An Open Letter to Zohreh Sullivan
12 September 2007
I’ve been meaning to write you for about a week now (the words were already coming to me as we sat across from each other at Espresso Royale), but then I had my doctor’s appointment the very next day, and this, with the move to California, has thrown off my writing, understandably, I suppose, though I feel that it is during these times when I should be writing, recording, remembering.
And the same for my dissertation/thesis: I was so exhausted by the writing of it that I still haven’t written about its writing, which is what I so wanted to tell you about at Espresso if we’d had more time – but it works out, because now I might write it to you instead of wasting my words by frittering them all away on talk (so ephemeral). Now that I’ve found a post office not too far from me, though, I can write it to you.
I wanted to write to tell you about the sheer intensity of writing about Woolf, an intensity that I had never tapped into until now (with the exception of a paper I wrote on Katherine Mansfield & “Bliss” – but that was an intensity so close that it terrified me, and I shied away from her, leaving the piece as “breathless” as its subject. Writing about Woolf, however, this intensity became rather a calm center of extreme focus, a gathering of fragments, a comfortable closeness (reading her letters and diaries, I began unconsciously to think of her as
So while understanding the dangers of identifying with one’s topic (especially a subject like Woolf), I nevertheless allowed myself (or imagined?) an understanding with her, quiet, tender at times, undramatic (unlike the identification I imagined myself to have with Mansfield, which was destructive, frightening – like clinging desperately with no saddle nor reins to the slick back of a black horse who races through a lightless vacuum you know is Time; Limited Time; 5 year’s Time – while I loved her and her writing, working on her cut too close, fed my fears, would have been my collapse [here, I wanted to write “death,” but that seemed too dramatic a word]). In
An email from D.S., my first love before Rasheed (a young love – D. was a conservative who didn’t believe the ERA should be passed, but somehow he still managed to love my feminist tenacity – it was an inexperienced love that didn’t survive the year of my illness and finally the removal of the tumor in ’04, but everything for a reason – perhaps I wouldn’t have found Rasheed otherwise!). Years ago, when D. & I were still dating, I dreamt that he went to fight in the war (this must have been just before or just after Bush invaded; this of course is the ever-constant weight that bore on the writing of my diss.). In this dream, he was leaving for the service, and we stood facing each other on a wooden train platform (dusty & the color of his neatly pressed uniform – like he had never worn it before) saying good-bye. I knew in the dream I would never see him again; I knew it, and gripped his head between my two hands & sobbed, despite his calm, even slightly amused, reassurance: “It’s going to be okay. I’ll be fine.” Up until this point in our relationship (‘02-03), he hadn’t mentioned enlisting in the military. In fact, it wasn’t until years later, when I was living with Rasheed in
Then, the aeroplanes. This was nearly constant. During the summer, there were a number of air shows around
And the death of my grandfather, a World War II veteran of the Navy. At such a distance from him, I wasn’t sure if I’d lost him at all, or if perhaps I hadn’t actually lost him already, long ago, before my birth, before the birth of my father (his son) even. If he wasn’t always-already lost to me, a casualty of the war. I dreamt the night I learned of his death that he had died in that war, yet somehow, I still existed, and more, was still his grand-daughter.
Finally, a visit to Monks House. Rasheed & I went together during his most recent visit (we went, too, to Hogarth House in
There were, of course, other dreams (R. & I, war refugees, in danger still, running through the night, through gunfire) and many, many other moments (seeing the portrait of the son she lost to war which Vanessa had hung over her bed at Charleston), but these were the four main things.