“If I’m confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I’ll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It’s not that they make me feel insignificant; it’s the very opposite; they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there’s meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless.”
from A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
The Christmas I was sixteen I wrote a letter to Madeleine L’Engle.
Like most people, I encountered L’Engle’s writing first in A Wrinkle In Time and its sequels as a child, but I went on to read almost her entire bibliography of more than fifty books my junior year of high school.
My favorite was A Ring of Endless Light. I considered it the most important book I had ever read; the intensity of my feelings about it defied articulation. I considered it almost another Gospel. It conveyed the essentials of everything I believed to be true about life, death, God, and the soul with beautiful imagery and simple, transparent language. Madeleine L’Engle was the writer I most aspired to emulate, and her characters were the people I most wanted to be like. The first book I published I intended to dedicate to her.
On July 8th, 2000–fifteen years ago today–I stopped believing in God. I didn’t think I was going to write about this. I’ve neglected the blog lately, and there were so many things I could have written about instead–much nicer things to dwell on after a long hiatus. But writers don’t always get to choose what they write about. And a damaged writer probably has less choice than most.
(This may or may not be an actual photo of my camp, stolen from a stranger’s Myspace.)
Last week, I decided to start taking math classes through a free online learning course. You ever make a decision as an adult that you know your teenage self would have laughed at you for? Yeah.
I can hardly over-estimate the agonies math caused me in high school. I failed my math classes three years in a row, to the point that my guidance counselor wrote me off as not expected to graduate. I did graduate, and on time, but technically I was never promoted to the 12th grade, which created a lot of amusing confusion for my teachers.
My problems in math (and to a slightly lesser degree, science) had less to do with the subject itself and more to do with the fact that I just wasn’t very good at being a student. I’d gone to Christian schools from kindergarten to eighth grade, where I made straight A’s and B’s with essentially zero effort, but when I transferred to a public high school in 9th grade I discovered that I was about two years behind grade level in every subject. Thanks to the paltriness of my education, I had never developed the kind of study habits that might have helped me get caught up, and both my teachers and parents were oblivious to what was happening, so no one made any accommodation for me. This, plus the fact that I was dealing with serious problems at home that left me little energy to worry about school, insured that I was always an indifferent student, at least until my senior year when I realized that I was in danger of not getting into college.