Tag Archives: Stuff of Stars

A One-Word Controversy

hello, I have a question pertaining to, The Stuff of Stars.  I have not read it, but I just saw a posting about Ekua Holmes’ illustrator award & it brought me to some reviews. One quoted the book… “in the deep, deep dark a speck floated, invisible as thought, weighty as God,”

I thought the book was in support of the Big Bang theory, but I read the quote & wondered why God was mentioned.   I’m sure if I had the book, I’d have a better understanding.  Will you please shed some light?

Thanks!

 

Juliette

The Stuff of Stars

Dear Juliette,

Yes, I used the word God in The Stuff of Stars.  And yes, The Stuff of Stars supports scientific concepts about the way our universe came into being.  But the two are not incompatible.  Only those whose belief is so narrow that they are convinced God can’t exist unless the beautiful stories of the Bible are taken as statements of fact see science and the concept of God as incompatible.

I am not, in fact, a theist myself, but there is no word in the English language that carries more weight than the word God.  So that’s the one I chose.  “Weighty as God.”  I knew using that word would create controversy, and when my agent presented the manuscript to the editor, I had him ask her if she wanted that word to stand.  She said, “Yes.”  So the word “God” is out there, touching some readers deeply and upsetting others.  And when I go back to examine that opening line, I can’t imagine a better way to bring my readers to a feeling of awe before an unfolding universe, which is exactly what I want.

If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, check out the blogs on my website, www.mariondanebauer.com.  Scroll down through the titles of past blogs to find one called “The Stuff of Opinion.”  That touches on this same subject.

I wish you well in all ways, Juliette, and I hope this helps to answer your question.  I appreciate your taking the time to ask it.

Best,  Marion

 

I was, indeed, glad to have the question asked.  I only wish I could have answered it for a larger audience, which is why I’m bringing the discussion here.

When a book comes into the world, it takes on its own life.  Little of what happens to it or is said about it even filters back to the book’s creators.  I have had occasional hints of the hum set off by my choosing that most controversial of all words, but I have little opportunity to defend my choice.

As I said to Juliette, I am not a theist.  Much of what gets attached to the concept of God—all knowing, all powerful, judging, controlling, even loving—makes me itch.  But having grown-up in a Christian church and having once lived the better-be-quiet-about-what-you-really-believe role of a pastor’s wife, I have thought long and hard about the meaning of the word.

And I’ve come to decide, as a word person, not a theologian, that I like it.  I like it precisely because nothing has more weight in our language than the word God.  I can’t think of another that carries the same force.  Universe, when it’s used instead, doesn’t touch it.  Life force conveys the concept, but without feeling attached.

I no longer identify as Christian, but I love the Christian concept of Incarnation.  Not as a one-time event, but as an every-time event.  And I love equally Quaker theology that speaks of God in us.  The two are the same.  They tell us that human life, that all life is sacred.

These days our public schools are trying rather belatedly to maintain our constitution’s standard of the separation of church and state.  As they struggle with that task, though, I wish separation weren’t automatically equated with exclusion, with no-discussion-possible, with slam the door on all potentially “religious” words and concepts and keep it locked.  I wish The Stuff of Stars could be presented along with the question, “What do you suppose the author meant by ‘weighty as God’?  Can you think of some other comparison that would work as well?”

I can’t, but certainly others will.

And so I used the God-word in a picture book.  I used it, not being a believer myself in any traditional sense, in order to present a vision of our Universe as vital, alive, holy.

A vision that might even save our fragile existence on this planet if we only take it seriously enough.

 

The Stuff of Stars

My Favorite Book

How often I have been asked, especially when I used to speak in schools:  “Which is your own favorite of all your books?”

“The one I’m working on right now,” I always said.  “That has all my attention and all my heart.  The rest I remember fondly, but by the time each book comes out, I have left it behind for the one I’m working on now.”

And through a forty-plus-year career, that has remained true.  My commitment—and therefore my love—lies with the work in front of me.

But some books live closer to my heart than others, and the one that will officially come into the world on September 4, 2018, rises above all of its one-hundred-plus siblings.

It’s a picture book.  The text is exactly 431 words long.  (The ability to count words, instantly and accurately, is one of the many gifts offered by my computer.)  It is illustrated by the incomparable Ekua Holmes.  (Google her!  Just see her work!)  And the title is The Stuff of Stars.

The Stuff of StarsThe Stuff of Stars is the story of the Big Bang, of stars exploding into death, and of our Earth, this fragile blue ball, this lonely, lucky planet, that evolved out of all that dying.  It is the story of the birth of a child, of the birth of every child.  It is the celebration of the power of Creation and of the power of Love, one and the same.

The Stuff of Stars is my hymn against every terror of the twenty-first-century.  And whatever happens to this small book out there in the publishing world, I suspect it will always be, for me, the capstone of my career.

How long did it take to conceive and to write this beloved piece?  Years.  Years and years.  The seed was planted in a program by Michael Dowd I attended long ago at my Unitarian Universalist Church.  Death through Deep-Time Eyes was its topic.  I listened and thrilled, and I carried the resonance of those ideas away with me.  I knew that someday I would write what I had heard, but I had no idea how I might do so.

I am not a scientist, either by training or by inclination.  I did, however, grow up with a chemist father who taught me to be skeptical of all that cannot be weighed and measured.  And his respect for solid logic has always undergirded my world.

Even when I was a child, though, I knew there was more to life than what my father saw and acknowledged.  (When I took a degree in literature in college he was bewildered.  “What is there to study in stories?” he asked.)

And so when I approached the writing of The Stuff of Stars, I began with my own awe but carried that awe into the reading of science.  It’s amazing how much reading I have to do before the most basic understanding surfaces.  And it’s equally amazing how much understanding must be gathered to come up with a 431-word poem celebrating science’s knowledge of creation.

All this has taken years and years, the sowing of the seed of an idea, the study that led to its harvest; setting words down and taking them away again; turning to other writers to weigh and reweigh what I created; working with my agent, Rubin Pfeffer, and my editor, Liz Bicknell at Candlewick, who love The Stuff of Stars, too; watching Ekua’s progress as she turned the ineffable into breathtaking images.

Then waiting for the book to appear.

There is always a bit of a let-down after all that waiting when I hold a new book in my hands.  Even as the reviews come in—and they have been exceptional—I am overcome by a sense of loss, of letting go.

The Stuff of Stars is no longer mine, no longer Ekua’s, no longer Rubin’s or Liz’s either.  It will make its way into the world as the children of my flesh once did.  And it will be received well and it will be criticized and it will be ignored.  (Watching it be ignored will be the hardest piece of all.)

And I will stay home and move on to other books.  Indeed, I have already moved on.  But The Stuff of Stars is out there, or it will be in a few days, and my heart has gone out into the world with it.

I always love my books.  I couldn’t write them if I didn’t.  But some loves sing more passionately than others.

What is my own favorite of all my books?

Right now and for a long time to come it’s going to be The Stuff of Stars!

Here  You Are, Alive

And that is just the point . . . how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”
                                                                                                                     —Mary Oliver

“Here you are, alive.”

And to that fact, I don’t believe there is any more serious response than pure rejoicing.

I don’t remember doing a whole lot of rejoicing over pure aliveness when I was a child. I did, I suppose, what most children do, accepted my life as an unasked for gift, one that was important simply because it was mine.

We were not a particularly rejoicing family. My parents were responsible, certainly. Hardworking. As a family we were courteous and respectful most of the time. And I do remember with real affection my mother’s tuneless humming as she went about her household tasks, especially in her beloved kitchen.

I also remember, carry in my bones, in fact, my father’s deepest philosophy expressed in a single statement: “Life is a dirty deal.” He had supporting arguments, too.

I listened, of course. How could I not? I was curious, bemused, silently skeptical.

Maybe it was my mother’s humming and the way she sometimes said, “Oh, Daddy!” in a tone of gentle disgust when he said such things that made it possible for me to stay skeptical.

6_3cloudsStill, I was the kind of child who paused on the red-slag road halfway up the hill to turn back to gaze at clouds piling and piling behind me, too caught in their beauty to hurry away from the approaching storm. I was the kind of young adult who rose out of the dark thrall of existentialism to decide—simply decide, because I knew there could be no proof—that my life mattered. Mattered for no reason except that I felt it did, though I knew my father would have told me that my feelings proved nothing at all. And so I decided to matter and decided, too, that if my life mattered, the lives around me had to have significance as well. Because surely I couldn’t be the only creature to possess such a gift.

In the years upon years that have followed, the gift has been sharpened—I can even say blessed—by an evolving and inevitable acquaintance with death. Can any of us truly appreciate the sweetness of the air that fills our lungs before we have met death?

My comment on it all now? Past the deaths of both of my parents, past the death of my son, past the deaths of too-many friends . . .

Only that nothing is more sacred than life in all its forms. My own life, the lives of my daughter, my partner, my grandchildren, my friends. My dear little dog. The life of the lilac bush blooming in front of my house and of the dandelions so exuberantly blessing my lawn. The lives that are no more and the lives that are not yet. The life of this blue and white planet, moist and beautiful as Mary Oliver reminds us, and of this ever-expanding universe.

All sacred.

Year after year, I have lived into this knowledge, and now I have found a way to put my belief into words. I have framed my comment on being alive. My hymn to the universe. A kind of 21st century creation myth. All gathered into less than 450 words as the text of a picture book to be called The Stuff of Stars.

The Stuff of Stars says that the creative impulse that exploded with the Big Bang goes on exploding, unfolding, innovating still. It says that life comes out of death, that we have planets only because stars died, that we have humans only because dinosaurs died, that we have children only because our ancestors died, making room, making room.

It says that we are all made out of the same stuff. Butterflies and giraffes. Redwoods and moss. Leaping water and steadfast stone. All stardust.

The Stuff of Stars says that that you and I are stardust come to consciousness, at last, and that is the deepest wonder of all.

What a privilege to have gathered the skills to speak my heart’s truth in such a simple form.

What a privilege to be alive!

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