When I read The Waves in during my BA in English, it was utter gibberish to me. I had devoured To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s writer’s diary, and her letters, but The Waves eluded me. It was like reading French as a non-French speaker, mon frere. I would listen to my very favorite professor, a tidy British woman with endless quiet enthusiasm, talk about this book and want so badly to understand it.
Years later, I returned to The Waves and found myself transfixed by its poetic rhythms and powerful character-building. I was incredibly surprised that maybe I had gotten smarter, or at least more equipped to understand this complicated text, when I felt like I had mostly been drinking Malort and riding my bike. Sometimes during times of anxiety, I turn to a random passage and get carried by the motion of the waves. Today I returned to this:
How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.
In my last post, I wrote about slowing down enough to make things manageable; to make manageable the things that make me anxious about having fun. I’ve written about my failed attempts at meditation, about the “capacity for delight” in small things, but this passage is a different frame.
Last night, I had a dream that someone in my life rejected me after telling me to be myself, and being turned off the moment I took this advice. To be myself is something I think about a lot – something I struggle with. Parts of myself are cobbled together, the pieces taken from other people and works of art and memories and pop culture. Sometimes I hope to reject these pieces that seem foreign to me: the moments when I fly into a rage like so-and-so; the endless worries like you-know-who; the desire to walk out of a restaurant with that glass of wine like Rihanna.
There are parts of me that feel quintessentially myself: my penchant for listening to Beach House and lighting candles while I drink coffee on Sunday mornings; my kindness; maybe also that Rihanna desire to steal glasses of wine.
On a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia, a guest posited, “You have a vocabulary of the self – a range of people who you become.” This struck a chord with me: it seemed a statement of profound possibility.
As an exercise, I decided to make two lists: one of moments and activities that give me that Virginia Woolf feeling – that myself is as tangible as the coffee cup. Next, I decided to make a list of people I’d like to be, that I could contain within myself. Here’s an excerpt:
Myself being myself
- Taking notes from a podcast
- Floating in the pool or the lake
- Talking to my cat
- Doing a gesture of friendship
- Getting to the airport 12 days early
Myself being Rihanna with the wine glass
- Virgie Tovar: Virgie, in addition to having a dope name, is an activist who writes about accepting and celebrating women’s bodies, particularly fat women, who are so often marginalized for their bodies. I first heard her on Call Your Girlfriend and I was taken by the idea that fat women often dress in dark colors or neutrals as not to call attention to their bodies, and Virgie’s fight against this! As someone who struggles with body acceptance, I love the idea of celebrating myself in bright colors and textures and being unapologetically myself in my body. Virgie is someone I aspire to be more like in my pursuit of loving myself just the way I am, even as I aspire to grow and change.
- Lorde: Lorde is my favorite barely-not-a-teen-anymore except Tavi of course. Lorde has an #aesthetic for sure – she’s the good witch of New Zealand. She isn’t afraid to sing about things that feel youthful and frivolous, while still maintaining a strong identity. At the ripe age of 29, I hope to move past the fear of judgment when I write about things that feel silly or less serious than some of my other subjects. I also want to dress more like a Stevie Nicks in sneakers.
- Jane Claire Hervey: Speaking of looking up to women who are younger than me, I have to recognize Jane Claire Hervey for transforming my life in Austin. Jane founded #bossbabesATX, an organization that puts on meet-ups, talks, festivals, political events, you name it. #bossbabes gave me the courage to promote this here blog and has given me some of my favorite people. Jane puts it all out there. She dreams it, she does it. I know I have this within me: I’m thinking specifically of former projects like Thanksgiving Advent and Side Dish Literary Mag (RIP). The power of Jane compels me.
I love the idea that I can both be myself and contain multitudes, to have selves I haven’t yet discovered – and to have role models that motivate me to explore these selves.