Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A is for Alphabet, By Bonnie Mansell

Several years ago I asked the members of our writing group to share the memories of our class in an "ABC" book, which we published as About Bonnie's Class. I have decided to go back to those stories and publish them here for a wider audience. This first entry is my introduction to the book. In the weeks to come, I will publish one alphabet story in additon to the stories currently being written and submitted. I hope you enjoy them. If you would like to add your own "alphabet memory," please do so, following the guidelines on this page.

If you are having trouble making comments on the stories you read, please send an email to me at, and I will be glad to post your comment.

A is for Alphabet

The alphabet is one conglomerate whole, made up of 26 individual items. It might be considered a storage container for its parts, or, perhaps more appropriately, a home for its family. In fact, when the individual letters are written alone or in alphabetical order, we can discern very few meaningful combinations. It is the purposeful grouping of letters, the parts of the whole, which allows us to generate sense in an endless variety of ways. So, the alphabet is dependant on its members to give it significance, and the letters are dependant on one another to create a meaningful flow of thought.

Sometimes two letters can seem to be so widely separated that they cannot possibly come together to create meaning. “A” and “Z,” for example, are polar opposites. There are very few words that combine these two letters. But some of those few words conjure up striking images. Azaleas are among the most beautiful flowers; the Aztecs were among the most creative and advanced people of the ancient world; and azure is the color of the clearest blue sky.

People are much like the individual letters of the alphabet. The analogy breaks down, of course, as all analogies do. Unlike a single letter of the alphabet, we each have value and meaning. But it is also true that we discover that meaning through our interaction with others. As writers we know the need for alone time. We know that we often need to free ourselves from external distractions in order to distill our thoughts into words. But we also recognize our need for community. It is in community that we express the ideas we formulate in private. And it is in community that we listen to the ideas and stories of other individuals. It is community that makes us two-way people.

Madeleine L’Engle, expresses the thought this way:

"My moments of being most complete, most integrated, have come either in complete solitude or when I am being part of a body made up of many people going in the same direction." (The Irrational Season, p. 158)
She also says that although, as a writer, she must write alone, she recognizes that her solitude must be “encircled by community.” In the memoir class many of us have discovered that we are, in fact, “encircled by community,” and that encircling has provided us with protection and strength, as well as the opportunity for personal growth. We find that our little circle is made up of individuals who may have little or much in common, yet our interaction helps us to focus on the things that unite us, rather than those that divide us. And, like the letters of the alphabet, we come together and make new meaning. Again to quote L’Engle:
"Wherever there is unity in diversity, then we are free to be ourselves; it cannot be done in isolation; we need each other." (Circle of Quiet, p. 237)

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