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.
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.
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
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.
2 thoughts on “Writing Myself Out”
Megan, your meditation reminds me why I write, how I am made to write.
“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.”
. . . Gosh. Yes.