Daily Archives: April 22, 2003

Family Visit, Virginia Woolf, Brief Miracles

We had glorious weather all weekend in Oakville until a wonderful thunderstorm during Sunday dinner (mmm, rack of lamb). I saw my grandmother from the west coast, old family friends, and all in all enjoyed a lovely trip. I wish we could have spent another day or so with my parents, but both my husband and I have to work today.

I managed to get a thousand words or so written on Saturday afternoon, too. I’d been dithering about a chapter in the Great Canadian Novel, unsure about how to handle the next step (or, rather, to choose what the next step should be from a pool of four different events). I plunged in and finished the chapter, and even started the next one.

And then, I crashed. Why, you ask? I picked up a secondhand hardcover copy of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. When I read work like this, I wonder why I even bother. (Yes, yes, I know: different styles, all kinds to make a world, different tastes in readership, blah blah blah. I’m sharing. Be quiet.) I despair of ever becoming capable of painting word and thought, of arranging language to convey a depth of emotion with only a few words.

I’ve read scraps of Virginia Woolf’s journals, and she too uses sparse language, and yet conveys something so much larger than what the words say. Is that what genius is? Everything I read of mine seems mawkish and heavy-handed (though not as heavy-handed as some of the published stuff I’ve read, thank all the gods), no longer as airy and bright as it seemed when I set it down. I’ve ordered a copy of Woolf’s journal so I can read the whole thing, not to further depress myself, but to try to understand how it is that she manages to succeed at what she does, even in her own private notes.

When I moved I found a humour coloumn that I’d clipped from the English department newsletter during my BA. It’s an “Ask Your Author Agony Column”.

Dear Author:
Lately I’ve been feeling that my life has no meaning. What should I do?
Signed, Pondering the Meaning

There are several witty samples of what various authors might have responded (“Get your archetypes straightened out,” recommends Robertson Davies), but here’s Virginia Woolf’s imagined response:

Life is just a series of brief miracles. Stay away from water
and for heaven’s sakes get a room of your own.
– Virginia Woolf.

Life’s just a series of brief miracles. This comment was meant to be fun, but it says something important. Juxtaposing the words “just”, “brief” and “miracle” creates a tension that Woolf’s work displays as well. How can something be “just” a miracle? Is it a miracle because it’s brief? Shouldn’t miracles, by definition, be life-changing? Or is it our observation of the miracle and how we choose to be changed by it that defines it as brief or enduring? If they’re brief, is it the knowledge that life is made up of miracles that keeps us going?

More people should see the miracles around them, however brief. And more people should remember that life is a series of miracles; we just have to find them.