Imagination In Place: An Author’s Perspective + A [Very] Short Story

Have you ever felt the need to justify your place? As an author, writing about a place that is not my own has definitely been a task I do not take lightly.

in my place.

Have you ever felt the need to justify your place?  Wendell Berry writes in his 2010 work, Imagination in Place, about his move from New York City, a hub of culture, to his native Kentucky.  His move was not necessary, but he wanted to move back.  For years, he wrestled with the admonitions of old New York friends who told him he was ruining his life by moving back to rural life.  He of course had no reason to give them as to why moving back was a good idea – he could not prove them wrong.  Later, he came to understand why he made the decision, after reading North Winter, a collection of poems by Hayden Carruth. Berry’s words give those of us who prize our own “place” – be it a booming metropolis or land of corn fields – a sense of consolation:

Those poems, in addition to the much else they were, clearly did not come from any great center of culture, not from New York or Boston or even Concord.  They came from Johnson, Vermont, a place not central to the culture even of Vermont, and yet a place obviously central to the consciousness and imagination of a fine poet. (Berry 57)

Have you ever felt like people who are not from your “place” tend to oversimplify your place, as if it belongs to some sort of province… as if “the South” is the same “South” in every southern state, or town? How does one politely come up against these rampant generalizations?  The answer is imagination.  I love this Wendell Berry quote:

My neighbors don’t look like Southerners or Kentuckians to me. The better I know them, the more they look like themselves.  The better I know my place, the less it looks like other places and the more it looks like itself.  It is imagination, and only imagination, that can give standing to these distinctions. (Berry 33).

As an author, writing about a place that is not my own has definitely been a task I do not take lightly.  I admit, I lack complete authority over the words I use to attempt to describe the place that is not my own.  I admit, my attempts pack less clout than those of an author who originates from the setting of my book.  I can attempt to research and gather as much contextual information as possible.  At the end of the day, I lean into humility and imagination.  Wendell Berry has helped me on this journey as a first-time author.  

You see, I have this fear that people will coin me as “fraud”.  The voices that come at me say, “How can a homeschool mom be an author of children’s books?  What about your family?  Isn’t your brain too zapped to tell the stories people want to hear?”  No matter what becomes of this, I certainly intend to read and write my entire life until I die. So, thank you Wendell Berry.  You broke the mold when you became a farmer who writes.  I am a homeschool mom who writes.  What will we hear of next – a shepherd boy who became the owner of a worldwide corporation?

The following short story follows a man named Visionary through his early years into his career as a carpenter.  The story finds its apex and quickly thereafter its resolution at the point where Visionary makes a life-altering decision.  

*Note: This short story is based on the life of Ole Kirk Christiansen, the subject of my new picture book biography I am publishing with Blue Sky Daisies and does NOT include excerpts from my book.  References are included.

A Man Called Visionary

by H.G. Lee

There was a man whose vision reached beyond the limits of his day. Visionary Man is what I’ll call him.  Visionary Man was born into an agrarian family in a Danish-speaking hamlet of white church and green field, brick cottage and wooden barn.  

Raised on the staples of home cooking and hard work, Visionary Man saw the beads of sweat on his parents’ foreheads. 

Going by “Visionary” for short, he worked out his hours in school and in the field, keeping his neighbors’ animals safe and fed.  The shepherd Visionary had bigger dreams that awaited him.  

The beads of sweat accrued from hours in his big brother’s carpentry shop led to a shaping, a forming, of Visionary’s hard work ethic.  As wood can be shaped into a masterpiece, the virtues found within Visionary’s heart were being shaped and refined.  Perhaps this apprenticeship was the beginning of the long road to excellence.  Nobody could have known what his life would be, no more than anyone can look at your life and see what might be or might have been had you chosen a different path.  

Six years of apprenticeship took Visionary from young, fourteen-year-old apprentice to twenty-year-old journeyman.  

The first cars were being mass-produced. The world had been put on wheels, and it was surely getting smaller, if you know what I mean. As Visionary proudly clutched his journeyman’s certificate, he made plans to study under the master carpenters in the land of fjords, Norway. His adult life was laid out ahead of him.  He had his training.

Carpentry work translated into many kinds of jobs.  He would go on to build churches, farm buildings, cabinets, doors and windows.  If this was all there was to his story, his life would have been considered very normal, perhaps.  It may not seem like he would go on to create a worldwide corporation whose name still elicits elated squeals from children and admiration from parents.

But Visionary’s story did not end there.

Remember, his name was Visionary.  He lived through the dawn of the twentieth century, where the airplane was the newest technology, and the Internet was introduced at dusk, long after his death.  Why did this Visionary at midlife look at his company and decide to start focusing more on toys for children than anything else?

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com


How did this man possess the resolve to make life better for children?  Was it his heart for others that led him to his own innovation? 

Some people laughed at him. His fellow townspeople knew him as Visionary, and many loved him.  But Visionary’s ideas took monetary risk.  He was a lovable man, but not always a safe man.  His ideas made him unsafe.  

Maybe you’d think this man was destined for the metropolis.

He could have moved to Copenhagen, rife with ready customers after his factory burned to the ground. He had offers to relocate.  Visionary’s loyalty got in the way.  He wanted to preserve the jobs of his friends, his workers, his “people” as he called them.  His loyalty and vision kept him in his town.  

You see, Visionary had been given a vision.  He spoke of it later as having come from God. His vision included a modern factory with assembly lines and machinery in his own town (not in a metropolis).  He loved his place.  He loved his work.  He loved the people who worked for him, refusing to call them workers, but instead, “people”.  Visionary was a special person. What would have been different had he decided to continue building household products, furniture, and churches?  A lot would have been impacted, no doubt.  Would Visionary still have had an impact in his place?  

Sometimes, it’s not what we produce that impacts people the most.  It’s who we are. 

References

Andersen, J. (2021, September 17). Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen about his grandfather: “he could gather 70-80 employees at the factory for devotion every day”.  Kristeligt Dagblad.  https://www.kristeligt-dagblad.dk/kultur/kjeld-kirk-kristiansen-om-sin-farfar-han-kunne-samle-70-80-medarbejdere-til-morgenandagt-paa

Anthony, W. (2018). The LEGO story. Scandinavian Review, Spring 2018, pages 17-33. https://www.amscan.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pages-from-SR-Spring-2018.pdf

Christiansen, P.N.G. (2021, November 29).  Out on an adventure. Ud & Se. https://www.udogse.dk/ud-paa-eventyr/

The LEGO Group. (2020). The lego group history [Infographic].

Lego.com US. https://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/lego-group/the-lego-group-history/

GuideDanmark. (2022). Visit Billund. https://www.visit-billund.com/billund/service-information/filskov-gdk729232

Self-Education is My New Venture

I am not writing today to discuss the idea of education in-depth. My goal is to share something that enlivens me to my core.
My most recent venture is starting the habit of a literary life. A literary life, in essence, is reading the things I want to read. It is reading widely and faithfully from the “Great Books” and from well-written modern texts alike. It is connecting with more than just the annals of the ancient world through a primary source text like an epic or ancient play. It is reading a complete volume of poetry, or an intimidating book I’ve been avoiding.

I Want to Become a Book Girl

Disclosure Statement: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission from the purchase of these books, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

I’d like to think of myself as an educated human.
How is education measured, though? By test scores? By wit? By ability to think through a situation and solve the problem?

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.”

Charlotte Mason

I am not writing today to discuss the idea of education in-depth. My goal in writing is to share something that enlivens me to my core.

My most recent venture is starting the habit of a literary life. A literary life, in essence, is reading the things I want to read. It is reading widely and faithfully from the “Great Books” and from well-written modern texts alike. It is connecting with more than just the annals of the ancient world; it is being transported to a time and place and living amongst the people through a primary source text like an epic or ancient play. It is reading a complete volume of poetry or an intimidating book I’ve been avoiding.

I wish I could tell you reading for self-formation in partnership with the Holy Spirit had been a goal for my entire life up to this point, but I’d be lying.

I am coming off of a very stale relationship with books written for adults. I admit, I have a grand affinity for well-written children’s books. (I myself am writing one, after all!) C.S. Lewis said that, “a children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story”. I agree. I know I have been exposed to some great ideas through the works of Robert McCloskey, Barbara Cooney, Thornton Burgess, modern authors like Melissa Sweet, Tomie DePaola, Jen Bryant, and Barb Rosenstock.

The staleness comes from a (sometimes valid) need for information regarding my station in life as a mom and homeschooling parent. For example, I recently discovered the podcast “Raising Boys and Girls” with Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan. In an effort to improve my parenting, I made an impulse-buy and got their Are My Kids on Track? I truly think I made a good decision, albeit a rushed one! However, I used to think I only had time for nonfiction, parenting books. What a drag.

My newly found love for the kind of reading that isn’t just in the form of self-help and parenting books is what gives me the motivation to press in to new worlds. It is the thing I most likely want to talk about, too – this new love for books. My husband hears a lot of it, but I am constantly looking for wise readers who can “point me in the right direction”. I am not saying I haven’t had a developed taste for books in the past. I remember taking a wonderful college course that pointed me to the “Great Books”: Persuasion, Madame Bovary, and Metamorphosis are three that I remember the most.

Nonetheless, I have held the incorrect assumption lately (as in the past 10 years) that I simply do not have time to read for fun, aside from the children’s picture books and read-alouds. This cannot be true, friends. I know it isn’t true because I have met a few kindred spirits who weave reading for pleasure into the fabric of their weeks. They are homeschooling moms, too. Don’t tell me that they do not lead already-full lives.

Take my friend Sarah Clarkson. Okay, she and I do not personally know one another, but she is my friend because I sense a kindred spirit within her. She is the author of my newest read, Book Girl: A Journey Through the Treasures and Transforming Power of a Reading Life . My real-life friend who I met on Instagram (does that count?), Laura, recommended this one for me to read.

A woman who reads is one who takes ownership of herself…she knows that to read is to begin an adventure of self-formation in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

Sarah Clarkson

In Book Girl, Clarkson asserts that to be a reader, one must choose reading, again and again. It sounds simple, but it illuminates a specific phenomenon that is taking place in our modern culture: people are spending less time reading good books now more than ever. As an anecdote, Clarkson recounts the day a young editor visited her girlhood home. He gestured to the bookshelves, groaning under the weight of copious books. “All of this…will be gone in another few years. We can read so much more quickly now on a screen.” Sigh.

Clarkson’s response:

“I don’t think physical books will go out of style because we are embodied beings who need to touch and feel, smell and see reality in tangible ways. Books are more than ideas bound to black type. They are also gifts, companions, physical presences that walk with us through certain seasons of our lives.”

I find that the buzz of a busy brain overloaded with bits of information is a real detriment to reading. Mental space is one of the first things I need in order to be a reader… something I choose again and again.

Sarah Clarkson

I agree that physical books will never become extinct. I do share Clarkson’s concern here, too:

“My only concern with the use of technology for reading is simply that the fragmentary nature of online reading, the skim from headline to blog to article to Instagram not replace the habit of quiet, sustained reading, the kind that immerses you in the mind and ideas of another, giving you the space to consider, ponder and discern.”

Okay. So with that, I will wrap up this blog post.

Here is a look at one of the quotes that truly resonate with me from my reading of Book Girl:

The words you memorize become a part of you.

Sarah Clarkson

If you agree that we were created people of words that eventually shape us into who we are, then we are definitely on the same page. May we seek to encourage each other into a reading life. I can keep you updated on my journey. Would you join me?

books on my nightstand (some of these I am just starting)

My Reading Life in the Commonplace Book

The quest for connection and self-education through good books brings me to The Literary Life Commonplace Book by Angelina Stanford, Cindy Rollins and Thomas Banks.

How It Works

This is more than a reading log. It is carefully choosing the books I will read for select genres, then reading them. Making time during the day is what I’m dedicated to doing now – mostly at night, before I go to sleep. The thing that I love about the commonplace is the area where I can write down the best quotes that resonate with me from what I’m reading. It also has a section where I can review each book and give it a star rating. The authors of the Literary Life Commonplace Book also host the Literary Life Podcast. On pages 28-30, they offer their own suggestions for books to read, but I like to ask my social media and newsletter audience for suggestions. By the way, each book I am currently reading was a suggestion from a friend!

Literary Life Commonplace Book

May I share the titles I have chosen with you? If you have suggestions in any of these categories, the titles are not set in stone (aside from Book Girl and the Wendell Berry work).

In no particular order, I choose to read this year:

We are people of words. Moms count, too. Let’s spur each other on to a literary life.

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