Friday, January 6, 2012

Me, Virginia, and Mrs. Dalloway

"Peter would think her sentimental. So she was. For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying – what one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt.”

Virginia Woolf is an acquired taste.  Reading her work means connecting to her inner demons and finding solace in sharing her pain.  The quote above is from Woolf's 1925 masterpiece MRS. DALLOWAY.  Her protagonist, in this novel, is Clarissa Dalloway, a character who consumes her time throwing parties to "cover the silence" and block out nagging uncertainty about the futility of her own existence. Her double in this narrative is Septimus Warren Smith, a World War I veteran, who commits suicide by jumping out a window rather than submitting to a life in a psychiatric hospital. In the end, Clarissa admires Septimus' choice to, as she sees it, preserve happiness and accept death. 

In case it’s not obvious, Woolf speaks to me.  As a person plagued with her own demons and who finds herself described as "fuckin' fragile", I can relate to Virginia.  When I read her words: “Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do,” I understand.  I fear the same.  Virginia struggled with chronic depression and social unease her entire life. Finally in 1941, after yet another bout of depression seized her, at the age of 51, Virginia, like Septimus, ended her life. While Woolf's meditations are, to my frantic brain, intoxicating, they are also a bit of a mind fuck. I can rarely read her work without considering her death though I believe that was what she intended. There are worse fates than death.

My personal baggage is not weblog fodder but it will suffice to say my existence has been something out of a Tennessee Williams play.   Always relying on “the kindness of strangers” and the grace of God.  Melodramatic I know but I have references if you need them.  I work to have faith.  Believe there is a plan.  But often times (in the best of times), I resemble that snotty brat in A MIRACLE ON 34th STREET.  I sit around rolling my eyes and muttering: “I believe.  I believe. I believe.”  Faith and love are dangerous concepts.   Trusting something or someone comes with consequences and when you have a Woolf psyche the costs are high.  Shadows crowd in, demons reappear, and existence becomes an unwelcome chore.

But back to Mrs. Dalloway and Woolf's writing style: The quote above illustrates the second aspect of Virginia’s novel that draws me in and pulls me close.   If I am any character from a book than I am Clarissa Dalloway.   A woman worried her existence is meaningless and left to look back on her mistakes.  The only difference between Clarissa and myself is that I cannot trap my feelings in my head.  Embarrassingly enough, my heart pours out, tears well up, and I despair.  Down deep I want to fight for the things and people I care for most.   Because I lack the ability to stand my ground and wage war, I cry out, like Virginia, mediating on her work and pondering her fate.  She, like Clarissa, felt emotions deeply.  That comforts me.  The ecstasies of love, the anguish of grief, and the hopelessness of depression are etched across her novels.  Perhaps, to feel so much, to love so fully, demands the opposite side of that coin.  If so, than maybe, there is no sin in her death.  In the end, I doubt what really counts is how we let go but rather what we create while we live.  When I exit stage left, it will be with stones (metaphoric or literal to be determined) in my pockets as a tribute to Virginia, not today or tomorrow of course.   My brain is jumbled, my heart pained, my soul uneasy, but there is still work yet to do and probably a few dreams that have yet to turn into nightmares…give them time.

*Note: Due to the depressing nature of this post I leave with you with Gob Bluth and Franklin: "It ain't easy bein' white" 

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