”I shall there unfold and take out whatever it is I have made here; something hard. For something has grown in me here, through the winters and summers, on staircases, in bedrooms.” ~The Waves, Virginia Woolf (42)
I wrote these words in my quotations journal while a graduate student at the University of York between 2001 and 2002, in my early twenties. What was it that caused me to write down this particular passage from Woolf’s arguably most experimental and esoteric novel, the novel that best exemplifies her signature stream-of-consciousness style? What did I want to grasp and retain from this musing of Susan, a character alive to nature and shot through with intensity? The novel is one of my favorites for the way it shifts in and out of the perspectives of an idiosyncratic group of six friends revealing their inner thought processes: their angst, exaltations, and yearnings, their insecurities, their inconsistencies, their very real humanity. What was it that, when I sat down to write this morning, prompted me to recall this passage?
It seems a fitting passage to close out an old year and to see in a new. Susan reflects that she has made something that will stay solid and material within her. Whatever it is she has made in her time spent with friends on the coast, it has substance. It carries the suggestion that Susan has been occupied with more than the ephemeral concerns of what to eat next, how to dress, when to sleep, and which duties and obligations to fulfill. It also implies that she has been doing deeper work than merely losing herself in the daily chatter and diversion of friends, though there is nothing wrong with either one. She has been creating or at least incubating. I propose that to make “something hard” there is likely either a degree of intentionality or at least attentiveness. There must be an element of living in the present moment. In today’s vernacular, the formation of “something hard,” in my own life, entails consuming more than a mindless diet of click bait headlines or advertisements, something more than doggedly emulating fresh trends, and dutifully managing the workaday concerns of taxes and budgets, of car costs and committees. To make “something hard” over the course of the year, something that I want to apprehend and hold secure, requires my attention. It necessitates that I show up to the present moment fully: mind, body, and soul. And it helps if I train myself to seek out and choose that which has a degree of permanence or transcendence. These are things which will harden and provide sustenance.
As I look back over this past year and ask myself, what has hardened within me, I think of a higher degree of self-acceptance and agency. I think of a greater depth of gratitude. This year has seen the loosening of some tethering cords of second guessing and self-imposed guilting. I have made some strides towards accepting my truest self and nurturing her instead of judging, silencing, and ignoring her. I have honored parts of myself that I long ago stifled. This writing is one significant part of that. I realize that I have more agency in certain areas of my life than I previously felt: a greater ability to choose and find freedom.
Will you take a moment over this final week of the year to “unfold and take out whatever it is” you have made this year? What has grown in you this year? What do you want to take with you into 2022? What would be best to leave behind? Take a moment to mentally examine the people, the spaces, the ideas, the epiphanies that have populated your life this past year. I chose to crystallize this quotation in my mind twenty years ago, and it returned to me today. What do you want to crystallize with you from 2021?