Nudges

January 15, 2011

A little girl has been benevolently haunting me for a few years now, but I know how to get rid of her: one day, I will write about her. I started to think about her the summer after I graduated high school. I wrote a few paragraphs about her, thinking eventually I could turn them into a short story. The problem is, there is still so much I don’t know about her (including her name). She has only given me fragmented images of herself, and every time I have grown impatient and tried to think up more images myself, they have turned out blatantly contrived and ended up in the trash.

I know this sounds silly (Freud would probably have something to say about it), and it’s not usually how I write. I have read interviews with great writers where they talk about their characters taking on a life of their own and beginning to dictate the story. Sometimes I roll my eyes, but usually I am just jealous. These authors make writing a novel sound so easy…mystical even.

Only once (described above) have I felt this sort of nudge from a character, this feeling that I am not merely making her up, but telling her story. The only problem is I haven’t gotten very far in the “telling” part. I have tried to go back and write more about her, but I have probably added 3 sentences since she first introduced herself to me 3 years ago. Part of me is afraid of getting her all wrong, of being unable to portray her as she is. I am not just waiting for more glimpses into who she is, but I am also waiting to learn how to write fiction well (I have yet to take a writing class, but am trying to get into one next semester). At least, that’s what I tell myself.

I am still reading Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Sketch of the Past,” and last night I came across a passage where Woolf shares how her mother’s death, which occurred when Woolf was a girl, affected her teenage and adult self:  “until I was in my forties…the presence of my mother obsessed me. I could hear her voice, see her, imagine what she would do or say and think.” Woolf goes on to explain that it wasn’t until she wrote To the Lighthouse, a book that came to her in “a great, apparently involuntary, rush,” that she stopped being obsessed with her mother.

I suppose that I did for myself what psycho-analysts do for their patients. I expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotion. And in expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest. But what is the meaning of “explained” it? Why, because I described her and my feeling for her in that book, should my vision of her and my feeling for her become so much dimmer and weaker?”

I don’t know the answer to Woolf’s question, and I’m curious to know whether she ever found a sufficient one.

Woolf’s situation is obviously different from mine in that she was “laying to rest” her mother, while I am hoping one day to lay to rest an invisible friend of sorts. But Woolf’s thoughts helped me identify one more reason I might be avoiding finally getting this girl down on paper: I’m afraid that once she is gone, no one will replace her, and then I will lose these strange and exciting nudges forever.