“You learn things by saying them over and over and thinking about them until they stay in your mind forever and I think it will be the same with Magic. If you keep calling it to come to you and help you it will get to be part of you and it will stay and do things.”Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
I used to come home from elementary school almost every day and read The Secret Garden over and over again until I fell asleep on my bed in the afternoon sunlight. I have my tattered copy of it still, and I remember when we bought it for 50¢ from the WalMart near my house. It’s ugly and unremarkable as a printed edition of a book, but that collapsing bit of paper and ink made me who I am today, more than any other book of my childhood. I am rereading it and I wish I could just hug Frances Hodgson Burnett for making a strange, distant little girl like myself believe in magic, and growing, and the friendship of robins, flowers, and maybe even other humans.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what has brought me joy, and honestly, The Secret Garden is very, very high on that list. I’ve always wanted a secret place to disappear to. I remember being young and filling pages and pages with doodles of “blueprints” of gardens, orchards, fortresses, balconies, and cozy little holes in the ground (a bunker full of books!) I wanted to build to get away to. The Secret Garden made me think about the happiness that can come when you nourish and tend to yourself, to a garden, to a bird, to another person. It’s something that, over so many probably hundreds of readings of this book, curled up into my mind and made its home in my subconscious, forgotten but still guiding me.
Of all the sad, scary, difficult things I’ve learned and had to mine out of my timid little animal brain, it’s so nice to be elbow-deep in negative shit and then find this gem again. Reading the first few pages brought me back to one of the happiest parts of childhood for me. The pink comforter, the cerulean-backed quilt, the stuffed animals arranged on my bed so none would feel neglected, the slightly rough gray carpet, the hum of the air conditioner, the sunlight.
I think one of my favorite parts of being a writer is finding moments like this, and seeing the room, and writing down the memory. Negative and painful experiences get automatically and vividly encoded, are easier to recall, because that is how your brain protects you from those harms reoccurring. But the good moments, the quiet ones, the ones where you feel safe, and happy, and alive — they tend to fall to the bottom, into the still shadows of the mind. I love the part of writing where I revisit those, where I embody them again, and feel a slight smile curling my lips, feel my breathing slow, feel tears of joy and relief well up in the corners of my eyes.
I think this is a skill everyone can develop. It takes practice. It is hard to remember happy memories as viscerally as sad ones. What is a happy moment for you? When was a time as a child you felt safe, and glad, and amazed? What did that feel like in your body? What was the smell of the room, what was the light like, was it your favorite sweater that you wore, how close was your birthday, and what thoughts kept you company? In my journalling practice I often find myself writing down the things that hurt. This is so important. But equally important is to find what happy and safe feels like and felt like for you, and to sit in that feeling, and to gaze on yourself in memory with fondness and understanding. Writing it down helps me return to it, so I can relive it, over and over, just like coming home from school and picking up The Secret Garden, and finding a safe and secret and joyful place to go.