People close to me know that my favorite author is Virginia Woolf. The image featured here is from a gift my friend Vicky gave to me just today with a pink sticky note attached: “Dear Jess — I saw this and couldn’t resist getting a copy for you.”
I owe my mother for my appreciation for Woolf’s writing; an English professor, my mom was the one who encouraged me to read rather than watch tv and gave me my first real books — Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
I didn’t always understand Woolf’s political essays, but I always felt connected to her works of fiction. I wrote a paper in college on Between the Acts about the role of pauses in both theater and life, and a paper in graduate school on the importance of shopping in Mrs. Dalloway. I think I have read To The Lighthouse six times, each time more inspired (how did she create such a haunting, indelible text?) and depressed (when will I ever contribute anything remotely as worthy?) than I was the last time.
It was brave, then, for my friend Rachelle to give me her manuscript to read last week — she knows that I read a lot of pretty legit stuff. It’s a book about an older woman, her family and her circle of friends, and the simple but beautiful contributions she makes to her world. It’s about more than that, but I don’t want to give anything away. It’s a work in progress. It’s the product of two years of her time and more than a pound of her flesh.
I told her with some bravado that I’d be able to read it on the plane to and from Chicago and have feedback ready for her within the weekend. But even 5 pages in, I knew that I had not only overestimated my own abilities as an editor, but also vastly underestimated the weight — literal and figurative — of a real live author’s words.
Balancing her book on my thighs while I hunched over it on the plane, in my hotel room, and in my study at home upon my return, I thought about how indebted I am as a reader, a teacher, and a human being to writers everywhere who have dared. Especially those writers who, like Virginia Woolf, pioneered a space in their homes and in their societies despite commitments, subtle or overt resistance, or doubt.
For staking out a room of her own, and sharing her sometimes strange and always beautiful vision with others, Virginia Woolf remains the patron saint of writers everywhere.
Gorgeous–I am trembling. Thank you, Virginia Woolf and Jessica for moments of being–like the ones you describe here…glad Rachelle has you as a reader, wise and gracious writer-woman.
Ann, let’s do a writer’s retreat…!!!
Lovely, Jess. I cannot wait to read your manuscript! I know it is in you & accolades await.
Very beautiful, and I can relate to the importance of pauses—the space between is where the narrative happens.
you were the one who taught me to see the empty/ blank spaces in between… long live papique!