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.