Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A breeze with a voice in it

Imagine a sheltered 19 year old girl away from home on her very first teaching job. The day has settled down for a moment, and she finds herself miraculously alone, and takes the time to write.

"Well, here I am at Roe-Head, it is seven o'clock at night. The young ladies are all at their lessons. The school room is quiet. The fire is low, a stormy day is at this moment passing off in a murmuring and bleak night. I now resume my own thoughts; my mind relaxes from the stretch on which it has been for the last twelve hours and falls back onto the rest which nobody is this house knows but myself. I now, after a day's weary wandering, return to the ark which for me floats alone on the face of this world's desolate and boundless deluge; it is strange. I cannot get used to the ongoings that surround me. I fulfill my duties strictly and well; I am not, so to speak, if the illustration be not profane, as God was not in the wind nor the fire nor the earthquake, so neither is my heart in the task, the theme, or the exercise. It is the still small voices alone that come to me at eventide, that which like a breeze with a voice in it over the deeply blue hills and out of the now leafless forests and from the cities on distant riverbanks; it is that calling of a far and bright continent that which wakes my spirit and engrosses all my living feelings, all my energies, which are not merely mechanical and like Haworth and home, wakes sensations which lie dormant elsewhere. Last night I did indeed lean upon the thunder-wakening wings of such a stormy blast as I have seldom heard blow, and it whirled me away like heath in the wilderness for five seconds of ecstasy, and as I sat by myself in the dining room while all the rest were at tea, the trance seemed to descend on a sudden, and verily this foot trod the war-shaken shores of the Calabar and these eyes saw the defiled and violated Adrianopolis shedding its lights on the river from lattices where the invader looked out and was not darkened...while this apparition was before me, the dining room door opened and Miss W came in with a plate of butter in her hand. 'A very stormy night, my dear!' said she. 'It is, ma'am,' said I."

The young girl's name was Charlotte Brontë. She was still a number of years away from writing her masterpiece, Jane Eyre. But, as you can see, the seeds of the novel were already present. The almost neurotic itch to let her mind free was already deeply rooted.

I know this feeling so well. I remember in the Air Force standing guard at the door of our dormitory at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Forty-nine guys sleeping in their bunks behind me, time dripping from the hands of the little black and white clock above my head. Two a.m., my nose tucked into the thick Air Force field manual, pretending to be studying. When what I was actually doing was writing poetry in the margins. Little stories. Fleeting bits of description inspired by what I had seen that morning as we had tumbled out into the raw 5:30 February on the frigid squadron concrete: "The way trees lean reminds me of dawn-shocked, vermilion fingered skies." Okay, so the writing wasn't so good. But the nervous twitch to write, the desperation to put words on paper, the ache to escape the structure and routine and sameness of the daily world -- all that was there and it was pristine, divine. I sometimes think I wouldn't have survived without those moments, those pieces of stolen time.

I would imagine most writers know this feeling well. How it is so monstrously difficult to find a way to make the worlds within our heads mesh with the world without. We are miserable when our thoughts are co-opted. External noises can make us immediately less sane. The calling of our name, hands tugging at our arms bring about the dissolution of the infinity that captures us inside. And we all have our Miss Ws who arrive at exactly the wrong time, however sweet or well-intentioned. Oh well; at least she brought butter.

8 comments:

  1. So inspiring! Thanks for posting!

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  2. Ah, yes. I know that itch. Nothing works on it but literary cortisone! ;-)

    Great post!

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  3. Thank you - God sends messengers at the perfect time! Many times I ask Him what world am I supposed to be living in - glad to know others suffer the same insanity :)

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  4. Thanks, all! Glad you liked it. I'm new to this blog stuff, so I never quite know if I'm doing it right or not.

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  5. My Miss W goes by many names: Gizmo, Sassy, and laundry are three of them. Loved your post!

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  6. I know that itch too well. Beautiful post! And for me, I was always tearing off register tape or finding an envelope to write on at my cashier job right after high school. Those pesky customers always interrupted to ring up their butter though!

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