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The truth about stories is that’s all we are. —Thomas King
I’ve always wanted to live in a boxcar, chill my milk in the river, find broken plates and cups under leaves to use as my dishes, and sleep on a pine needle bed. I’ve romanticized living like this because of one of the earliest memories I have of reading a story: Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children. It opens:
“One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from”
I grew up at the bottom of a school hill. Behind the school were woods where my friends and I spent a lot of time. This space, which was full of magic, as well as potential terror, served as the foundation for my love of stories. Getting lost in the woods feels to me remarkably similar to reading a poem or a story. I’ve never had my brain scanned while doing either of these activities, but I’m sure if I did, the same region would light up—I’m guessing the prefrontal cortex.
Loren Eiseley writes, “I have had the vague word ‘mystic’ applied to me because I have not been able to shut out wonder occasionally, when I have looked at the world.” I try to make this my priority: to be in wonder. Trying to maintain a position of openness to each thing that occurs and exists seems important because it reflects the fluidity that is so common in our lived experience: to feel many ways and be many things simultaneously. I have a hard time believing in fixed states, and literature, being one of the most vital advocates of this fluidity, ensures us that we are not singular and that the world doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
I love the opening of The Boxcar Children because we enter a world of unknowns that slowly becomes defined. This giving shape imitates an act of magic. The children are unknown. Their origins unknown. And then we enter the woods with them, and they take shape. There is nothing, and then there is something.
I still have the reader from the first poetry class I took in college. I didn’t know until taking this class that poems could do what they can do: make us see the world again. Poems helped translate a very complicated world for me because they acted as entrances into many possible worlds. These worlds reflected the physical world I was accustomed to, but they refined it and opened it up. Snow became an ecosystem, seasons became philosophies.
Howard Nemerov, in his poem, “Blue Swallows,” writes:
O swallows, swallows, poems are not
The point. Finding again the world,
That is the point, where loveliness
Adorns intelligible things
Because the mind’s eye lit the sun.
This allowance that literature grants—to find again the world—is, to me, its most important feature. I don’t remember how long the boxcar children actually lived in the woods, but in my mind they are still there. And I am there, too, living with them, having milk and blueberries next to the river. There will always be a part of me living there, as there are parts of me living in all of the stories I’ve read, and this, to me, feels like magic. To join these imagined worlds, all of them, letting some part of yourself stay there forever, opens the familiar world—the one we are so used to passing through—to possibility and allows us to approach each moment with wonder.
This post is part of our annual Lit Matters series, in which writers and readers express why supporting and elevating literary arts—the mission of Lighthouse Writers Workshop— is important to them. If you agree, consider supporting Lighthouse on Colorado Gives Day. Mark your calendar for December 8 or schedule your gift now. Thank you!
Jennifer Denrow is the author of California. She lives in Colorado and facilitates workshops at Lighthouse.