Dare you see a Soul at the “White Heat”?
Then crouch within the door—
Red—is the Fire’s common tint—
But when the vivid Ore
Has vanquished Flame’s conditions—
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the Light
Of unannointed Blaze—
Least Village, boasts its Blacksmith—
Whose Anvil’s even ring
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs—within—
Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammers, and with Blaze
Until the designated Light
Repudiate the Forge—
Dare you see a soul at the white heat? Is Emily Dickinson’s first line and title of her 1862 poem. The soul; a passion so intense it burns white, hotter than the fire itself. The passion, for me, is writing.
My words when I get them on the page are unfinished, they are imperfect, they lack the natural glaze that makes them ready to be read or to be seen, but they are true. My passion to read and to write is living. Writing is dreaming, it is finding a place of freedom whilst being firmly planted in the reality of life and without this I would not be. My writing comes from the soul.
I don’t recall many details on the road to publishing The Rabbit Girls, or in fact my just competed novel The Puzzle Women. I had to circumnavigate many aspects of life just to be able to get to the page, despite all the odds against me, and yet I have written two novels. Writing these words feels like waking from a dream. The details of said dream are formless, the outcome is a feeling: pride amongst other emotions – a complicated pride. I also feel empty, hollowed out by touching upon something real and true within me. Emotionally depleted from creating something that was incredibly hard to do. I followed my path and I remained true to it.
Some details of this journey hold fast in my memory: writing by the fickle light of my sons’ nightlight, crouched beside his bed scratching into my thin notebook. My hand rubbing his back, willing him to be asleep so I knew he was safe and no longer required me. Only then could I find the space to harness the sharp focus I needed to write.
To find those words, at the soul, is hard enough. Being able to place that upon a page is a privilege, then moulding it into something readable takes effort and skill and time and patience and many more things besides.
All of these attributes I fear I lack.
And yet, that soundless tug draws me back again and again and every re-write and every re-read brings me closer to bridging that gap. Finding a way to bring my soul words into the hands of a reader.
The truth is no one can write directly about the soul. Looked at it vanishes, but look elsewhere the soul slips in. (Virginia Woolf – A Writer’s Diary). Turning up to the page and working on something, anything, is an opportunity to capture the essence of the work without conscious intent. And, as Virginia Woolf muses comfortingly, there may be a situational link between women’s lives and their work, far from impeding their writing, a ‘woman’s life’ might actually be necessary to creativity. Being dragged away from the page takes our focus and somehow, quite by magic, when we return the soul slips in.
Life happens during the day; my writing happens at night. I am perpetually tired. Utterly, utterly exhausted. But I survived the first years; I survived up to this point and I can keep on being present for my son, and just as importantly showing up at the page; for me. Rich from experiencing the tapestry of life being lived daily.
As you would expect I am plagued by interruptions, but I have faith that the good stuff will stick and will find its way to where it needs to be; eventually. And if readers observe the short length of most chapters in The Rabbit Girls, know that I wrote it parenting a three-year-old.
There is nothing wrong with changing the sequence, creating your own architecture from the necessities of your life. There is no form that you must comply with, because your art, your words, are formed within you and are just as unique. It takes great courage to find the white heat within you and write from that place; that messy uncompromising place of you.
Dickinson’s poem asks if you dare to look? Dare – the element of risk, of difficulty; a challenge, but is it possible? And is it possible now, during the difficult times we are all facing?
My life as both a mother and a writer is in a constant state of reworking. I am shaping my words as well as my parenting. Both matter. Both feel impossible at times – most times. Yet the soundless tug draws me back to the flames, back to what makes me come alive.
It is not painless, it involves hammer and blaze and many tears of frustration. I was remade when I became a mother; and motherhood propelled me into becoming a writer. I carry these titles with the awareness of the endurance they require, the attention to detail day- to- day. Neither mother nor writer is a role of pure joy or light. Both hold deep dark shadows of uncertainty, but for me there is not one without the other.
Parenting feeds the writing, the writing makes me feel whole (with soul), I am consciously alive, living, dreaming, free and also present with my son. I am lucky to have found a way for both to work for the other.
It isn’t easy. Time is always limited, the value of it is in its minutes, not its hours. Neither Emily Dickinson, nor Virginia Woolf had children, much less were sole parents to small children home-educating and attempting to work during a pandemic! And yet it is comforting to know that in each days’ work, they too felt it anxiously wrought. Hard won.
A burning desire to create is part of the soul, and that – as Virginia Woolf said – is the bit that forms when you are looking elsewhere. Living. When the majority of time is dedicated to life’s other demands, beside the making of art, it does not mean you are any less of an artist; any less of a writer. The soul forms no matter what and the stories waiting to be told will still be waiting. The fire stoked until;
With Hammer and with Blaze
Until the designated light
Repudiate the Forge.
Fight on and, eventually, your words will have enough raw, unfettered life in them to emerge from the white heat completed. Whole.
In difficult times, we crave meaning – a meaning that only art can provide – so although stories end on the page, take comfort that it can take a long time to find them there.
Published by Books By Women on June 13th 2020: http://booksbywomen.org/writing-into-the-white-heat/