Woolf Tomes

It is midterms week, and I am swimming in exams to grade. So by all rights, I should be grading essays right now. But, then I opened my laptop and the Google doodle announced that it is Virginia Woolf’s 136th birthday. As a fan of her work, I must write instead of grade–at least until my battery runs out.

My first direct encounter with Woolf was reading Mrs. Dalloway. I cannot remember when exactly or what made me pick it up, but I do remember that it was not assigned reading for a course. This was something I read on my own. And, I was enthralled. Clarissa, Sally, Peter, they all seemed so real to me, I felt at once as if I were at the party and part of the preparations, and that I was eavesdropping on their private thoughts. And then there were Septimus and Lucrezia, such tragedy in their story. I wanted to help Septimus get the help he needed, tell him what his time didn’t know about PTSD, I wanted to help Lucrezia understand him. And how these two seemingly disparate stories were interwoven. Woolf was keenly aware of how people do not stay in their own lane all the time, but rather messily veer off and sideswipe unsuspecting occupants of another lane.

I had read Joyce’s Ulysses in graduate school, and I recognized in Mrs. Dalloway, the precursor to Molly’s grand, twenty-page, last sentence. I loved the way Woolf had us flow in and out of Clarissa’s mind and Septimus’s. This is what brings them so vividly to life. English major/English teacher geek that I am, I read up a little on critics’ thoughts of Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway. Many regard this her most accessible novel and warn of her increasing use of stream of consciousness in To the Lighthouse, some claiming Woolf had gone too far with that one, rendering the story nearly unintelligible. And I thought, “Challenge accepted” and bought a used copy.

I don’t know what those critics were thinking. To the Lighthouse blew me away. I loved it even better than Mrs. Dalloway if that’s possible. Mrs. Ramsay, her children, her husband, Lily Briscoe, Charles Tansley, Mr. Ramsay–what a tableaux they paint of the complexity and messiness of human relationships. Yes, the stream of consciousness is further developed here, but if those critics really could not follow the story, they do not deserve the position.

I have recommended Mrs. Dalloway to my students and keep a few copies on my bookshelf. I have taught at least sections of A Room of One’s Own, always urging the girls I teach to read it all. And I ask them, “Do you agree with Woolf that all a woman needs is ‘a room of her own and five hundred a year’ to be able to write?” And they answer this with varying degrees of insight.

Tonight I am sitting in the Starbuck’s in Penn Station–a loud, busy place–writing my blog, hardly a room of my own, and the woman next to me asked, “Are you writing a paper?”

“No,” I responded, “a blog post.”

“I coudn’t imagine writing here,” she said.

But hearkening back to my earlier post, we have to take those stolen moments when we can. Would I be more productive if I had ‘a room of [my] own and five hundred a year’? I would hope so. But for now, I’ll take my stolen moments and contemplate which Woolf tome to tackle next.

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Stolen Moments

In order to stick with my New Year’s resolution,  I’ve decided that I need to take advantage of stolen moments to jot a few words down here and there because the best laid plans to scurry out early from work and sit in a cafe to write usually go awry. So today I got to Penn Station just as the 5:56 was leaving; the next train is 6:14, but if I wait just 10 more minutes for the 6:24, I can take an express train, cutting my commute from 33 minutes to 25, thereby almost making up those 10 minutes. And while I’m waiting? I’m sitting at Starbucks tip-tapping away at this post. I don’t expect to finish it before I must pack up for the train, but it is begun. A beginning is a beginning! It’s a good thing.

Sure enough, it’s a few days later, and I’m still writing this post. Over the course of this week I’ve gleaned a few moments for writing while on the subway in the morning–let me tell you, writing poetry while standing on a moving subway is an adventure–or stolen a some time from my prep period to revise another one. Now it’s Thursday, and I’m once again waiting for the train, drinking a latte, and writing away. I started this post on Monday, I’ve written a little bit every day, and I’m thinking…it’s been a good week so far.

Many writers hope to write more–finish that novel, assemble that chapbook, write 300 words a day, write for x number of hours a day, write a new poem a day, a new poem a week, finish a chapter a (insert time frame here). And for those writers who are full time writers, these are admirable goals. But many of us have to hold down “day jobs” which both drain and inspire us. As an English teacher and a poet and writer, this is especially true for me. I am a better teacher because I am a writer and a better writer because I am a teacher, but, and this is a big but, teaching leaves little personal time between September and June. So, I steal what time I can and count that as a win. I hope to get a hour or so this weekend in a block to really work on some longer form material and/or to research markets and submit, but a day with any kind of writing is still a win for me. I always carry a notebook with me, a pretty red and white cloth covered one, and there’s always the WordPress or even Word app on the phone. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of every little bit of time….

And now I steal a little bit of time from my sleep to finish this post. Use every stolen moment you can to write, and when you can’t do that, don’t forget to read!

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