Recovering Identity with Anne

My first copy of Anne of Green Gables is practically in tatters. My grandmother picked it up at a yard sale, hoping I would enjoy the story. She, to my knowledge, never read Anne. Nor did she particularly care what the book was, as long as I was reading.

my anne books

Well loved, well worn

And read I did. Every Saturday, for almost an entire summer. While my parents slept in, I woke at the crack of dawn, straining my eyes to see the fine print in the dim light. Anne was everything I wanted, cheerful, well-read, smart and admired. My life was eerily similar, adopted, red-haired, and the same age when we first met. The only missing ingredient was Gilbert. (Who still hasn’t popped up, so send him my way if you find him)

I never outgrew my love for Anne. I watched the films when I was 15, hosted Anne tea parties at 18, and blogged about her in my twenties. Anne stays with you, even when you assume your relationship is almost at an end.

While I love Matthew and Marilla, Rachel Lynde, Diana, and of course, Gilbert – Anne is still an inspiration. Her pluck, wit and determination are irresistible. And in true Anne fashion, she doesn’t just show you this, she talks you through her life.

Cooking Escapades with Anne

Anne: “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”

Marilla: “I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”

If I’m trying to cook, I can be sure to thank Anne for reminding me I can’t possibly make the same mistake twice. And I really don’t. I can name countless times where I’ve quoted this to my mother.

The time I didn’t use room-water temperature in the homemade bread, turning it hard as a rock.

Or the time I froze a cake too long, leaving it a crumbly mess when we attempted to eat it.

Or set my lunch on fire inside a toaster oven because I was baking rolled tacos on a paper towel.

Or had to scramble eggs for 2 hours, because I poured a cup of milk into the pan.

Or, you get the drift. I’m hopeless in the kitchen, though I put in a few valiant efforts. And when my family rolls their eyes at my mishaps, I cheerfully remind them I’ll only do the terrible deed once.

Imagining with Anne

“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?

If there’s one thing Anne’s known for, it’s her use of long, big words combined with a vivid imagination. When my dad first saw the movie, he laughingly asked, “Why didn’t we name you Anne?” And when my mom finally listened to the audio book, she commented, “Now I know why you’re so weird.”

Before moving to my current home, I lived in a very imaginary universe. My dream was a two story house, a princess room, and lots of friends. After adoption, my dreams grew bigger, grander. I dreamed of attending Harvard, of being the First Lady, of opening my own boarding school. And when people would knock on my head, reminding me how silly I was, my answer was similar to Anne’s “Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.” 

I had to learn an important lesson, don’t let your imagination ruin your actual life. Anne learned that the hard way, as a child she imagines ghosts in the woods, scaring herself to death. As an adult, she conjures grand dreams of romance, and turns down Gilbert.

Perhaps there’s only one thing to do with an overactive imagination – write. And so, like Anne, that’s what I do. Anne writes about Avonlea, I create a world of characters eerily similar to my own family circle. (Unlike Anne, I’m not published. Maybe that’s like finding Gilbert, it’ll happen in time.)

“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”

Living in Gardens, not Graveyards

“It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?”

Anne’s optimistic, opinionated, and somewhat naive. So when life’s a bit harsh, Anne grows to appreciate the pain of truly living. I think that’s what I love most about Anne, learning to live and flourish in all of life’s circumstances.

At one point, Anne mourns, “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.” While it’s poetic, it’s also nonsense, and Anne knows that. Life’s not a graveyard, it’s a garden.

You choose to plant, and wait. Weeds try to eat away your seeds, so you develop blisters pulling out the stubborn killers. Then the suns shines, but there’s no rain. Your precious plants wither and fade. The rain comes, finally. Harvest is exciting, but then there’s a long winter before you can plant again.

Anne loves flowers, and I think she sees in them the beautiful, tender cycle of life. Winter and waiting can feel like a graveyard. But the long wait, however hard, is truly worth the joy of watching your precious plants produce fruit.

Choosing to Be Me

“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”

Perhaps this idea is a combination of my thoughts on imagination and garden living. Either way, it’s probably the most important lesson anyone can take away from Anne’s life.

As an orphan, Anne is at the whim of everyone around her. Caretakers, the orphanage, in-between homes – stripped her of her identity. At Green Gables, she rushes to make up for that. The frenzy of scholastic achievement, writing, developing friendships, all center around rebuilding her lost identity.

That search for identity is familiar. One would think, most unsettled and rehomed kids also struggle with identity theft. In my own life, I’ve scrambled to shape what makes me, actually me. In college, I tried balancing several majors. It was confusing – I’ll be a teacher, a theatre person, study journalism, and add in politics. Somewhere in all that academic jumble, I presumed, my true calling will emerge.

But academic pursuit doesn’t create an identity. Nor do relationships, or as Anne described, ‘Kindred Spirits’. And amassing a plethora of goals, won’t help. Achievements only help mask the real problem.

Anne returned to Green Gables, to the people who knew and loved her, to realize her true identity. Her ideals, her big dreams couldn’t bring her a sense of identity.

So it is with anyone. You can’t recreate yourself. What’s lost, is lost.

You have to return to what you know to be true. You and what you already are.

Drop some knowledge!

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