedtime routines, the sort of thing that isn’t novel and doesn’t build memories. Thus we have these long, dull days that speed by because we aren’t really fully engaged in each moment. I mean, who could be? I’d have to be a monk to mindfully wipe every poopy butt and not tune out a little. Chatterjee’s question then is how to slow down time. How to get back to that childhood sense of wonder and joy.

Wonder comes in when time stalls, Chatterjee asserts. When the world lifts out of its shell and morphs into something wild and new. This often happens in the presence of a kid, for whom nothing is routine, everything is new and marvelous: the first time you saw an airplane. HOLY COW THAT THING FLIES. The first time you drank fresh lemonade. THIS IS INCREDIBLE. The first time you saw a worm wiggle out of the ground. WHAT IN ALL WORLDS IS THAT. The shape of things seem new, fragile, and unbelievable. Time falls to pieces; we are here, in this moment, staring, jaws slack. DID YOU SEE THAT?


For me, poetry has been that place where time stalls. Even as I age and grow cynical, poetry has remained a place of possibility. Because it relies on associative moves — the basic two being simile (“my snow glove is like Iron Man’s glove”) and metaphor (“This stick is a power drill!”) — poetry enables transformation. Things are like other things. Things become other things.

In poetry, the world metamorphoses, turned hideous and monstrous, beautiful and wild. Poetic
language unfixes me from the blurry underwater of shopping lists and news feeds, makes me see the world with unfamiliar — and thus more awake — eyes. In life, because it is evolutionary adaptive to do so, I become familiar with things. I see a tree and become familiar with tree: trunk, branch, leaf. In poetry, with each odd new phrase to describe it, the tree transforms: seaweed, mermaid hair, tangles of rope. Not only does it unfix from the known, it refuses to stay in one place. It moves, dances, eludes. In the poetic version of tree, Daphne doesn’t stop at becoming a laurel. She shifts again and again, and her power is not in the safety of one form, but in her refusal of one.

Emily, with her attunement to language and to the call of transformation, understands this:

The Wind Woman was waiting for her outside—ruffling the little spears of striped grass
that were sticking up stiffly in the bed under the sitting-room window—tossing the big
boughs of Adam-and-Eve—whispering among the misty green branches of the
birches—teasing the “Rooster Pine” behind the house—it really did look like an
enormous, ridiculous rooster, with a huge, bunchy tail and a head thrown back to crow.

Emily of New Moon

Montgomery writes of the animate landscape of Prince Edward Island with a child’s eyes, as each tree and bush becomes some spirited, personified thing.


Okay but I’m not dead inside, I promise. I’m actively fighting numbness the way people fight infection: a daily dose of Rainier Maria Rilke and Natalie Diaz, and a spoonful of Mozart. Oh yeah, and Talking Heads, and Thelonious Monk, and Emily of New Moon. The awareness these art forms provide kicks me up, sometimes, just enough to take a deep, full breath.

But my kids are the best medicine. The other day my son and I were kicking a ball at the school near our house. A great delight of mine is that the PE class at the elementary school often forgets to bring in all the red rubber balls at the end of the school day, so when we saunter over to the big concrete yard, hemmed in with fences and firs, at say 4:30 p.m., we can often snag a ball and kick it around for a while. We don’t take the ball home; part of the delight is leaving it for someone else to pick up and play with for a while. The free-ness of the ball is a kind of un- claiming, the landscape in reciprocity with the inhabitants.

We were being World Cup players because he is always becoming something. I was Messi, I think, or he was Messi. Someone was Messi. Anyway, as we kicked the sky started to change. Slowly bruising plum and then this electric Barbie pink, a color I have only seen in plastic, wiped over with grayish wispy clouds that suddenly went the color of marigolds. The clouds arced across the sky, over our heads, like a wedding arch. I swear there was a moment when everything turned on, like a light switch. I whipped my head up as the sky illuminated suddenly. It split my mouth open. Huge smile. And it didn’t stop: the dome overhead was like an IMAX movie. It kept morphing and growing and changing, electric blue, shocking peach and melty honeycomb, this fiery core across which flecked black specks — squinting, you could see they were crows heading to roost. My son slowly turned to shadow, a dark shape whipping across the playground after the ball. The lights came on at the school. The air got crisp and sweet. And while the Wind Woman smacked around in the firs, I kicked the ball with my kid, who did not die, who could die any day, we all could, any of us, under this sublime, impossible sky.


Caitlin Dwyer is a writer, storyteller, poet and multimedia journalist. She’s always curious about the deeper story behind the headlines. Her essays braid reflection, observation, journalistic interviews, and scholarly research, all in search of intimate, human portraits. In her poetry, she explores mythology and motherhood. She also helps produce and host the podcast Many Roads to Here. She studied journalism at the University of Hong Kong and creative writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop. She also teaches writing with Portland Community College. At home, she often plays Wonder Woman and/or Evil Queen in epic pretend games with her children. If she’s not teaching, writing, or parenting, she is probably wandering around in the forest or lost in a book.

Various Tragedies and Good Grief

My reading schedule for the chapter “Various Tragedies” in Emily of New Moon fell during a time when my town was experiencing one large tragedy, which I am sure was the result of smaller, various tragedies – slits on ice that we all thought was thick enough to withstand – and I was afraid to read it.

A girl the same age as my daughter Hadley went missing and was found dead under the high school football stadium’s bleachers. The same bleachers I’ve sat on numerous times watching Hadley play soccer, watching her march in the band, the same bleachers I’ve watched my friends’ children work to pull out whatever it is they have, and offer it up for a chance to be a part of something greater than themselves. This is where she died.

In the days that followed, it seemed Ann Arbor was on fire with rage and sorrow. I continually bounced back and forth to the spring of 1994 when two of my own classmates were found dead in a car in the garage of one of their homes, to the present with Hadley and Harper – my babies who are teenagers, and who are not who they were when they were on my hip, holding my hand, when I was showing them the world. And the questions are the same: What happened? How did this happen? Who did this? (The police and the school assure us we are all safe, but they are only referring to one kind of monster.)

This then, was the state of mind I was in when I opened Emily of New Moon to find my bookmark waiting on “Various Tragedies.”

“Well, that’s some bullshit,” I muttered, cracking the spine and folding the book in half to begin reading it.

Here’s the first tragedy: Emily is no longer allowed to use the word, “bull.” She must eliminate it from her vocabulary as commanded by her Aunt Elizabeth. (I love that LM Montgomery uses “eliminate” and “bull” in the same sentence. I wonder if her word choice was deliberate.) “But,” LM writes, “to ignore the existence of bulls was not to do away with them.”

Ain’t that the truth.

I remember when I was six or seven – I was in first grade – and a boy was giving a friend of mine a hard time. I told her she should kick him in the butt. I said it to make her laugh (I’m 47 and still think the word “butt” is hilarious), and also because it seemed like a common sense solution to stop the teasing and the harassing.

My friend told our teacher what I said (the fact that she told on me is a story for another day, but seriously, WTF), and my teacher who makes Miss Brownell (Emily’s teacher) look like a kind and caring person and like someone who actually likes children and wants to teach them, told me that I needed my mouth washed out with soap. She sent me inside to write a note to my parents telling them what I’d done.

It is the only letter I’ve written that I memorized: “Dear Mom and Dad, Today in school I said ‘butt.’ Love, Callie.” Even then, even though I was in trouble, I still found what I wrote hysterical. First graders aren’t supposed to miss recess to write a note to their parents saying they said “butt.” First graders aren’t supposed to fend for themselves when other first graders are saying horrible things and won’t stop saying them. I folded that note up, put it in a paper bag puppet I’d made in school that day, and when I got home went straight to the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet.

“I like school here better every day but I can’t like Miss Brownell,” Emily writes. The use of the word “can’t” as opposed to “won’t,” or “don’t” shows that Emily doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Miss Brownell made it so that Emily cannot like her. I hate the memory I have of that first grade moment, and I would never want another human to say, “Yeah, something similar happened to me too,” but here I am grateful that Emily wrote something that I can relate to and then she keeps going. She keeps learning and living, and that is a lesson to be learned, too: share the story, and keep going.

And then there’s Aunt Elizabeth, who each chapter reveals anew her disdain for and annoyance in Emily. The person who is supposed to take care of her has done nothing but express hatred to Emily. In “Various Tragedies,” Emily’s Aunt Laura makes “a pretty red hood with ribbons” for Emily to wear in the cold weather. “Aunt Elizabeth looked scornfully saying it was extravagant.” A comment that takes away the joy of having something beautiful made just for you – another tragedy.

Perhaps LM used the word “various” to explore the different levels of tragic events in the book. These first few are sad no doubt, but they are unfortunately matter-of-fact tragedies. That is, people are donkeys. (If I were a friend to Emily, I’d point out that Aunt Elizabeth told her not to use the word “bull,” but she didn’t say anything about using the word, “jackass.”)

The high level (for lack of a better phrase) tragedy in this chapter is that of the Lee brothers: two boys who dug a well and got into an argument over it that ended in one brother killing the other. Emily’s cousin Jimmy, who is a poet, tells Emily the story. He says the brother who was killed is now a ghost and haunts the well. Jimmy says he’s not sure the ghost is real, but he wrote a poem about it all the same, and it is because of the poem that Emily gets curious, and I think being curious is a form of care. It is because of the poem – that the tragedy was presented in the form of poetry – that Emily could begin to care.

No ghost showed up that day, but Emily did see a bull. It belonged to Mr. James Lee – the father of the two brothers. The bull was coming straight for her, thus proving again LMs theory: not saying a word doesn’t eliminate the existence of the thing. Emily knows she should move – run – but she is paralyzed with fear. That is, until a boy named Perry saves her, and here is another tragedy of a completely different variety: Emily notices a “certain forceful attraction” in Perry, and Perry, upon seeing Emily’s smile is “reduced to hopeless bondage.”

I’ve not finished Emily of New Moon, but Emily and Perry are just as cute as can be in an innocent and fun sort of way. There are a couple of love triangles sneaking up as well, and I sense heartache and trial on the way, but I’m not so concerned about the outcome, or a happy ending as I am with a story well-told.

Part of a story well-told means finding a way to render various tragedies onto paper. The ghost was presented through poetry. Emily tells about Aunt Elizabeth and Miss Brownell in a letter she writes to her father who is dead, which is the reason Emily must live with awful Aunt Elizabeth. Emily might not have a choice in a lot of what has happened to her, but she has a choice to write, and write she does.

About a week after Hadley’s classmate was found dead, Hadley’s math teacher emailed us – all of her students and their families – to say there are no easy answers, that this is scary and sad and the thought of moving forward is surreal. She then thanked us all for sharing our children with her. “I cherish every day I get to spend with them,” she wrote. Like Emily, my daughter’s math teacher named the tragedy. She did not provide answers; just her presence and the promise she would continue to faithfully teach our children.

I think this is what Shakespeare is pleading with us to do through stories like Romeo and Juliet:“Go hence to have more talk of these sad things,” the Prince commands in the last lines of the play. In King Lear, Edgar says in the last line to, “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say,” and Malcolm in Macbeth says to “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak/whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.” I think that is what Hadley’s math teacher, Emily, and Emily’s cousin Jimmy were all courageous enough to do.

I don’t know if ghosts are real, but I believe they are felt – like various tragedies – and choosing not to speak of them does not make them go away.

Callie Feyen (Project Redux founder) holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is a writer for Coffee+Crumbs, TS Poetry Press, and The Banner. She is the author of two books: The Teacher Diaries, and Twirl, and is working on her third –a book about JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Callie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Jesse, and their two daughters, Hadley and Harper. Follow her on Instagram at @calliefeyen or online at calliefeyen.com.

Fancy & Emily

“Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down.”

Reba McEntire

I was introduced to Anne of Green Gables at summer camp, at naptime, by Jennifer, the girl from San Angelo in the bunk below me. She loaned me Anne with an E, and I was instantly
captivated. I eventually read the whole series, but never anything else by L.M. Montgomery.

Until now. Until Emily. Who has me a little freaked out.

Emily with her flashes and her feelings and her poetry. I feel too seen. I thought I was special, but nope, I’m like her.

And yet I can’t pull my reading eyes away. Montgomery is clearly writing a hero’s journey, and a poet’s hero journey, no less.

While pondering the Emily-ness of it all, Reba McEntire popped up on my playlist, belting out
“Fancy,” the story of another girl who is a survivor. Fancy has no time for faeries — she’s gotta
make a living the only way a poor young woman can. Like Emily, Fancy has a lot riding on her
shoulders as she ventures forth into orphanhood.

And while Emily is learning the ways of writing rather than the ways of prostitution, she is also
attempting to fearlessly meet a dying parent’s charge. Fancy’s mother tells her, “Just be nice to
the gentlemen, Fancy, they’ll be nice to you.” Emily’s father admonishes Emily saying, “And
life has something for you—I feel it. Go forward to meet it fearlessly, dear.” Both girls fulfill a
parent’s wishes on their own. And both need someone to believe in them.

For Fancy, her mother’s charge is all she needs. But Emily needs Father Cassidy.

Father Cassidy is Irish, and when Emily visits him to see if he can help her preserve the bush
Lofty John is set on chopping down, the priest immediately sees her for who she is: an elf and a
writer. Maybe epics, maybe novels, surely poetry. Even if her current poems aren’t all that great.

“Of course, it was trash. Father Cassidy knew that well enough. All the same, for a child like this—and rhyme and rhythm were flawless—and there was one line—just one
line—‘the light of faintly golden stars’—for the sake of that line Father Cassidy suddenly said,

‘Keep on—keep writing poetry.’”

I stopped reading right there and put the book down. This is what Emily needed to hear. It’s what I needed to hear and did hear from my second-grade teacher: Keep writing.

This scene also reminded me of a midlife conversation I had with an Irish priest — not about
poetry, but about what would eventually become my journey into Catholicism. Father Enda said, “I don’t know if God is calling you to become Catholic. I don’t know if you’re being called to this parish of St. Mary’s. Just keep on seeking.”

Keep on.

This year I’m paying more attention to my poetry and also seeking whether there is a place for
my more elfish writing. It’s only February. I don’t yet know the answer. But I know this:

Keep on.

Megan Willome is a writer, editor, and author of The Joy of Poetry and Rainbow Crow, a children’s poetry book. Her day is incomplete without poetry, tea, and a walk in the dark. More writing links at her website and at Poetry for Life.

New Moon Revisited

When we decided to read the Emily books this year, I played it cool. I said I’d like that and I mentioned that they were much quicker reads than Kristin Lavransdatter. I don’t think I let on how they were once something of an obsession. Maybe I didn’t realize it myself. I hadn’t thought about Emily in a long time.

And then I went to the library to get a copy. A different library than the red-painted one-room affair of my childhood, but one with similarly companionable librarians, one of whom immediately repeated the book title with a fond savor and asked, “Are you an Emily girl or an Anne girl?” Here we were, two women well on the other side of 35, warmly debating which L. M. Montgomery girl we most aspired to be.

They were shelved in YA now—a designation that barely existed when I read them.

This is it, the M. N. Spear Memorial Libraryy, in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, where I first checked
out the Emilyy of New Moon books. Photo by Christopher Piecuch.

The library copy is the same edition that I read as a girl. The cover shows Emily sitting by an attic window, a kitten at her side, writing long letters to her dead father. Immediately I also see the upstairs room where I read these books on my bed, beside a window, with my cat curled at my hip and the sugar maples that ringed the backyard presiding. I see Emily laughing with Ilse and Teddy and Perry—naming every wildflower patch, path, and stream around her new home at New Moon Farm. Sneaking doughnuts in the kitchen with her Uncle Jimmy. Mailing poems out for publication in secret. Crossing the countryside on foot with Ilse—much later, when she is in high school—to sell magazine subscriptions and sleeping in haystacks under the stars. And then her second sense. Doesn’t she have a vision that leads her to the bones of someone’s missing lover? And, later, another one leads her to the place a lost child is trapped?

When I was a girl there was no separation between the setting on Prince Edward Island in Canada where Emily lives and where I lived, in a little hill town in Western Massachusetts. It all sounded exactly like my home (minus the sea, which I have no memory of coming into the story, but which I will be searching for as I reread).

I played with a band of neighborhood children, boys and girls, whose parents would let them wander outside after school as long as they came home when called. We were always making our own footpaths through the woods, naming particular bends in the river, laying claim to certain climbing trees, and building forts with fallen branches. I had to be outside, every day, with a kind of physical urgency.

Photos by Hannah Piecuch

There was a time when I read the Emily books over and over again. I identified with her so much that I named my diary after her and addressed every entry to this fictional character. And yet, at some point, maybe when I turned thirteen, I stopped. I rarely thought of Emily—or any of Montgomery’s Prince Edward Island-rooted heroines again—even through two writing degrees in which I was fascinated with writers and their sense of place.

It’s possible that the Emily books first taught me to pay attention to the natural world, to learn the names of plants and flowers, to love the light of different seasons. And they certainly made me into someone who needed to retreat with a notebook and “write myself out.”

Was Emily just like me, or did I decide to be just like her?

Time for a reread.