Novelist as God & Clever Learning Ideas

This week’s Speaking of Faith broadcast “Novelist as God” piqued my interest, for in the outlining and writing of Eve, I was playing God.  I had to ponder questions like: Was the Garden a perfect place?  Did Adam and Eve have sex in the Garden?  Did Adam and Eve have children in the Garden?  Were they “married,” or did God recognize them as married, because He made them?  Where was the Garden of Eden?  Where did Adam and Eve go when they were shooed out?  Did it rain, or did it not rain until Noah?  What did they and Elohim talk about?  What did they do in the Garden?  What happened to them after the Garden?  Even the question, “Were Adam and Eve real people, or simply stand-ins for a moral story?” became important.

The problem with these questions is that everyone who grew up with this story has their version tucked away in their memory files, and it’s somewhat blasphemous to revise these ideas, isn’t it?  Well, no.  I’m a firm believer in the role that doubt plays in faith, so I would have to disagree.  I will say, though, that I didn’t fully realize how venomous people could be until I heard a couple of stories from my agent and publicist, both of whom had family members or friends that fairly exploded at them, “How dare you embellish Eve and tell her story?”  And I wasn’t entirely certain that my family would want to read the book, dismissing such a story as revisionist literature (as one major Christian magazine called it, rejecting any offer to publish an excerpt of Eve in between its covers).  [For an excellent look at the role doubt has played in the evolution of faith, listen to the Speaking of Faith’s “History of Doubt” broadcast.]

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  As you may have guessed by now, this thing that we’re all doing here on earth–this living and breathing and absorbing, you might say–puzzles me.  I know how it was explained to me when I was growing up–that we’re here to glorify God and bring light unto others–but I’m not sure that it has to be spiritualized  in this way.  Certainly, non-believers can bring light and happiness to others, too.

I have to think that there are others out there who have also thought about these universal questions: How could there be a God when there’s suffering in the world?  Is my God the only God, or does He go by different names?  And speaking of God with a male pronoun, can God be She, or is He genderless?  How can I know that what I believe is right?  How can I be sure that I’m doing the right thing?  And am I concocting God out of my need for Him?

I digress for a moment.  You know how a Pixar film works on multiple levels, when parents and children watch the films (I’m thinking Toy Story, Shrek, Finding Nemo)?  This is how I wanted Eve to work.  For readers that don’t know the story of Adam and Eve, it’ll be a glimpse into a deteriorating family.  For readers who want to glean some nuggets of thought from the book, it’ll prompt discussion and possibly a sense of unease.

Back to the topic at hand.  As a novelist, do I have the right to write in this way?  To broach topics such as these, putting words into the mouths of my characters?  Yes and no.  Certainly, my characters can only say what is in their character to say, so I cannot force words into their mouths.  I can, however, guess at what they might say when met with a perplexing event, and it’s at these moments in the story that you’ll be able to glimpse how one might resolve his or her questions, within the context of his or her worldview, so he or she can continue to live.  This is what I mean by living the questions, for how can any of us prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what we’re saying or believing is the absolute truth?  I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re all “way off.”  How can this great and fathomless universe be understood?  We’ve only grazed the surface, in my humble opinion.  And isn’t it grand that there’s so much to learn?  No excuse for boredom!

For those of you who have made it this far, past this long, tedious post (if you’re not fazed by these questions), I have some great websites for parents who want to foster creativity and imagination in their children.  [Thanks, Sara, for the heads-up on these!]

First, for a wonderful website on writing with kids, go to Write Start, which you can find here.  Sandpaper letters, cardboard letters, journals, the works!  Peruse her other categories in the bar on the right-hand side.  Cooking with kids!  Loving kids!  Strengthening kids!  Growing with kids!  For a delightful Shell Memory Game, go here.  Isn’t it adorable?

Here’s another website, authored by teachers.  Eensies, which you can find here.  Again, search the categories on the right, to pull up the topic you desire.

Just the other day, when Liliana was watching the opening credits of a Baby Einstein DVD, she pointed to the letters as they flashed up on the screen and said, “A-B-C?” so she’s getting the sense that those letters are somehow important.  She leans over the opened pages of books now and makes staccato sounds, much like the sounds of letters.  “Ah-eh-mm-ta-lo…”  She nods her head satisfactorily, as though she’s said the most brilliant and apt things.  How funny is that?

On to another topic: Growing and Eating Your Own Vegetables.  Have you seen the book Grow It, Cook It: Simple Gardening Projects and Delicious Recipes? Lots of pictures and easy recipes to make with kids.  What better way is there to teach cause and effect to a child?  Little L. and I are SO doing this this summer.  LOVE this one.

As always, so many ideas, and so little time.

[Post image: Giancarlo Neri’s public sculpture “The Writer” on Hampstead Heath, London (photo by Scott Barbour)]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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