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Reading (when everything is a) Challenge

Last week I tweeted about how excited I was to smash my 2017 50-book reading challenge on Goodreads, since I was ridiculously proud of my mere 30 in 2016 (recap, and, okay, a bit of justification: 2016 was not a smooth year for me). I WAS excited, I noted, until I’d decided to re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION and THE LORD OF THE RINGS this year (the latter being my absolute favourite book of all time).

Don’t get me wrong — I’m euphoric about reading these. It’s been several years, and while I try to watch the LOTR trilogy every Christmas, reading the books takes a bit more time. My books-read counter is going to crawl over the coming weeks. Not because I’m a massively slow reader, but because these words must be  s a v o   u   r    e      d.

As Pippin quoted Treebeard:

So I’ve started THE SILMARILLION, this time with a Tolkien dictionary and map beside me (for following all those Valar and Maiar and Quendi around). But it got me thinking.

Reading As Respite — and Motivation

Truth is, in times like these where concentration is hard to come by due to current issues, the best thing to do is dive into what inspires you, and remind yourself of what makes you feel hopeful, and strong, and creative, and motivated, and just plain good. And just as Tolkien described in his beautiful essay, On Fairy Stories, this isn’t about escapism in the negative sense:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he . . . thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

And as C.S. Lewis said in OF THIS AND OTHER WORLDS regarding the reader of fantasy: “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

So. Rather than buckling down and sticking to my usually-demanding daily word count (or, when editing, scene tally), I’m giving myself a bit more grace. If my struggle to focus is throwing up brick walls (or walls that look like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and news outlets…), I need to step back and not beat myself up for it. And in the evening, maybe start my reading a little bit earlier. Rather than staring at a screen and berating myself for sub-par productivity, I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay to just go to words I love, and sit there for awhile.

Granted, I’m not on a deadline other than any I give myself right now…

Why I Write

I love what Tolkien said about his Elves in the preface to THE SILMARILLION:

Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations . . .  And its object is Art not Power, sub-creation not domination and tyrannous re-forming of Creation.

The Elves used their abilities to add beauty to the world, not control it nor become its master.  Tolkien wrote much about writers as sub-creators, made by a creator they’re naturally inclined to wish to imitate. “We make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made.”

But this is WHY I write — with the hope I can also create a world of a story and characters and events that might someday be someone else’s respite, inspiration, or encouragement.

We create to inspire, and we read for inspiration. While my productivity might be a bit lower currently, my well is being filled, and that’s no bad thing. It’s the very thing I need to prepare me for the next set of words, and the next set of days.

I hope you’re filling your well with words that inspire you. <3

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A Love Letter to Allegany

“I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”

-Frodo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

Dear Allegany,

I’m so sorry I didn’t get to see you this year. I got married and some of my family and dear friends flew all the way to Scotland to see us tie the knot. I wanted to share it with you, but we just didn’t have the means. But we had perfect weather and a day I’ll never forget, followed by a week in Corfu. It was the best time of my life.

But I’ve had lots of “best times”. Last year, the best time I’d ever had was the week I spent with you. My husband-to-be and I rented one of the same cabins that my family and I always rented when visiting you on the Ryan Trail. Every summer from when I was a baby, we rented a cabin on that trail or sometimes others, and stayed a week or more. Playing in the creek, at the beach, on the playgrounds, visiting the A-building museum and gift shop, hiking the trails, fishing at Red House or Science Lake, exploring woods, spotting animals, roasting marshmallows, playing board games on the screened porch with the glorious scent of the falling rains, smelling of campfire, looking for salamanders post-rain, climbing Thunder Rocks. The list is endless and some of the best memories of my thirty-four years are with you.

As I got older, my sisters and I would bring a tent and camp. Then it got to be short visits, a day here or there, when I lived away from home, but I’ve only missed a very small handful of summers with you. In recent years I’ve made sure I came back. Last year topped them all: the first time I’d stayed in one of your ash-scented green cabins since childhood. Opening that creaking, battered screen door, the smell I hadn’t thought of since I was ten hit me like a nostalgic tidal wave, washing memory after memory over me.

My parents came down with us to help us set up. I’d never stayed in a cabin there as an adult, so Mom had a long list of everything she remembered she always packed. An axe, matches, antibacterial gel, buckets, dish soap and pan, tons and tons of newspaper, citronella candles, Trivial Pursuit, a mirror, a nightlight, a lantern, a kitchen full of food . . . a car’s worth of supplies.

It was a beautiful week. Every evening, we walked around Red House Lake with the setting sun, looking for the animals that came out at dusk. I showed my future husband the place most important to me that feels like part of why I am who I am. One of my sisters and her family came to visit for a day. I loved seeing the kids’ faces enjoying everything the way I enjoyed it, hopefully making memories like the ones I’ll always cherish.

You’ve always been my favorite place on Earth. You remind me of all that was good and fun and exciting in my childhood, and when I go back, it’s like I’m 6 years old again, without a care in the world.

This year, I missed you. After our amazing week last year, I swore I’d never miss you again, even if we were reunited for only one day in a summer’s visit home. Life has other plans sometimes. My passport has been in the hands of the UK Border Agency for several months now, stuck in their backlog of visa applications, and I missed seeing you this summer. And as the summers disappear quicker than a blink, I realize how precious my time is, and what I do with it counts more than ever.

Next year, we’ll be back. We’ll rent a cabin and I won’t spend a second of my time with you thinking about anything else. But knowing that you’re there, even when I can’t be, that other people are enjoying you— that makes my heart happy. 

Thank you for a lifetime of memories, and the rest of my lifetime for even more. I can’t put a value on the amount you ignited my imagination as a child, and how much joy you always bring me. Maybe someday I’ll introduce my own kids to you. Please don’t let anyone change you, and I’ll see you next summer.

Love,
Cheyenne

P.S. I could do without the hanging caterpillars, though.

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