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Dear Virginia Woolf,

Virigina Woolf

 

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Greetings and salutations from the warm summer months of the year 2013. I am writing to discuss with you a rather personal matter – that of my 2012 Reading Goals, in which I did you a terrible disservice, dear Virginia.

Having been deceased these past 72 years, you are most likely unaware of
my resolution to read five of your works throughout the year of 2012. An honourable, realistic challenge, one would surmise. I had other reading goals, of course which I won’t discuss here, but am pleased to have achieved them – more or less .

As I reflect on my reading year gone by, I am filled with a sadness. And, something else, perhaps it is regret. You see, Virginia, my real failure, my greatest reading mistake was to leave my Woolf goal too late. I spent most of the year assuring myself that Time, devious as she is, was on my side. I was wrong, of course, as one often is in a head-to-head against Time. October appeared out of nowhere, tearing her way through my front door and into my life, underdressed, uninvited and without apology before I had read any of your novels.

All I could do was begin. I chose to read Mrs. Dalloway – and what a wonderful choice it was.

I had previously thought that streams-of-consciousness writing was not really my style, finding it a tad uncomfortable to read. However, the day of Clarissa Dalloway’s party was, what is the word? Entrancing. At times I was lost, wondering who or what was being described and how I’d arrived there. At other moments, I found myself swimming in the text, drinking in the way each word, considered with care and lyricism, knitted into narrative. I enjoyed drifting in and out of the minds of several characters, all preparing for the party at Clarissa’s house, all submerged in their own private worlds, with private thoughts and longings. It was a sadly-beautiful experience, if you understand what I mean. I was most confronted by the storyline of a man mid-battle for the remaining shreds of his sanity. In fact, I wonder how it came to be that you should have such an understanding of mental health issues? What had your experience of it been?

Dear Virginia, I found your writing excquisite, delicate yet robust, honest and unapologetic. I loved it, I adored it. But, it was not something I could so easily submerge myself in again so quickly.

I realised that to rush through another four of your novels would:
a/ probably not be possible given the late hour at which I had started my task; and
b/ would be disrespectful. Your novels require something, don’t they? Not just the usual sacrifice of time, laid willingly at the altar of Art by any lover of books. No, your writing requires an investment of another kind. Emotional safety, perhaps. You burrow deep, and deep you must burrow. Into the depths of humanity, into the soul, into what it means to exist and co-exist with others, relating, feeling, experiencing life in the shades granted by context and time.

So, given the above reasoning, I chose not to burl through four more Virginia Woolf works. Thus, I did not complete my reading goal and more importantly, I underestimated you, I underestimated what your writing would cost me – and what it was worth.

For that, I am deeply sorry.

I am so very grateful to have been acquainted with you through your writing, Virginia Woolf. I will read more of your works in future. I will not declare a number, nor will I vow to a timeline, but I need not do so – it’s not within my power to resist the gentle call of your prose. I look forward to where it will take me, and who I will encounter along the way.

Until our next meeting.

Your Reader,

Shan

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On Writing, Living & Legitimising Expletives

At age 12 I swore I would be a writer.

I would pen the next great novel sitting at my desk by the window, fireplace crackling nearby, bookshelves inquiring over me. Teacups and teapots would be scattered across my workspace like a legion of colonial ships, preparing the rape of a newfound, ancient land. I would write, and if the ghosts of literature’s past weren’t too heavy and intimidating, I would write well. I would write and I would say “fuck” a lot, because it was an artistic right not often afforded to 12 year olds. I would be a writer.

teapot

After a few attempts at quasi crime/ supernatural thriller in which the protagonist says “fuck” a lot, I thought, at the valiant age of 12, perhaps what I needed was some life experience. Then I could be a writer, then I would have something to say, then I would have earned my artistic credentials to say “fuck” a lot. Yes, I would have some life experiences. I would wait to write.

So I waited. And I waited. Time went by. I managed to finish high school (if you knew me at the time & my proclivity for self-destruction, you will understand the wonderment associated with me completing VCE). I had one or two dramatic religious conversions. I fell in and out of love, though in hindsight, it could have been “daddy-issues inspired co-dependence”, or a heavy mixture of both. An alleged sister popped up out of the wind like an episode of The O.C., sticking around just long enough to ensure the maximum emotional damage was achieved before disappearing into genetic mis-matched oblivion. I lived in China. I lived in China. I gave myself time to scoop up as many pieces of my shattered heart and dreams before carrying them home to Oz. I found myself pregnant. I found myself pregnant, alone, with a new sense of purpose and zeal for life. I entered the world of single mum-dom: a sacred, difficult, sorely misunderstood place. I almost died. My son was almost orphaned only minutes after he entered the world. My knight in shining armour did come along, riding an unfinished EH to carry me over the threshold of the warrantee-free contractual relationship that is marriage, with a bonus 30 year mortgage. Together, we are building a life. Together, we are learning about the rabbit hole that is IVF. Together, we laugh. Together, we negotiate the emotional terrain that comes with marriage, with friendship, with life. I have experienced deep shades of community and support that have forever impacted my perception of faith, humanity and community. I’m completing post-grad studies. I read. I read a lot, and then I read some more.

I wait. Almost 30, I wait to write.

I wish I could go back and tell the valiant 12 year old not to wait for life to happen. To just write. Write, write, write. Write quasi preternatural- thrillers with no real plot & weak characters whose only contribution to the narrative is the creative use of profanities. Write badly, write bloody. Just write.

Now, 18 years later, I start all over again. I no longer aspire to pen the next great novel, but the bookshelves inquire, the fireplace exists, teacups are scattered and teapots are ready to conquer the new creative space. The backlog of pent up emotion and experience is ready to be exploited in the name of art. Now, I just need to find the balls and make the time to write. Write, write, write. Write badly, write bloody, but for fuck’s sake, just write.

colonising teapot

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Quote: Stephen King wants your attention

I’m a confrontational writer. I want to be in your face. I want to get into your space. I want to get within kissing distance, hugging distance, choking distance, punching distance. Call it whatever you want. But I want your attention.
– Stephen King

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December 9, 2012 · 11:22 am