Friday, December 8, 2017

Virginia Woolf haunted house courtesy of Mary-Kim Arnold

Mary-Kim Arnold

When Xander first shared the Ghost Hunters Report, I was interested in it in this sort of ironic way, but then when I read it, it was both more mundane and more disturbing than I had anticipated.

It starts with a description of weather, moon phase, and solar activity, on the date that the investigators visit, and lists all the equipment the team brought with them, including: Ovilus and PSB-7 Spirit Boxes, dowsing rods, rem-pod and pendulum.

They document setting up their equipment.

But then almost immediately, without warning, the investigators report:

“Dave and Cynthia went to the basement where they both felt there had been an abortion clinic at one time.”

It seems there was a doctor who lived in the home, who may have performed abortions. The whole basement may have served as a surgery area.

So of course, I thought about the lives of the women who moved around these rooms.

Being a woman in America right now, I can’t help but linger on the darker aspects of these thoughts – about how women move around in space, where we are allowed to go, where we are not, what we participate in and what we don’t. When our voices carry and when they do not.

I wanted to find a way to bring voices of women to this response, both in consideration of who might have inhabited these rooms before and in anticipation of who might in the future. So I thought of women writers.

Virginia Woolf would have been a contemporary of the Tirocchi sisters. I thought maybe we could invite her into this conversation.

I was intrigued by the idea of an interview slash séance, inspired by these ghost investigators. I found these questions, taken from a document called Questionnaire for Ghosts, and then I set myself the task of using only material from the writings of Virginia Woolf as responses. I’ve enlisted Matthew Derby to be the interviewer here.

This is my response, in honor of the Ghost Hunter Report, but far more importantly, in honor of the incredible, inspiring vision that Xander and Pippi have for this house, for making this space for women artists. For acknowledging the long line of women that we follow, and the ones that we hope to make space for in the future.

Do you know what day it is today?

The day after my birthday; in fact, I’m 38.

How do you feel right now?

I’m a great deal happier than I was at 28; and happier today than I was yesterday having just this afternoon arrived at some idea for a new form for a new novel. My doubt is how far it will enclose the human heart – am I sufficiently mistress of my dialogue to meet it there?

The approach will be entirely different this time: no scaffolding, scarcely a brick to be seen; all crepuscular, but the heart, the passion, the humor, everything as bright as a fire in the mist.

Are you in pain?

I’m desolate, dusty, and disillusioned.

I’m cynical.

I’m pretentious.

I’m a little anxious. My heart in my mouth.

I’m distracted.

I’m obsolete.

I’m a little uppish though, and self assertive.

Do you have any relatives?

How beautiful they were, those old people – I mean, father and mother – how simple, how clear, how untroubled. I have been dipping into old letters and father’s memoirs. He loved her: oh and was so candid and reasonable and transparent – and had such a fastidious and delicate mind.

How serene and gay even, their life reads to me: no mud, no whirlpools. And so human – with the children and the little hum and song of the nursery. But if I read as a contemporary, I shall lose my child’s vision and so must stop. Nothing turbulent; nothing involved; no introspection.

Do you have a husband?

Is it chiefly intellectual snobbery to say that I dislike them?

Do you know who is the current president of the United States?

Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss… I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end.

Do you know any other ghosts?

I intend to spend the evenings of this week of captivity in making out an account of my friendships and their present condition, with some account of my friends’ characters; and to add an estimate of their work and a forecast of their future work.

Do you enjoy frightening people?

Unhesitatingly, yes.

What frightens people the most?

It is presumably bad thing to look through articles, reviews, etc., to find one’s own name. Yet I often do.

Have you ever attacked anyone using your ghostly powers?

That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library.

Do you ever remember a moment when you consciously chose to become a ghost?

Here I am chained to my rock; forced to do nothing; doomed to let every worry, spite, irritation and obsession scratch and claw and come again. No one is as miserable as I am.

Are you tired of being a ghost?

In some ways, it’s rather like writing.

If there anything I can do to help you find peace?

I told you that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young – alas, she never wrote a word.

She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle.

Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed.

But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh.

This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her.

For my belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting room and see human beings not always in relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves…

If we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.

Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born.

As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible.

But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her.

And so for us to work for a while, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.

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