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Why We Write




Close your eyes and imagine this group of writers in a secret forest meeting place. Like French Huguenots we dare to come together but must take precautions not to be found out. Our subversion is strong but here we are free. Vince can mourn for his lost love, Larry. Elaine can grind out her literary cigarette on the forearm of the bastard Kevin, who surely deserves it. Don transponds his futuristic visions into our spongy matter and we are grateful for his imagination. Bruce dares to reveal unspeakable acts. Donna feels as if she is tapping the keyboard while wearing felt mittens, causing her sharp thoughts to arrive lumpish and misshapen on these pages. Causing her heart to ache with the inadequacy of her message. Wanting an end to her loneliness.

I study the writings of men and women who won’t give up on the madness of ink on paper. I find clues to the process in Simple Gifts, a daybook for writers and dreamers. In Virginia Woolf’s pronouncement that a woman who writes fiction must have an income and a room of her own. I understand that she was mad from time to time in her outrage over the treatment of women at the end of the Victorian Age, over her own sexual assault by two of her half brothers beginning at age six, suffering multiple mental breakdowns lasting sometimes years at a time, but in between rising up to write the beginnings of the insatiable drive in some women to write fiction and poetry and essays. She and her siblings and friends founded the Bloomsbury Group, dedicated to intellectual debate and writing and publishing and experimental living and same sex liaisons at a time when women fought with their lives for the simple right to vote, to cast an opinion, to enter a library without a male sponsor.

We owe this woman. By “we” I mean all of us, not just we females. She is the strident voice of intellectual freedom who confirms that whisper in our own heads and hearts that it is crucial to sit and create threads of words that work into paragraphs and chapters and novels to fuel ourselves and our friends for an authentic life. This group gathers and has staying power because we love being the weavers of stories. There is much magic here.

Virginia Woolf, for all of her greatness, committed suicide. She loaded her pockets with stones and walked into a river. But before she did that unimaginable act, she lectured and she argued for the rights not only of women to create and express in language but she lived and died for the cause of writing itself. Her novels live on in classrooms and in libraries and become the touchstone of movies even now. I had a dream last night of a near drowning-in my dream it was my daughter as a young child. I reached into the pool of water in which she lay submerged and pulled her out to land. I pulled long green strands of plants from her throat and pushed on her belly as she erupted with dark water and nosebleed. She breathed and I wrapped her in my coat calling for help, an ambulance, and wiped her face and held her close to stop her trembling. She breathed and opened her eyes and cried in my arms.

I woke up worried for the safety of my daughter and her own little girl. Hours later as I write this I shiver with the possibility that Virginia Woolf’s ghost came to me in my dream state, and I rescued her from her watery death, cleaned her mouth that she could speak again, through me, to you.

Please, writers, don’t give up. From time to time I give up, thinking I have not enough talent, nothing that hasn’t been said before, no importance. Because of Virginia Woolf and what she died for, I understand that my allotment of talent doesn’t matter so much. The point is to keep the writing alive. To carry it from generation to generation like fire tenders carry glowing lumps of coal, to rekindle the blaze when needed.

We give each other these gifts.

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