I have a new (highly specific and quite idiosyncratic) happiness-project resolution, “Use Twitter to send out a daily quotation from Virginia Woolf’s brilliant novel, The Waves.”
I’m haunted by a line from Carl Jung, “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” I often feel this way when I read or see a work of art that I love – I want to enter into it, play with it, make something with it, myself. But that’s often a frustrating impulse, because I can’t think of a way to enter into it on my own terms.
I feel that way about paintings. I love some paintings, but I don’t have anyplace to go with that love. It’s not enough just to look – but what else can I do? I tried going to a “Drawing on the Right-Side of the Brain” class (you can read all about it in my book), because I thought that sketching a painting might be a way to play with it, but I just don’t have that skill, or the interest to develop the skill.
With reading, it’s easier. I can copy my favorite quotations into one of my gigantic commonplace books. I have hundreds of passages copied in these books, dating back to fifth grade. I used to fight my note-taking impulse as a time-waster, but now I embrace it; how did I not realize the tremendous happiness it gives me?
And one of the things I love most about writing is playing with others’ work. In fact, it’s safe to say that each of my books has been, at bottom, an excuse to quote from my favorite books. Take Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill — nothing give me more joy than quoting Churchill. One of my favorite things about my blog is that I can quote from, or comment on, my favorite books.
But some writers’ work eludes my grasp. I love it, and I want to play with it, but I haven’t figured out how to do that.
For example, Virginia Woolf. I love Woolf’s work, but it’s almost unbearable for me to read it, because I can’t do anything with it, except copy it into my gigantic collections of favorite quotations. I want to play with it, to build on it, to discuss it – but how? I can build Samuel Johnson into a blog post easily, but Virginia Woolf is on a different plane.
Those sentences! So extraordinary, so powerful.
Then I thought: why not use Twitter to engage with The Waves? I posted about this idea a few months ago (note: I love this post because it’s not often a person can allude to Robert Pattinson and Virginia Woolf in the same breath). To send out a tweet once a day with a quotation from The Waves…I’d read the book in a new way, and I’d appreciate its beauty in a new way. Would other people find this obscure or boring? Maybe, but it’s very difficult to know what will resonate with other people. I’m going to do it — at the very least, it will make me happy.
Here’s my first one, one of my favorite lines in all of literature and one of my personal koans: “Rhoda has rocked her ships to shore. Whether they have anchored, whether they have foundered, she cares no longer.”
At first, I hesitated. Should I quote from the book in order? How long should I continue? Is it disrespectful to Woolf’s masterpiece to cut it up and dole it out in this way? I decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good: I will quote out of order, I’ll do it for as long as it’s engaging. There are so many astonishing lines in The Waves. They will have a new power, taken in isolation and out of context this way.
Such is the nature of my homage to Virginia Woolf.
Also, after I posted about wanting to use Twitter this way, someone else was eager to join in. She’s not usually a Twitter user, so she started a Twitter account @TheWaves2009. So you can get two ways of getting a twitter-fix of The Waves now! Follow her and follow me at @gretchenrubin.
* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.