thoughts: on a different kind of privacy, Virginia Woolf, & the inner self

All of us have a side to ourselves that only we know and tend to, a part that is not seen even by those we are closest to. Some of us are more conscious of this side than others, though I believe everyone has it. A recent article in the New Yorker books section took a closer look at the writer Virginia Woolf and the idea of privacy — not the privacy we currently focus on when discussing digital media, but that of an individual and the inner self. It uses Woolf as an example of someone with an active inner life while drawing comparisons between the characters in her book “Mrs. Dalloway” and her other works.

a woman on her own

a woman on her own

I’ve actually never read any Woolf – I’ve meant to, but like many other books, I was too young (pre-teen) when I first tried to read her and I unfortunately bypassed her work. At the time, though, I was drawn to that shelf in the public library housing Woolf’s collection of essays titled “A Room Of One’s Own,” because it related to my idea of being alone and having my own space to ruminate.

I learned much later on that “A Room of One’s Own” had to do more with the politics of feminism. Now, in reading this article and its analysis of Virginia Woolf alongside the characters in “Mrs. Dalloway,” I see that there are a lot of correlations between Woolf the writer, her characters and, of course, myself. After all, I come here to talk about how I relate to the rest of the world;)

The inner life can be filled with imagination if its surroundings are enriching. When one is alone in the privacy of their room, or in their thoughts, what do they think of and feel? Even a handwritten diary would not completely capture the range of emotions that can pass through a person. Sometimes I am startled by the physical responses I have to stimuli such as lyrics in music, the droplets of perspiration on the neckline of that woman who just visited my house, sitting on the porch at my cabin and watching the lake ripple…I write about these things in words now only to give you an idea of the beauty, and sometimes the beast, that we could be experiencing in our private moments. I’ve realized, in skimming a Woolf essay on Street Haunting, that this is exactly why I love endless walks so much. These are moments of solitude and internalized thought that could so easily be broken, if we allowed the silence to break.

A ‘room of one’s own’ possesses that sort of preciousness, even figuratively. It’s the meadow I used to walk to near my parents’ house. It’s the porch at the cabin which I spent hours on. The apartment I lived in by myself until recently. It’s walking down the street alone…in the rain, like in the picture attached to this article, or on those quiet Canadian winter nights when the streets were covered in a thin, fresh layer of snow. It’s 2am to 5am, three times a week, when I am awake and not another soul can be heard. Loneliness has such bad connotations, but it’s more than tolerable if you value your privacy and the company of your own thoughts. Because that is not loneliness, but rather, “being left alone,” stated most aptly by Garbo decades back. That’s when “wild things grow,” as this poem from the article points out:

If only for a minute or two, I want to see what it feels like to be without you.

I want to know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind.

I walked out in a field, the grass was high, it brushed against my legs.
I just stood and looked out at the open space, and a farmhouse out a ways.
And I wondered about the people who lived in it,
And I wondered if they were happy and content.
Were there children, and a man and a wife?
Did she love him and take her hair down at night?

If I stray away too far from you, don’t go and try to find me.
It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it doesn’t mean I
won’t come back and stay beside you.
It only means I need a little time
To follow that unbroken line,
To a place where the wild things grow,
To a place where I used to always go.

–Lucinda Williams

This subject has remained on my mind throughout the past week. The friend who sent me this article had me over for dinner later in the week, and as we stood in her vestibule before parting ways, she asked me very directly how I feel about my boyfriend. Usually, I have a response for everything, and everyone. I could laugh about him, I could hyperbolize, I could review this someone as if he’s the North Korean restaurant we visited the other night. But I couldn’t say anything.  Instead, I stuttered. I blushed. And then I said, well, I’d rather not say. It’s better that way, I thought. Perhaps I should’ve said, “Happiness is this, is this!” as Richard in Mrs. Dalloway was thinking, in the excerpt referred to by the New Yorker.

I’ll close off with this quote that I thought of soon after leaving my friend’s house that night. I have had this quote in my Facebook ‘quotes’ for about 3 years, because there is really nothing more delectable than being lost in your own thoughts.

“Most people think things are not real unless they are spoken, that it’s the uttering of something, not the thinking of it, that legitimizes it. I suppose this is why people always want other people to say “I love you.” I think just the opposite – that thoughts are realest when thought, that expressing them distorts or dilutes them, that it is best for them to stay in the dark climate-controlled airport chapel of your mind, that if they’re released into the air and light they will be affected in a way that alters them, like film accidentally exposed.” – Peter Cameron

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