• Austen Hayes

Dose #16: A Cherished Mentor From Days Gone By

"I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty."

~ Edgar Allan Poe


What fun it is to read a writer's journal, the promise and sorrows of life woven through the challenge of writing itself. A favourite among them, "A Writer's Diary, Being Extracts From The Diary of Virginia Woolf ". Ms. Woolf's daily jottings, language as radiant as fine art, teach and provoke, forcing the reader to ask more of what they themselves are about. Yes, the diary offers much of the person, but more, the privilege of spending time with what Ms. Woolf spent her life mastering - the choice and arrangement of words...


...words of knowing as she considered a woman's need for a basic income and, "a room of one's own", essential elements for the nurturing of creativity. Space for the mind to conceive and compose, income for release from financial constraints limiting the expression of intellect and artistry...

...words of wondering as she walked the streets of London, longing for anonymity in a life shaped by success and fame. We feel her glee as she buys a pair of earrings without thought of expense, at the same time questioning the price of wealth. I see her stride, her hat, her trench coat shielding her on dark, rainy evenings, not from the elements as much as from the risk of social contact. A fiercely private mind, rich with creation, in need of uninterrupted movement. Through her observations I see what she saw, then imagine more, thrilled to walk along.


...words of growing self-possession, when at the age of 40, Ms. Woolf feels the beginnings of relief from the burden of outside opinion..."There's no doubt in my mind that I have found out how to begin to say something in my own voice; and that interests me so that I feel I can go ahead without praise." The day we relax the need for reassurance, the day we fly free.


There was a sad ending to this life of literary brilliance. The title of her husband Leonard Woolf's book says it all; "Downhill All The Way". He described an emotionally fragile woman, thrust into the horrors of war, witness to the destruction of the culture she adored, the London studio where much of that brilliance was meticulously expressed transformed into shards of glass, torn curtains, hand-written manuscripts scattered as lifeless reminders of a story and time that was no more.


When Ms. Woolf took her life, she feared not only a return of the madness she'd struggled with since her youth, but a threat too great to bear, the loss of the husband she loved who could be taken for no other reason than ethnicity, a casualty of the ongoing war.

So, I've lived for years with Ms. Woolf in memoirs, diaries, biographies, and in the writings of her devoted mate, intellectual companion and protector, Leonard Woolf. People ask why I would delve so deeply into a life of sadness. That's easy to answer. Above and beyond the sadness - it's the way she thought, the way she saw life, it's the words, chosen with respect, arranged in beauty.

Often under the weight of her own heavy heart, Ms. Woolf encourages the reader to be curious, to live in awareness, to cherish the gifts of family and friendship. In her writings as in her life - as in all lives - we see the coexistence and contradictions of sorrow and joy, accomplishment and failure. We are reminded to embrace the unexpected gifts found only in uncertainty, disappointment, and loss.


She asks us to consider fears of being alone, or worse, being left out. Her words teach us to cherish solitude, to allow the gift of imagination to grow in silence. In spite of confusion and labile mood, Ms. Woolf pushed on, using her mind to the fullest...something I fear we fail to do in these times...led too easily by external forces, we neglect the power of internal exploration.


Her ending was not the message. It was her effort to continue in grace for as long as she could.


Perhaps without realizing it, Virginia Woolf did what Annie Dillard said the writer must do - "Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Don't hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now."


Live fully. Limitations well guided, the material.

Early Fall, The Litchfield Hills of Connecticut

Thank you.


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