Wonderful Words: Madeleine L’Engle & More Thoughts on Age and Writing

2Q==Last week, I shared a sign I’d seen in a popular bistro while dining out on my birthday. It said, “If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you say you are?”

Coincidentally, I am rereading book I read and loved many years ago–Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, and on page 74, I came upon this:

I need not belabor the point that to retain our childlike openness does not mean to be childish. Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike. And to be able to be childlike involves memory; we must never forget any part of ourselves. As of this writing I am sixty-one years old in chronology. But I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and…and…and…

If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.

One of my dilemmas with the prompt I gave you is that my first instinct was to respond, “I am eight, or eighteen.” I wanted to capture the capacity for wonder that I deeply treasure as part of who I am.

But I have been through some LIFE. I am not only eight or eighteen, I know things that I have paid dearly to learn. Would I say thirty-five, maybe forty? Just how old am I?

And then I came across L’Engle’s statement. I am all my ages. I think the fact that all of them are very real to me is one of the qualities that enriches me as an author.

How can I write a picture book if I don’t know what it is like to be a child who is read to?

How can I write a middle grade or young adult novel if the middle grader or teen is not still very much alive inside of me?

I love writing for children, but when I’m actually writing, I am very seldom writing for some present day child. Instead, I write to delight the child in me. I write to answer my questions and yearnings as a middle grader, a teen, a young adult, an individual facing the challenges and journey that are life.

L’Engle’s words helped clarify the confusion within me when I first pondered the plauque on the wall. I am all the ages I have ever been, and I am continuing to grow into the age I am. And I savor that. What a rich and wonderful thing is life!

What about you. How does your age influence your thinking about literature and writing?

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