A few weeks ago I checked out a ton of craft books. One I'll mention quickly today, because I read it quickly, is an anthology of essays that are less about craft and more about inspiration — about that book or that passage that transformed readers into the writers they would become. This anthology is titled Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process.
One of my favorite essays is Lev Grossman's "Into the Wardrobe, into the Self." Having watched the first two seasons of The Magicians on Netflix, I felt particularly in tune with what he says about the influence C. S. Lewis had on him. Here's one of my favorite passages:
"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a powerful illustration of why fantasy matters in the first place. [. . .] There's a sense of anger and grief and despair that causes Lewis to want to discard the entire war, set it aside in favor of something better. You can feel him telling you — I know it's awful, truly terrible, but that's not all there is. There's another option. Lucy, as she enters the wardrobe, takes the other option. [. . .]
"But I bristle whenever fantasy is characterized as escapism. It's not a very accurate way to describe it; in fact, I think fantasy is a powerful tool for coming to an understanding of oneself. The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you reencounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world."
For a few different reasons, I needed to read this. Fellow teachers, this is a very teachable essay. And even as I sit here imagining all the scenarios that end with me giving this essay to a student, I am thinking of it as a teacher who's still (and will always be) learning and absorbing new lessons, too — especially those that find me when I need them most.
Because Fit is nonfiction with flights of fictional fantasy (even if that fantasy operates in the realist mode), I've been worrying lately about the role of these fiction fragments. Overthinking, I realize now. What Grossman says here is all I need — all that matters is, in fact, how the tea house woman, in her story, encounters different versions of my own problems. And because her story is the center and mine is marginal and inferior, her problems must be the more interesting. The ones I need to revisit, vertically, before pushing forward and reimagining mine.