When I am Dora, I live in a small town close to Boston, Massachusetts. It’s one of those picturesque New England towns, with a common, and coffee shops, and craft stores. I live in a house surrounded by pine and maple trees, taller than the house itself, that cover the yard with leaves and needles in autumn.
When I am Thea, I live in Boston itself, on a narrow street lined with brownstones. I live in one of those brownstones, five flights up with no elevator, in a small apartment that looks out onto the street. At night, I can look out my window and see the city lights, hear traffic below.
Dora went to college and studied literature, and then went to law school (yes, with the President of the United States, I kid you not). And then she went back to study literature again, not having had enough of it, I suppose. And now she teaches, and writes.
Thea graduated from Miss Lavender’s School, then went on to college and studied literature, and decided to become a writer. She had a small family legacy, so she rented an apartment in Boston (an apartment just large enough for her to sleep and write in), and she started to write a book. Thea’s book is about four girls who save the world. It’s not autobiographical, because they save the world in a different way than Thea and her friends did.
Dora is often tired. Thea is often lonely, but she gets more sleep.
Dora envies all the time Thea has to write. She does not envy that Thea is half her age. She remembers how difficult it was to be just out of college, trying to figure out her purpose in the world. She just hopes Thea makes fewer mistakes than she did.
They both have red hair, and they both like the azuki creams in the bakery down the street (on which Thea lives and Dora used to live). They are both attracted to men who are capital T Trouble. (I mean, Merlin? Seriously? Dora shakes her head as she writes each scene.)
Dora has more clothes, because Thea needs to be even more careful with money, but they both like to shop in thrift stores, especially for summer skirts. On the other hand, Thea has a claw-foot bathtub in her apartment.
They both live with a cat named Cordelia. But only Thea’s can talk.
They both know that they belong to a story larger than they are, and that they are engaged in telling a part of it, but only a part. They both know that they are writers for a reason. And when they look out their windows at night, tired or lonely or both, they remind themselves of that. And it is often, but not always, consoling.
This is a very good expression of the creative life. Some of my family and a few of my friends don’t understand that writing is part of who I am, not something I do. It’s not like rollerblading or line-dancing. It’s more akin to being another arm or hand, a natural extension of my humanity and whatever spark of uniqueness I may possess.
Yes, it’s exactly like that for me as well, and it’s difficult to explain to people, isn’t it? They tend to think that writing is something you do for fun or profit. Writing is something I do to survive . . .
I couldn’t agree more–I would shrink into a hollow shell of myself if I didn’t write. This post reminded me of a Hemingway quote: “The minute I quit trying to write, the rest of it is easy.” And then I think, but really, what lasting good can come from “easy?”
Sometimes I view my past self in these ways as separate, not separate from myself. I haven’t written solidly in the past few years as I went back to school, became a teacher, new mom, etc. I feel bereft, un-moored, so unlike myself that is hard to explain. The longer I stay away from writing the more miserable a human I become.
Yeah, Hemingway didn’t exactly choose easy, did he?
Danielle, can you write just a little, 500 words or so, every day? It might make you feel better. I created this blog on a weekend when I was very, very down. Creating it helped, and posting every day helps a lot. I always feel better after I’ve gotten whatever I have to say out. But I completely understand feeling un-moored and unlike yourself. I think every writer does.