Friday, September 21, 2007

Goodbye to my Beautiful Soul

Lately, I have had a certain fascination for Virginia Woolf. She's always been one of those authors who was my model for everything I could never understand--forbiddingly brilliant. I spent years avoiding her. But now, she creeps into my consciousness a great deal. Why her? Why now? It seems to simple to say, “She was an amazing woman writer, who wrote even through unbearable pain.” Maybe it's just time for me to take a deep breath and fill in this gaping hole in my literary education. So far, I have approached her respectfully, through the back door—biographies, letters, essays. I am finally ready to dip myself into one of her novels—Mrs. Dalloway. I'm excited.

Given this new love affair, of course I noticed the little paperback book nestled on the “new books” table at one of my favorite local bookstores. It's exactly my kind of book too, literary self help. I admit that I want to learn from my novels—how to be a better, braver, wilder, more intense person. So I am always intrigued when I find a sympathetic guide for that quest.

I am usually hesitant to buy a new book—I'll wait until I can find it on the remainder table, or at the library. But this just felt...right somehow, so before I could talk myself out of it, I took it to the cashier and paid. (it helped that Madam was starting to whine, bringing my indecisive ruminations to a quick end).

People, I fell into this book. And it gave me that kind of “aha” moment you get when you see yourself so clearly in print that you dart your eyes around, wondering if its possible that you are truly THAT transparent. In the first chapter, Speak Up, the author mentions Hegel and his “Beautiful Soul”--a character in his writing who remains pure and ideal because he remains silent, thus protecting his self-concept as someone who is “deeper, and different” from other people.

I am not proud of that idea. I believe it actually made my cheeks burn as I read it...but it is me. I have been cherishing my own “beautiful soul”--in my life, in my blogging, in my life. I would rather remain silent, gloating over ideas and knowledge that will never be sullied by being expressed in my imperfect words. Isn't the book that lives in our head already perfect, without needing a crass word on paper to ruin it? I would say no, but my behavior speaks otherwise. And I realized that in order to move into a life that I actually WANT to live, I have to stammer out all of my wrong words. I have to write my mangled manuscript, no doubt ruining the Platonic ideal of my inspiration in the process. I have to write my blog posts, even if they feel half-baked, not eloquent. I have to tell people what I know, even if I am afraid that what I know is very little. Alas, I am probably not deeper than any of you, nor “different” in that delicious, teenage goth sort of way. And of course, now that I have spoken, I have removed all doubt.

From my explorations into Virginia Woolf's life, I have learned that she worked and worked over every manuscript, despairing over her ability to capture the ineffable nature of a mind thinking. Sometimes she succeeded (obviously). Other times, she feels that she failed.

I am so grateful to have her words—so grateful that she put them out onto paper instead of hoarding them in her mind. And so I'm going to keep trying to destroy my Beautiful Soul, so that I can finally get to my own imperfect, confused, visible words.

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Blogger frida said...

Yeah, I never liked that saying "better to remain silent and let people think you are stupid than to open your mouth and confirm it". I say open your mouth wide - as May Sarton says: we learn through the experiences of others as well as our own - but only if others are willing to share them, right?

I'll take a good honest real woman over a Beautiful Soul any day.


2:25 AM, September 21, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

"Isn't the book that lives in our head already perfect, without needing a crass word on paper to ruin it?"--

That IS how I feel.

It is good comfort to know even a brilliant talent like her felt the same sometimes.

I love your honesty here. Thank you for that. Because you are not alone. ;)

ox :)

11:49 AM, September 21, 2007  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Thanks for both of these recent posts -- they're great. And I recognize myself in that staying silent, too, and what it hides -- a conflicting sense of superiority and inferiority. Don't know how to say it, really. That "imposter syndrome" -- I get it around other writers, like somehow they're "real" and I'm not and I don't want them to figure that out! And I know all too well the disappointment of how things come out on paper vs how brilliant they feel taking shape in our minds! That is surely why I am STILL writing the current book! And I do have such a horror of not doing it justice. Sigh. Good luck to you with your new phase on your novel!

12:12 AM, September 22, 2007  
Blogger Lisa said...

Your posts are so poignant and true. They touch me and I thank you for that. I appreciate these intimate thoughts and fears and hopes and feel them too. :)

1:23 AM, September 22, 2007  
Blogger Jo said...

Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite writers.....Mrs Dalloway her best work. I really enjoyed reading this post, it was well-written, thought-provoking and so very honest.

11:38 AM, September 22, 2007  
Blogger Melba said...

Sometimes I really feel Allen here in my house with me. I think we are all from the same energy and if you were feeling Virginia she was there with you. I have read much about her too, but none of her novels. Maybe her persona is enough for me. I feel that way about several writers that are thought of as great.

I think we are all different. each one of us unique and connected. sometimes a difficult concept to grasp. I understand about feeling seperate~different.

I feel a closeness to you on your journey.

Thank you for sharing yourself here.


9:57 PM, September 23, 2007  
Blogger Earnest and Game: Heather said...

Cheers hurrah and hugs to letting go, relaxing, and just letting it flow. And what else have you been up to? Missing you. Talk soon. Xooxoxo, Heather

12:56 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Rather than "a-ha", I had a "ha-ha" moment reading this post today because I just picked up this very book yesterday and am looking forward to "falling into it" myself once I've finished the STACKS of grading I have to complete by tomorrow. I could completely relate to what you wrote here today...

1:33 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Mardougrrl said...

Frida: I was thinking about that old saying too, as I wrote this--I like that May Sarton quote, and I agree with her.

Amber: That's one of the things I love about writers' diaries...we're all the SAME, regardless of our level of talent. That's very comforting.

Laini: YES, imposter syndrome...that's it, exactly. And, if YOU are not a real writer, then we shuld all pack up and go home! ;)

Lisa: And I feel the same way about your blog...I always feel like I'm getting my unofficial MFA over there.

Jo: I can't wait to start Mrs. Dalloway. I'm nervous, I am going on a date!

Melba: Wow...I think I need to think about that some more. It feels INTUITIVELY right. And your journey always inspires me.

Heather: Miss you too...and up to...well, fall, I guess. :)

Delia: Ooh, I hope you blog about the book...I would love to know what you think of it. I really enjoyed it!

4:31 PM, September 25, 2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

"in order to move into a life that I actually WANT to live, I have to stammer out all of my wrong words" - For those of us who want to get it right the first time this is such a difficult task, to accept that it may not come out right, but it should be said anyway.

10:07 PM, October 10, 2007  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

I always wonder what kind of lofty standards reside in your mind (and soul) when you can say things like your blog posts aren't eloquent. I can only think that when you finally write that which will satisfy YOU, the sheer brilliance of it will probably sear the eyeballs off of lesser mortals like me...and I mean that (sincerely) in the best, most affectionate way. :) xoxo

3:58 PM, October 20, 2007  

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