More and more, I understand Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “The Author to Her Book,” written nearly 350 years ago. The first line, “Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,” just about sums up how I felt when I touched the publish button Tuesday night.
A good writer always reveals a part of herself when she writes, and that’s a bit intimidating. In the case of Understanding Elizabeth, there are clues about my childhood and teen years.
I have never been very good at sports or physical games. I should clarify that I was actually hit in the forehead by a fly ball while holding my glove over my face trying to catch it. I was a teenager playing in a church softball game, and I had the attention of our entire small town at the time. Embarrassing? Yes. It knocked me flat on my back, and I think I passed out for a minute or two. Or maybe I just didn’t want to get up and face the crowd.
A similar incident, in which I was hit in my jaw by a ball straight off the bat, happened in elementary school. I was so humiliated that I stuck my finger down my throat so I could pretend to be sick and go home. It worked. I was a tricky little person.
However, I never had any problems with the three R’s, and I loved that aspect of school. I shared in a previous post that my sister Gayle (a natural-born teacher if there ever was one) taught me to read when I was four. She also taught me to play chess. Since I don’t remember when I couldn’t play, I have no idea how old I was.
I was lousy at basketball, softball, or anything else with “ball” in it, but I loved word games and games of strategy. Playing musical instruments came fairly easily as well, because I enjoyed practicing. My entire family was musical. Gayle and I played piano and flute, Layne played clarinet, and all of us (six children!) sang along with Mama and Daddy.
I incorporated that feeling of joy at being good at something into Understanding Elizabeth. My Elizabeth doesn’t ride a horse, though there’s a lovely scene in which Darcy teaches her (le sigh!), but she’s a chess master. She isn’t shy about it, either. They fall in love over books and chess.
Darcy is socially awkward, but he excels in academic and physical pursuits. He’s a man who can discuss favorite books with the heroine. (My husband read all of Jane Austen’s works so he could understand what my daughters and I were talking about. He’s watched the film versions several times, too. Yes, ladies, there really are men like that.)
These are two capable, intelligent people who recognize their strengths and their weaknesses.
I have no problem with knowing your strong points as long as you also know your limitations. To me, that isn’t being proud; it’s giving yourself realistic goals. It’s okay to feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s fine to be happy with yourself, as long as you don’t settle for less that what you can do.
I hope you enjoy reading Understanding Elizabeth as much as I enjoyed writing it. This book is very different from my six previous books. I will be very interested in your feedback.