Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

A 2013 Wish…

7 Jan

And, as Virginia Woolf writes in To the Lighthouse:

What is the meaning of life?… A simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.

Cheers to finding little illuminations in 2013, everyone.

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On writing compressed non-fiction

23 Dec

The latest in my publication news…

Earlier this month, a blurb I wrote about the process of writing compressed non-fiction (short shorts, micro non-fiction, flash non-fiction, whatever you want to call it) was printed on the Matter Press blog. Matter Press’s journal is a good read, as is the section where authors offer up their opinions on the genre. I am grateful to the editors for agreeing to publish my brief thoughts on the matter.

I there begin:

With a proper amount of irreverent humility, I charge that the task of the writer of compressed non-fiction is to answer, in as few words as possible, the question: ‘What is the meaning of life?’

HAH. Very funny, you say. Well, read on HERE to see how I back off that statement and then fully embrace it… with a little help from my favorite author, Virginia Woolf.

Woolf, Woolf, More Woolf.

3 Oct

Today, I am torn. Between the urge to edit and re-write a story I began last week, in the midst of things. How can we write and re-write so continually, when we are so drawn into other worlds, into other tasks? Here, after too much coffee, I am euphoric in my research, finding digitized archives of rare journals from the 20s; here in my research, I am fulfilled, and yet I am longing to write. I am not inspired to write by reading contemporary prose, for some reason, but by the heady debate that is stirred up in an English classroom. Talk of beauty and verse drives me to research; talk of research makes me want to compose. How is that so contradictory? That all I wanted to do as an MFA student was read Woolf and theorize about her novels? And now that I can–I want to fill blank pages with words.

Again, I turn to Woolf and The Waves:

I have made up thousands of stories; I have filled innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all these phrases refer. But I have never yet found the story. And I begin to ask, Are there stories?

The right words.

2 Oct

Life is very busy. Life is very long. I will, in time finish what I’ve started; I’m still young, and even when the semester threatens to pull me along whether or not I’ve yet stood to meet its challenge, I am here.

Amidst some inner confusion about whether or not I should actually pursue a PhD, and what I would do if I did not pursue a PhD, I’ve turned (as always) to Woolf:

There is, then, a world immune from change. But I am not composed enough, standing on tiptoe on the verge of fire, still scorched by the hot breath, afraid of the door opening and the leap of the tiger, to make even one sentence. What I say is perpetually contradicted. Each time the door opens I am interrupted. I am not yet twenty-one. I am to be broken. I am to be derided all my life. I am to be cast up and down among these men and women, with their twitching faces, with their lying tongues, like a cork on a rough sea. Like a ribbon of weed I am flung far every time the door opens. I am the foam that sweeps and fills the uttermost rims of the rocks with whiteness; I am also a girl, here in this room.

I give up, in moments like these, even trying to express myself. Rather than feel defeated, I am just somehow relieved that Woolf always has the right words: the one thing that is always constant.

100 Years at the NYPL

18 Feb

Around the corner from Grand Central Station is the New York Public Library. As I walked past the building’s famous façade and stone lions, the banner hanging from one of its regal columns caught my eye: Virginia Woolf’s diaries on display.

The library opens in the afternoon on Saturdays, and I was among the first ones inside, waiting to see some of the library’s collection on display in an exhibition dedicated to the celebration of its centennial.

I made a bee-line for Woolf’s diaries, but was disappointed to see that only one page was on display, and that her dark ink scrawl is difficult to read. I should have known this, having seen images of these hand-written pages before. But in books the pages can be magnified so that decades-old script can be decoded. I spent an entire summer in college transcribing various hand-written versions of a play by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats for a professor’s book. The ability to take the images of the originals on a DVD and put them on a big screen made the project seem less impossible at the time.

Charles Dickens' letter opener, which features his cat Bob's paw.

In any case, I spent a few good minutes with Woolf’s diaries before turning my gaze toward the other artifacts on display.

In the American corner, there was the final hand-written draft of George Washington’s Farewell Address, which was never actually delivered. (Instead, it was printed in the American Daily Advertiser in 1796. Other newspapers immediately followed suit, and a pamphlet of the text was printed as well.)

Not far away was one of the five fair (unedited) copies of the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson hand wrote between July 4 and 10, 1776.

Malcolm X’s journals were on display, and Jack Kerouac’s notes for his classic On the Road were not far away. There was a page written by Jorge Luis Borges, and a letter from Pablo Picasso.

The original Winnie the Pooh and his friends are preserved under glass in a back corner, where they have lived since 1987, and children’s books from the 1940s comprised the rest of that corner of the exhibit.

The best part, however, was the corner of British writers’ things.

There was a small lap desk of one of the Bronte sisters, along with a miniature notebook of scribblings. It brought back memories of visiting the Bronte’s house in England a couple of years ago—a cramped but upright parsonage situated between grassy fields and the cobblestone main street of a small town, complete with pubs and tea shops. The inside of the house had been dim, despite the summer sun, and the lap desk somehow bore a stamp of that environment.

And, not too far away, I found a long lock of hair, snipped by Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, mailed in an 1815 to a male companion. It seems macabre now, but it was (more) commonplace in the 19th century than it was today.

One thing that was never commonplace, however, was harboring a love of your cat named Bob so much that, upon his death, you detach his paw, preserve and stuff it, and make it a part of your favorite utilitarian object: your letter-opener.

Charles Dickens’ cat’s paw is perfectly preserved on as the handle to his letter opener, more than 100 years after Bob’s death.

Who said wandering around a library had to have anything to do with books?

Published this past week by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press Newspapers. On another note, you can find out more about the NYPL’s 100-year celebration exhibit—or even visit the digital gallery—here

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