Part 2: Literacy Can Be the Bridge–The Power of Reading and Writing

cropped-be-creative-creative-creativity-256514           How do you get there from here?  I had no idea; I wanted to have a life that contained more reading, writing, poetry, nature.  I’d always wanted to be a teacher, but could not afford to take any more time with college.  I graduated with my teaching certificate, but there were only aide positions or sub positions, neither of which paid enough to pay the rent and neither of which carried insurance benefits.

Yet the rent wanted to be paid, the electric bill wanted to be paid and so on.  Not having a family to turn to for any help, I knew I was on my own.

I found what should have been a great job in business, but it was killing me.  I’d lay awake at night grinding my teeth, willing the hours not to pass.  I just didn’t want to do it anymore, and yet I had no idea how to get there from my present life.

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For a number of years, I commuted by train to the loop.  (That was my favorite part of the day, the commute!) I discovered I could read again, books I wanted to read.

One year, I decided to read only female writers or novels with strong female characters.  There was no method to this plan, just the knowledge that I spent most of college reading male writers or about male characters.

I found books at the library and read them voraciously. I discovered Willa Cather, and my life changed forever. Why hadn’t I heard about her or read her books in college?  Her characters’ longing for culture and education plus their longing for the beauty of nature resonated with me.  I discovered Edith Wharton and the plight of the urban female. I discovered Theodore Dreiser and the plight of the female as he expressed it.  I discovered Anne Tyler, Anne Frank, Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, Virginia Woolf, Amy Tan.  I discovered the lovingly drawn character of Helen and her search for education in Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant.

I was unsophisticated in how I chose the books to read, often choosing by the cover, by what was available, by what was on sale, by what I had heard about.  This was before the internet, I had no literary types in my life at that point to help me make decisions.  I got lucky in that I read many great books and “met” many great characters.

In these books, the longing for a more meaningful life as expressed by strong characters spoke to me: I was not alone.

But what was next, I wondered, even as my home made after college education continued?

Writing to and in the voices of fictional characters

writing to characters

       I’ve written to fictional characters for many years; sometimes, I get replies.  When very young, I used to write to Anne Frank to offer comfort, to seek comfort, to wish she had lived.  Imagine what she could have written, what she could have become as an adult. I wrote to her when I was very young, before I really understood her history.  I wrote to her as if she were a character in a book, and I just loved her.

I have written in characters’ voices to other characters, in the form of ekphrastic poems.

I have written poetry in the voices of Levin from Anna Karenina, of Macduff from Macbeth, of Simon from Lord of the Flies.  I have written in the voice of Lucy Gayheart in Willa Cather’s fine novel of the same name.  To characters in the novels of Thomas Wolfe–o, lost!  To characters in the amazing novels of John Steinbeck.  To characters in those many young adult novels I read when a teen–I wanted to tell them I understood.

Do many others do this?  It seems such an incredible thing to me when a writer creates characters that truly speak to me; they help me grow as a person.  They help me empathize, see things from other points of views.

From one mind to another, across the years and the miles? That’s such an amazing gift of literacy.  Literacy means we don’t have to be confined to one place and time, and that is a priceless gift.