Writing is so often an act of returning: to places, people, moments, ideas, selves. Because we cannot live any day over, because we cannot again be any self we used to be, we turn to art to recreate what we’ve known, who we’ve been, what we’ve felt, what we’ve seen. I often feel as if I am writing the same idea over again, digging deeper, searching for the why of what pulls at me: the act of returning itself turns compulsion, that which I return to becomes obsession.
Last year when I was out of work and in the house for the first eight months of the pandemic, I read in their entirety The Letters of Sylvia Plath; during my final semester of grad school, it was The Unabridged Journals; in high school and college, The Bell Jar; on my desk at present, “Three Women,” a radio play written in verse in the voices of three women in a maternity ward; I am nearly always dipping into Ariel. Sylvia Plath is my literary obsession, the writer whose work I can’t stop returning to, whose creative spirit and violent artistic urges are in conversation with my own. The romantic part of my brain believes we are tethered, that she is my ghost sister, an astrological companion acting at once as both oracle and muse. In another iteration of my writing life, perhaps I would devote more of my time to a critical study of her work; as it is, I look instead into the mirror, feel my way through her work as much as I think through it, and write sprawling hybridities that allow me to echo her words and carry them further.
Recently I finished reading Red Comet, Heather Clark’s stupendous, expansive, illuminating biography of Sylvia Plath. Finishing a book I’ve spent a lot of time with often leaves me in a state of quiet devastation. I feel this more acutely when I read books by and about Plath, as if I am grieving, as if I am going through the process of losing her all over again. It is this sense of devastation that makes me want to return to her writing. I read and I study to try to understand the obsessions that haunted her and that make me feel haunted: no matter the punctuation there is only the end.
Plath wrote obsessively about ugliness: thumb stumps and spectacle and genocide and apocalypse. She also wrote intuitively inward, tracing her experience in a surrealist fashion, turning to mythology and landscape to study her depression and her family history, the woe of the world, the weight of becoming. What strikes me most each time that I read her is her mind: there is a light flickering madly, casting shadows that compel and activate new spaces, the blackness creating infinite hallways to wander further and wind up in the cavernous uncertainty of an abyss searching for constellations, unable either to turn around or to jump.
When I feel stuck or overwhelmed or unable to access my internal landscape, when the leaves turn to shades of fire and the night bleeds into our waking hours, I want most to be as empty as I possibly can, to lose myself. When I cannot write—and sometimes I can’t, whether it is work or life or my own mind getting in the way—I seek comfort in celebrating the act of creation, returning to what has been created for (it seems) and before me. I wander down that familiar hallway again, discover new doors to push open. I speak again to my ghost sister, Sylvia, prepared to listen: This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. Memories can span generations. Obsessions happen to us. Writing is the process of sinking into devastation and emerging, curiously, miraculously, again as ourselves.
What are your obsessions? What wounds and inspires you? What crafts your essence, urges you further down that hallway searching for doors? What/who do you return to? Submissions for ISSUE 02 remain open until January 15, 2022. Perhaps you or someone you know has a piece of writing that is ready to share—we would love to read it. Please see our website for submissions guidelines.
Love and Light,
Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, The Champagne Room
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