Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 


123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789


You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.


Filtering by Tag: myth

Writing in Place

Jill Reid

airport-731196 In late July, just as the lawns on my street were properly scorched and my small garden gave up its last stunted tomato, my daughter, Ellie, and I boarded a plane for upstate New York. We ate chocolate chip granola bars and chewed the gum we stuffed in our backpacks the night before. In flight, I jittered on Starbucks espresso, and Ellie drew pictures of clouds with the fresh blue notebook and green pen we bought just for the trip. And when we found our luggage on the carousel and headed toward the entrance where my best friend was waiting to pick us up, I suddenly had the strangest desire. For the first time in weeks, I felt compelled to sit down and write.

Known for his writing about the power of myth, C.S. Lewis believed that "the value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity." Standing in that airport in that moment plunged me into a story that could have belonged to someone whose life is much more exciting than mine. Everything about the heft of my backpack, the squeak of Ellie's shoes, and the drag of the suitcase along the airport tile felt bigger, more profound than it had six hours ago in Louisiana. This fresh place in location freed the ordinary to be all that it had been before, but that I was unable to experience under "the veil of familiarity." Suddenly, there was something mythic about holding my seven-year-old's little hand, her favorite doll under her arm, the both of us standing in a place we never stood before and might never stand again.

Writing in any place is tough. "Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job," writes Neil Gaiman. "It's always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins." I write, more often than not, against the urge to go back to bed, to clean my kitchen, or do just about anything else in the world besides sit down with that blank page. On my better days, I write, anyway. But the writing isn't always good; the writing doesn't always feel worth it. And sometimes, in the process of waking up, making the coffee, and staring at the screen, I experience the treadmill sensation of moving without moving, of writing in place.

In her poem, "Sometimes, When the Light," Lisel Mueller suggests that an angle of light is enough to produce the mythic jarring of relocation.

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall, under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on, so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw, you would die, or be happy forever.

The surprise in the poem arrives not just in the "secret" taking place behind the shagginess of unkempt trees. The surprise in the poem also arrives with the word "again." The speaker knows "again that behind that wall" something "marvelous and dangerous" is taking place, and the fresh angle of light has transformed the crumbling landmark she might overlook on her routine drive to work into a revelation. She has seen this place before but forgotten to notice the "marvelous and dangerous" about it.

I seldom have the chance to board airplanes for New York. Somedays, the only landmarks I see are the ones I pass on the way to the kitchen table where I sit down, morning after sleepy morning, to drink my coffee and work out my writing. But right now I'm still charged with the loss of familiarity I experienced after that flight. And I'm also on the lookout for fresh angles of light to illuminate again the "marvelous and dangerous" that I have forgotten to notice.

Founding Mythologies

Howard Schaap

Uniquely Minnesota A place isn’t a place until you tell stories about it, says Wallace Stegner in “The Sense of Place.” In fact, Stegner says, “[N]o place is a place until it has had a poet.” He has Yeats in mind, who claimed about Ireland that “there is no river or mountain that is not associated in the memory with some event or legend.” Stegner goes on to worry about the American “mythless man” who “lives a life of his own, sunk in a subjective mania of his own devising, which he believes to be the newly discovered truth.”

As an undergrad, I had the pleasure of visiting Yeats’ County Sligo. I can hardly imagine a more Romantic place for an aspiring writer to visit. Even the names of the places—Glencar, Thoor Ballylee, Coole Park—were bewitching. Reading “Under Ben Bulben” while looking up at Ben Bulben, I knew what kind of writing I wanted to do, and I knew what my Ben Bulben was: Blue Mounds.

The first piece of writing I ever published was about a regional landmark called Blue Mounds, a place where the rolling prairie swelled into a bluff and caught my imagination. Once caught, I followed the imaginative trail to local species, specifically big bluestem, the prairie grass that gave Blue Mounds its hue. From there, the path led to the novelist Fredrick Manfred, who lived and wrote on the mound, and then to history: I mistook the cliffs at Blue Mounds for a buffalo jump, which they were not, but that imaginative mistake landed me squarely in Native America and in myth.

Arguably, the founding myth of the place originates not from Blue Mounds but from just up the road at Pipestone, Minnesota, and the National Parks site that protects the red stone used to make the pipe sacred to tribal people. Among the founding legends of that place are these: White Buffalo Calf Woman gave the sacred pipe to the Lakota, an act of special revelation; the stone found at Pipestone is the blood of Lakota ancestors who perished in a great flood caused by the water monster, Unktehi.

If Yeats and Stegner are right—and I think they are—and literary art should be tethered to specific places and myths, then we writers in an American context have some work to do. Not only do we have to learn and understand the myths of the places where we live, but we also must handle them with care: the story of White Buffalo Calf Woman is not my story and I cannot appropriate it without doing continued violence to a people group who continues to be underrepresented.

But the call for writers to know our places remains, despite the dangers. Writers going back to at least Washington Irving, who imported European myths, have most often looked past the mythology of the American continent. Even Stegner notes how Americans have been “[p]lunging into a future through a landscape that had no history.” It does have a history—and a mythology—and it’s one we must get to know to do justice to the places we live.