Virginia Throws Open the Window

 

It began quietly enough, with a certain restlessness, a reluctance to re-establish routine, an inability to focus on the tasks at hand.  

I’d been traveling, wheeling across the Mississippi Delta for days, peripatetic as a dream, imbibing the sheer movement, the joys of impulsivity and intense expectation like some heady, intoxicating brew.  Eventually, the party ended and it was time to sober up.  Home again at my desk, I barely could turn to look out the window at the familiar view I love so much.  During our separation it had transformed itself from placid scenery into a token of my discontent, a nagging reminder of how many paths remained to be traveled.  

Gazing through my window I felt, if not imprisoned, at least boxed-in and frustrated.  It didn’t help that just as my travels had ended, others were beginning their own journeys in a flurry of anticipation and excitement. The destinations, romantic and compelling, seemed unattainable as the stars: Librizzi and London, La Paz, Paris, Giverny and Montreal.  On the other hand, from my perspective, San Antonio might as well have been Segovia, or New Orleans, Nova Scotia.  I wasn’t going anywhere.  I had escaped once but my guards, Responsibility, Necessity and Guilt, weren’t about to let it happen again.

Weeks passed.  The sun rose higher into the sky, scorching pavements and emptying the afternoon streets.  The cicadas’ drone and thrum, the white noise of summer, stuttered and fell silent as doves huddled into shadows of the schefflera and spiders stopped tending their webs.  Each evening, as the unforgiving sun sank below the false horizon of the rooflines and the hot afternoon wind began to lay,  a certain sultry resentment, a despair as stifling as the rising, humid dampness of the night left me asking the question of asthmatics in a Houston summer – would I ever breathe freely again?

Glancing out the window one evening, I was startled by a sudden, vertiginous impulse toward flight.  The clouds above had opened like an escape hatch, and just as a single seagull circled up and up again, I was pulled skyward, filled with a longing to sweep and soar through the widening gap.  Earthbound, held by chains of love and responsibility as much as by lack of wings, I settled back, resigned to being grounded by life.

 

As October days shorten and nights grow cool, the darkness deepens and the night begins to breathe, its respirations short and shallow, imperceptible as the breezes sighing across the water.   With my window open, I hear the sound of fish tumbling  and the chatter of birds newly arrived from the North. Imagining the taste of Hill Country apples, smelling the damp rot of leaves along the creeks and the dust of plowed-under crops, feeling the rhythm of a walking bass line and the click of tires on old, patched roads I’m seized by an unbearable longing to leave, to go, to move – to migrate from what is to what will be, and see the sights from a new perspective.

But the word is clear: I cannot go. Not now, not yet.  For just a little while, the rising of the sun and the setting of the moon will take place here, in this time, in this place, while I remember, and dream away the nights.

But if I cannot go, I have my window and my world.  In a lovely bit of irony I also have, quite literally, a third-story perspective from which to frame my images.  It is the panorama of life..seen from the third storey window that delights me,” says Virginia Woolf in The Waves, and her words delight me as surely as their own observations delight her characters.

“Look at the spider’s web on the corner of the balcony,” said Bernard. “It has beads of water on it, drops of white light”
“The leaves are gathered round the window like pointed ears,” said Susan.
“A shadow falls on the path,” said Louis, “like an elbow bent.”
“Islands of light are swimming on the grass,” said Rhoda. “They have fallen through the trees.”
‘The birds eyes are bright in the tunnels between the leaves,” said Neville.
“The stalks are covered with harsh, short hairs,” said Jinny, “and drops of water have stuck to them.”

One implication of The Waves is unavoidable.  The world is not only there, it is here – in the palm that shelters the parrot and dove, in the sinking, sultry sun, in the extravagant clouds and the ethereal moon pinned like an ornament to Venus’ belt.  And if frustration or pique, impatience or suffocating ennui should rise above my life like a threatening cloud, there always is my window, for perspective and new vision.

The tension between freedom and necessity, desire and responsibility, never is more clear than in situations we have not chosen but have had thrust upon us by life.  To cope with economic hardship, to raise a child, to care for an aging parent, to fulfill the demands of justice or mercy despite impossible circumstance: each of these requires judgment and discipline, and a willingness to believe, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “all manner of things will be well”.

And so, nearly consumed with longing while absolutely constrained by limits, I hang  suspended between memory and imagination, past and future, dreams and obligations. In his exploration of  Lancelot Lamar’s madness, Walker Percy  writes,

To live in the past and future is easy. To live in the present is like threading a needle.”

For the present, this is my world,  my reality: to do my work, to care for a parent, to read, to write, and to wait. Like the threading of a needle it requires steadiness and vision, and a willingness to endure occasional pain.

But if, as Louis says, a shadow falls on the path like an elbow bent, Rhoda’s islands of light still swim on the grass.  And of course there is Virginia, reminding me of my gift of a window, and a third-story window at that.  It remains my obligation to look.

 

 

Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below.
Special thanks to ds of Third Storey Window, who introduced me to the wonderful quotation from Virginia Woolf and thus her book, The Waves.   She’s the latest recipient of the Team Muse Award. Click here to see her virtual tee and a bit more about the award.
And finally: yes, each of these photos was taken from my third-story balcony. It’s a lot of variety for not much travel. Virginia was right about that window!

15 thoughts on “Virginia Throws Open the Window

  1. amazing photos

    ghettoblackify,

    Thank you so much! They were taken over a period of six months or so – amazing to be able to see so much variety from a single balcony.

    I appreciate your visit and comment very much. You’re welcome any time.

    Linda

  2. Linda,

    What a lovely lament you’ve painted in words for my viewing pleasure on this yonder computer screen window; and what a lovely view of the world you presently have from your third-story window. Your photos make me long to see the sea again. I can smell the salt air and taste it on my tongue.

    Your words soar even as your travels plans are presently grounded. And I wonder if the emotions you can’t spend in traveling (for now) aren’t somehow invested instead in your writing.

    These words you’ve written light up my window screen with their shimmering beauty; they made me weep for their truth and beauty.

    Janell

    Janell,

    It is a beautiful view, isn’t it? And today it “looks” prettier than it would photograph. There’s nothing but bright sunlight, blue skies and green palms. Best of all, there’s a cool breeze to go with it – at least for another day or two.

    I’m glad you chose the word “lament” rather than “whine”. ;-) I really don’t enjoy people who whine, and try not to do it myself. But there are things that need to be acknowledged and talked about from time to time – finding the way to do it is the trick.

    Interesting you should mention emotion invested in writing. It’s very clear to me lack of time isn’t the only impediment to good writing. When other aspects of life require an investment of time, adjustments can be made. But when a situation becomes emotionally draining, it can make it nearly impossible to focus and concentrate. I think, too, that those of us not blessed with an abundance of creative energy need to conserve and nurture what we have. Even a quite pedestrian daily life can sap it out of us if we’re not attentive.

    Your words are so kind – thank you.

    Linda

  3. Oh dear…Your wanderlust is showing. ;)

    Fall seems to kick mine into high gear as well. The urge to travel was almost unbearable until we found out we may be moving next summer. Now I find myself clinging to home instead.

    Such beautiful photos. I suspect the view helps but doesn’t negate the urge to take off and explore the world. Hopefully you can work in a trip soon.

    Kit,

    Wanderlust? Me? Huh?

    Fall is the time for it, for sure. Last week I was watching the squirrels kick into high gear ahead of our front, storing and carrying and burying their acorns and pecans and I thought, “I’m just like those crazy squirrels! I want to run around and collect experiences and get them tucked away before winter comes.” I think after summers like this past one it can be particularly bad – after months and months of lassitude and draining heat, cool breezes and sunshine just make us want to GO.

    It’s even worse when there are specific goals. Did you know there was a literary hermit in Fairhope, Alabama, and that his hut’s still there? Well, it’s true, and things like that (and Fat Possum) just demand to be explored!

    “May be moving”, huh? Oh, good. More maybes. Hope you don’t have to live with months of uncertainty.

    Linda

  4. Beautifully done, Linda. Virginia would be proud.The Waves is such a wonderful book.

    My literal window hasn’t got such beautiful vistas. I am lucky to know folks like you who provide the virtual ones. Isn’t it nice to know that, even though you cannot always indulge your wanderlust (I understand that feeling), all of the tools you require for your best task will always be “at hand.”
    Your photographs are stunning.

    Thank you for the t-shirt. I will “wear” it with pride.

    ds,

    Don’t I remember you saying something in your “apple” post about just learning photography? I’m in the same boat. Every time something wonderful pops out of my camera I look at it with astonishment. It took about three of these photos before I realized they all had been taken from the same spot – as though the world were traveling to me, rather than the other way around. And then, when I finally got it through my head that I live on the third story – well, there was no question I’d have to do something with it!

    I’ve only known Woolf’s writing through “A Room of Her Own”. Discovering “The Waves” and “To the Lighthouse” has been wonderful. I haven’t read much of “Lighthouse” yet, only a bit online, but I think it will be a wonderful winter book.

    You’ve always added so much to my blog – I truly appreciate it.

    Linda

  5. Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor is all I can think about right now, Linda, after reading this post. I sang it in Columbia’s Choral Society back in 1971 when Bill and I lived in South Carolina. A musician friend told me that the minor key is the Death key…and that Nature sings in the minor key, moaning and groaning till the day of its release.

    Much of Enya’s music is also in the Minor key, which is probably why it ministered to me through one of my divorces. She helped me cry.

    Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. This, too, shall pass! Hopefully it will be sooner than later for you….

    Ginnie,

    When I first read your comment last night I thought, “Oh, my! I didn’t mean to sound so gloomy!” This morning, I was happy again with what I’d written. I was writing about longings and limits, after all, that dynamic that affects the whole sweep of life. As infants, we’re one big bundle of longing. At the end of life, there are limits everywhere. And finally, death itself becomes the final “limit” placed on our longing to live. As I hear people say so often now, it is what it is ;-)

    But in between, we balance things out the best we can. And doesn’t the music help? Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” will forever be filled with movement for me, having been my “traveling music” across the Pacific. As for the Kyrie, it’s been traveling music for me too – although in a slightly different version than Mozart’s! If you don’t know this version, you’ll enjoy it. If you do know it, being reminded never hurts. After all – you’ve got a bit of traveling ahead of you, too! (And if you look very, very closely, you’ll see me in that group pushing the car in the video!)

    Linda

  6. Linda,

    It’s noble to take up the task at hand and fulfill responsibilities sacrificially. I can fully empathize with your situation, and my utmost respect to you for choosing to stay grounded as you discern the priorities in life.

    Your window has some marvelous views. I’m sure they offer great consolation for staying put. Other than that, we’re all fortunate to have our virtual window looking out to the blogosphere. Even greater views as we travel in our mind’s eye to explore new sights and sounds, and vicariously live in multiple places, pondering various thoughts, writing, waiting… we’re all in it together.

    My memory doesn’t serve me too well. But I remember reading that Joni Mitchell did not attend Woodstock, but stayed home and wrote the song, now almost a classic. (In Ruth’s blog maybe?) Isn’t it a wonder that Woodstock the song is written by one who did not physically attend, but could visualize and capture the spirit of it just the same.

    Thanks for a poignant post!

    Arti,

    I’ll tell you, “noble” and “sacrificial” make me pretty danged nervous. Those are words that describe something far larger than what I’m involved in. One thing that does occur to me is how much society has changed. When I was growing up, taking care of children and elders was simply what families did. It was totally unremarkable. Today – not so much. Children have nannies and day care, and the old folks? Off to the elder-communities or nursing homes with them.

    Living in a cruising community, I’ve seen every sort of decision made about how to relate to and care for aging parents. Even those who aren’t trying to get on a boat and leave have the same decisions to make. I have friends whose parents are living with them, some who have helped their parents stay in their own homes with the aid of outside assistance, and a few who quite frankly have dumped their parent(s) into a nursing home where the kids come by to visit once a month.

    There are plenty of voices out there saying, “You should be free to do your own thing – period.” If that’s not a siren song, I don’t know what is.
    This post is just a glimpse into my personal quest to keep off those rocks.

    That’s right about Joni Mitchell, and a wonderful reminder. Sometimes distance not only makes the heart grow fonder, it helps to make the vision clearer ;-)

    Linda

  7. Actually, Linda, I saw nothing gloomy about your post at all…but I did see the longing. It’s like Nature. It may sing in the Minor/Death key but it can be so downright beautiful…and Soulful. Your post was soulful for me, not gloomy. But of course, your version of Kyrie Eleison is so much more uplifting. Are you serious…that was YOU in that video?

    Ginnie,

    Giggling like everything, here. No, I wasn’t REALLY in that video. But if you use your imagination and look really, really hard – well, you might see me!

    Soulful is ever so much better. And it makes me happy to have communicated a bit of that – just as you do over at Hart & Soul. Sometimes we need to get below the surface of things to find the wellsprings of their true life.

    After listening to that “other” Kyrie this a.m. I was chuckling a bit over my new definition of heaven: a ’57 Chevy, an iPod and an open road ;-)

    Linda

  8. “And so, nearly consumed with longing while absolutely constrained by limits…”

    Linda,

    How well I understand those words.

    While still living at Dad’s, I wrote a piece about how freely we throw flowers at the feet of the courageous adventurer, the explorer, the discoverer. We often forget the ones who remain behind to keep the home fires burning, to care for those who could not make it on their own. Don’t we all wish to pull up anchor at one time or another?

    I felt the longing all the way through. Wonderful writing.

    Bella

    Bella,

    Aren’t we the bookends today? When I read your current post, I just laughed. I was so pleased for you, and could feel your sense of freedom leaping off the page.

    Reading your post and mine together, I was reminded of my teeter-totter days in grade school. Every now and then my friends and I would get tired of the up-and-downness of it, and try to balance the board. We’d scoot and scootch and wiggle around until the board was perfectly parallel, unmoving, balanced on its fulcrum as though it were nailed down.

    Perhaps that’s the secret – when longings and limits are perfectly balanced, everything’s at rest, and easy. Well, at least until that creepy sixth-grader comes by and leans on the board and gets you going again or a supposed friend jumps off and you go ker-splat! in the dirt! That’s life, for sure – I hope that creepy sixth grader doesn’t come around to disturb your balance!

    Linda

  9. Bookends! Yes, that’s it. I referred to it as opposite sides of the same coin. Ha!

    Both will do, Janelle. Or just like the teeter-totter ~ When one is up, the other’s down ;-)
    Shall we bring in Ol’ Blue Eyes now for a chorus of “That’s Life” ?

    Linda

  10. Oh, Linda —

    I can hear the longing in your words and know so very much from my past what you are experiencing. I’m glad you have a beautiful view — I think you express for so many of us who don’t get out much that quiet wanderlust we all experience. Your view is indeed smashing. I know it is some solace; I also know that one day you will fly and when you do see things that others would simply miss!

    jeanie,

    You know, the best thing about the view is that it’s so dynamic. In summer, the thunderstorms bubble up, and it’s a perfect view for lightning. In winter, I watch the fronts blow in. The view is due north, so the wind comes straight down the fairway, and I’ve seen standing waves three feet high. It’s better than television (no offense meant!)

    I know how well you understand. And I got a good reminder yesterday about the importance of keeping our eyes open now. Driving down a main road, I spotted a turtle in the middle of the four-lane. He’d started off and apparently thought better of it – but it was too late. He was in the middle of traffic. I circled around, parked, and retrived him with no damage to either of us. There’s a nice, turtle-friendly park nearby, so off we went. Sitting on my front seat, he finally poked his head out and gave me a look. “Turtle”, I said, “I hope YOU have wanderlust, because you’re going traveling!”

    When he got plopped onto the edge of his little estuary, it didn’t take a minute for him to come out of his shell and swim off. One day, that’s what’ll happen to us. We’ll get picked up and plopped down somewhere, and off we’ll go!

    Linda

  11. The wanderlust never goes away. I see it as a sign of life. And was glad to hear you vocalize it. Honestly, though, to look out at the harbor and see all those boats and think about sailing off for awhile, to have an adventure…

    And so it is your writing that sets you free. Lucky for us, too.
    Without being corny, I want to say I hear you and understand on several levels.

    And your mention of Julian of Norwich? You know Julian? I couldn’t believe it! OK, well, I could, but what a happy surprise! I love that line, that quote, that wisdom. And what a perfect place, here in your blog, to incorporate it.

    I am still thinking about a blog get-together.
    Did you get your bookmarks? in fact, your books?

    I know, I’m all over the place here tonight but have been absent and am trying to catch up. And reach out.

    Hugs, Oh

    oh,

    I knew Julian long before I knew T.S.Eliot grew up in St. Louis – or that Washington University was another of his grandfather’s “babies”! It just occurs to me now – Julian and the elder Eliot are related too, through their universalist tendencies. Ironic.

    Wanderlust is a sign of life – and I just remembered a truly funny story from my pre-school years. I was a toddler, just able to get up and go, and I got up and went. I ran away from home! I went all around our block, with my mom in hot pursuit, staying just ahead of of her until I got all the way around to our neighbor’s house. They’d brought in dirt for some reason, and there was a large pile in the front yard. I climbed up on top and happily threw dirt clods at my infuriated and anxious parent. See? Traveling and mountaineering, all in the same trip!

    The books got here – as of Monday evening the bookmarks weren’t here, but I didn’t check the mail yesterday. I still haven’t figured out my reaction to the books – I haven’t said a word to anyone, or shown them to anyone. I took them out, checked them out, burst into tears and put them on the shelf. What’s THAT about? Anyway, one of these days I’ll figure it out and “do something” with the whole story!

    And I’ll check the mail today ;-)

    Linda

  12. I love the lighthouse, and small wonder you want to journey when you can see boats coming and going all day!

    Your poor itchy feet, constrained by lace-ups for now. Of course, nothing is for ever – not responsibility and not being care-free. And, after all, how would we know the joys of one without experiencing the other?

    Jeannine,

    The dirty little secret of our “lighthouse” is that it’s fake faux. It does have a light that blinks, but it isn't listed as an official aid to navigation. The development here is called South Shore, and the marine is South Shore Harbor and, well – everyone knows a proper harbor needs a lighthouse!

    Actually, it can be useful. There have been reports of boaters heading to port late on Saturday nights asking, "Hey, Dude… I can't find the entrance… Anybody see that &%$##! lighthouse?" And at Christmas they decorate it nicely, so it's a double delight in the winter.

    You're exactly right about each sort of experience needing its opposite to be appreciated. After all, what's more comforting after a period of extended travel than coming home and snuggling down into the nest?

    Linda

  13. It’s all in the mind, Linda. With your imagination, you can go anywhere.

    The photos and framing are luscious.

    Ruth,

    Imagination is wonderful. I’d never question the importance of its presence in life or art. It’s imagination that gives texture and depth to the books I read and the paintings that confront me. It’s imagination that starts me down new paths, and helps me to understand the people I meet along the way.

    But without reality, imagination is like a plant trying to put down roots and grow without sustaining soil. One of the hardest lessons of my life was just this ~ that it isn’t all in the mind. The world counts, too. In the end, it may be that the world itself is what strengthens imagination, by pushing back with all its earthy, sensuous reality.

    I appreciate so much your comment re: the photos. There’s another wonderful lesson: even when we don’t move, the world changes around us.

    Linda

  14. What a lovely, lovely blog! I so enjoyed reading here. My hat’s off to you!

    Dee,

    How kind of you to take the time to leave a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the read. This entry was especially delightful to put together ~ it was a real treat for me to see the photos as a group and to weave them together with the words.

    You’re welcome any time!

    Linda

  15. I just discovered your wonderful site! This sentence really grabbed me in this essay: “I had escaped once but my guards, Responsibility, Necessity and Guilt, weren’t about to let it happen again.”

    Your words strike me as soft and velvet. Beautiful essay and photos.

    whizbangwoman,

    That’s one of my two favorite lines in the piece. It tickled me to death to “see” those three lined up outside my front door with their fancy uniforms and their sabres at the ready, determined to prevent my escape!

    Thanks so much for visiting, and especially for the comment. It’s silly in a way, but I always love it when someone picks out one of my favorite sentences to admire. It’s like having someone praise your child at the school program ;-)

    Linda

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