June 24, 2014
When I wrote my application for the Gift of Freedom, one of my essays followed some words from Virginia Woolf offered as a prompt. The quote began like this: “Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time, the very walls are permeated by their creative force…”
I’m now six months into my Gift of Freedom, six months in the room of myself. If I were writing a poem about this, the walls would be thick because you need them thick for a long stay inside with yourself. I would have the speaker’s way of looking go through the wall and make a window. The windows would look like the windows in Georgia O’Keefe’s house, dug out of thick adobe wall. It’s a way of looking out from the inside that opens such windows.
We as writers—or just as people who pay attention—know that the world unexpectedly sends us people or places or stories electric with meaning, even glowing with holiness. Sometimes we can say in the moment what the meaning is, sometimes not. We carry such undeciphered messages for years, decades sometimes, and wait for the window onto the meaning to open.
Some windows only open from the inside. I think this is why sometimes we wait so long for the meanings to come through—we’re watching for the next numinous message to show up in the world and complete the one we’re carrying. The time between messages is like line breaks in poems, but instead of white space the break is filled with clutter, with loud, ordinary busyness. I’m not talking about the things we do to sustain our lives and loves. I’m talking about empty distractions, things we get talked into doing even though we know better, letting ourselves be occupied by what is properly someone else’s inner work—these have been some of my own versions of noise and clutter. I’m sure you know what you’re up against.
This is why I imagine the walls Woolf talks about as thick, to keep out that kind of noise. Also, to give us a strong container in which to experience the numinous because sometimes—maybe always—the messages that we recognize as divine need only our own responses to them to be complete. When we’re quiet and still and look long at the mysteries that have broken through into our world, those responses come from inside the rooms of ourselves and the meaning comes clear. Our inner rooms nestle inside the room Virginia Woolf named as our right. Their windows are our pages and they open us to ourselves, to the divine however you call it, and on really good days, to each other.