February Morning

Thursday, February 09, 2017

I wrote these words on Tuesday morning. These are the kinds of pieces I've been writing more of over the last few years. They're the kind of pieces that might be junk, but I've decided to put this one out there. 

December 4, 2010

I was up at 5 to take my sister into work this morning. It was her day to start drive-thru training. After dropping her off, I crawled back into bed and started playing around on my ipad. I ended up searching for an essay by Virginia Woolf titled “Street Haunting” that promised to tell the story of the time she used buying a pencil as an excuse to take an evening walk. It was only last summer that I finally got around to reading Woolf. I’m enthralled with mental illnesses, but also terrified of them. It’s almost as though they’re catching. I’m not sure if these kinds of conditions come through in people’s writing, but I tend to believe that they do. People with mental illnesses have the burden of internalizing the things that they observe. The terror and sadness and overwhelm that follow can surely not be pushed aside when they hold a pencil in their hand or hover their fingers over a keyboard. In a lot of ways, I think mental illnesses make better writers out of people who may have otherwise overlooked the details necessary to take a piece of writing to the place where it can actually move its reader.

Whatever the case, the essay was interesting. It circled around and around and came back to a place where it will leave every reader thinking their own thoughts. Those kinds of hanging endings have become my favorites. She tied in all kinds of things that I didn’t expect. Things like memories, identity, beauty, philosophy, the power of books, duty, the longing to be carefree, and the idea of home were used to illustrate her observations. Each one driven, of course, by the hunt for a single pencil. I moved from my bed, to the kitchen, to my chair by the window in the front room to read this single piece. I enjoyed it and like every good essay, it inspired me to write my own long before I was even done reading it.

In my room, the curtains were closed, but the light was starting to come in. It was just after 6:30 and the house was quiet. The only sound was that of the traffic traveling along the highway. I heard the distinct rumble of diesel engines. The noise has to travel through an entire neighborhood to get to us, but it always does. When there are no sirens and the neighborhood isn’t making noises of its own, the sound reminds me of the ocean.

I moved into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I put the kettle on and placed a tea bag into a mug. As the water heated, I read a few more sentences. She gave me a chuckle over the part about the dwarf lady seeking a pair of shoes. They had a different way of addressing things in those days. It's  a way that would not go over now, I am sure. By the time my tea was ready to drink, I gathered the mug, my ipad, and my blanket and headed for my chair in the living room.

Opening the curtains, I settled in for the rest of the essay. I noticed that I couldn’t hear the traffic at all in the front room. Now, everything was truly quiet. No matter how hard I listened, there was nothing to hear. Only Woolf’s words broke the silence. Words on a little screen glowing with its own light. I read on, holding my cup of tea in my hands, only pausing occasionally to take a sip. The sky got brighter and brighter and settled into the shade of grey that it will be today. As the end of the essay got nearer and nearer, I found, that like Woolf herself, I was taking a walk I didn’t want to end. The bit about being driven by “the rod of duty” and the idea that “if we could stand there where we were six months ago, should we not be again as we were then – calm, aloof, content?” really spoke to me. There was something to her words. We do go about saying - as she wrote in this essay - “Really I must –“ , in our hurry to do the next thing. We do seek to find happinesses we have known before only to find that things aren’t quite the way we had remembered them. It seems to me that the question she was trying to get her readers to ask is, “Must we?”. The hope she helped me to discover is “the beauty is there to behold.” This was a bit surprising to me since the words she used to take readers toward the end of her piece were not full of hope, but of uncertainty. Still, I finished the piece being certain. Certain of the power of words. Certain of the worth of writing them down, even if only one volume is created and a single copy ends up in the hands of one person. Certain that home is a good place to be and that buying a pencil is a worthy excuse for a walk on a winter evening. Certain that looking around and observing is never a waste of time or energy.

Hours have gone by. I’ve since shared her essay with Kiki, chatted with my Mom, gathered the dirty laundry, taken a picture of my backyard for Renee, eaten a piece of peanut butter toast, tidied the kitchen, and posted a recipe for chai tea lattes to my blog. The day is pressing on toward noon and Woolf’s words are still ringing in my ears. They are still saying what they have to say. I’m listening. 

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