Imagining 'Vague Days' Clearer through Writing*
I’m experiencing a concatenation of ideas about writing, self-understanding and self-actualization. Joan Didion started it. After her death, articles about her life and writing became the primary subject on my phone feed, so I became more (much more) aware of her. It turns out—did you know this?—she’s an amazing writer. (Anyone paying attention did know this, but I’m pleased to catch up:)
“Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
This is the idea that has been hitting me over the head recently: that writing is a path to self-knowledge. Again, maybe everyone else knew this already—what else is journaling for?—but it seems to me that we don’t write what we know, we write what we want to know or what we want to be. Apparently, even great fiction writers do this.
In her biography of George Sand, Belinda Jack makes clear that Sand uses writing to make sense of her Self, but also to experiment with possibilities in her own life, such as her relationship with Marie Dorval.
“[Sand] herself may not have recognized the peculiar relationship between a writer’s imaginative life and what can then happen in the real world. It is as though a fictional experiment influences, prompts, even sanctions what later actually occurs. Sand had clearly experimented with various ideas before she fell in love with Marie Dorval.”
D.H. Lawrence also explores life’s possibilities in his writing and uses it to work through the dissonance and division he carries within himself. John Worthen writes in his D.H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider,
“Being a writer, however, would offer him a way of coming to terms with the conflicts of his upbringing; and fiction in particular allowed him to create and live through the kinds of life that most fascinated him (he once wrote how his ‘novels and poems are pure passionate experience.’)”
Lawrence himself said of writing, “one sheds ones [sic] sicknesses in books—repeats and presents again ones [sic] emotions, to be master of them.”
It’s noteworthy that both Sand and Lawrence, through writing, initiate themselves into a new self-hood and mark their evolution with a name change.
Belinda Jack writes that when Aurore Dupin became George Sand, “What was significant was that the change of name represented the beginning of a new life, the life of George Sand: ‘I was baptized unknown and unaware…’”
Worthen writes of Lawrence,
“In one way he had already declared himself as an author. He used the initials ‘DHL’ or 'D.H. Lawrence’ as his signature on every single letter and postcard that survives from his early years…His signature was a kind of imprint: impersonal, in its way oddly professional, like a painter’s. His father may have been ‘Art,’ his brother ‘Ern,’ but as Lawrence put it in 1928: ‘I am not really “our Bert.” Come to that, I never was.' He was D.H. Lawrence, DHL for short.”
Writer Carvell Wallace points to the challenges the modern writer faces in trying to figure things out through writing with an audience of “thousands of social media strangers.” (Notice: I avoid this by keeping my writing in my own rarely-visited corner of the web:) But Wallace also offers encouragement, a rallying cry for honest explorations through writing despite the performances of judgment on social media.
"Call it honesty, call it courage, call it the integrity of our beliefs. We must write what we believe in and if we don’t know what we believe in, we must write that we don’t know what we believe in and we must interrogate on the page deeply and precisely why it is that we don’t know.”
* Source: John Worthen, D.H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider: "he was still unable to solve the real problems of his 'vague days': all he could do was imagine them clearer, in his writing."