Month of Letters: Virginia Woolf to Gwen Raverat

For inspiration’s sake, I have been reading books of letters; and I thought I might post a couple of favorites here.  I’ll start with the letter I mentioned in my review below, Virginia Woolf’s letter to Gwen Raverat after her husband Jacques, who had been dying slowly from multiple sclerosis, finally succumbed.  The news had come to her with his final letter to her, praising Mrs. Dalloway, which she had sent him before its publication.

11th March 1925

Dearest Gwen,

Your and Jacques’ letter came yesterday, and I go about thinking of you both in starts, and almost constantly underneath everything, and I don’t know what to say.  The thing that comes over and over is the strange wish to go on telling Jacques things.  This is for Jacques, I say to myself; I want to write to him about happiness, about Rupert, and love.  It had become to me a sort of private life, and I believe I told him more than anyone, except Leonard; I become mystical as I grow older and feel an alliance with you and Jacques which is eternal, not interrupted, or hurt by never meeting.  Then of course, I have now for you–how can I put it?–I mean the feeling that one must reverence?–is that the word–feel shy of, so tremendous an experience; for I cannot conceive what you have suffered.  It seems to me that if we met, one would have to chatter about every sort of little trifle, because there is nothing to be said.

And then, being, as you know, so fundamentally an optimist, I want to make you enjoy life.  Forgive me, for writing what comes into my head.  I think I feel that I would give a great deal to share with you the daily happiness.  But you know that if there is anything I could ever give you, I would give it, but perhaps the only thing to give is to be oneself with people.  One could say anything to Jacques.  And that will always be the same with you and me.  But oh, dearest Gwen, to think of you is making me cry–why should you and Jacques have had to go through this?  As I told him, it is your love that has forever been love to me–all those years ago, when you used to come to Fitzroy Square, I was so angry and you were so furious, and Jacques wrote me a sensible manly letter, which I answered, sitting at my table in the window.  Perhaps I was frightfully jealous of you both, being at war with the whole world at the moment.  Still, the vision has become to me a source of wonder–the vision of your face; which if I were painting I should cover with flames, and put you on a hill top.  Then, I don’t think you would believe how it moves me that you and Jacques should have been reading Mrs. Dalloway, and liking it.  I’m awfully vain I know; and I was on pins and needles about sending it to Jacques; and now I feel exquisitely relieved; not flattered: but one does want that side of one to be acceptable–I was going to have written to Jacques about his children, and about my having none–I mean, these efforts of mine to communicate with people are partly childlessness, and the horror that sometimes overcomes me.

There is very little use in writing this.  One feels so ignorant, so trivial, and like a child, just teasing you.  But it is only that one keeps thinking of you, with a sort of reverence, and of that adorable man, whom I loved.




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Month of Letters: Review of Virginia Woolf’s letters, 1923-1928

The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume Three, 1923-1928The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume Three, 1923-1928 by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I own this book and am constantly browsing through it. I have a kind of mental block against saying I’ve “read” a book that I haven’t read every last sentence of, but I think I can claim to have read at least 75% of this, so what the heck. Feel free to ignore this review on that grounds.

This is Virginia Woolf at the height of her powers, writing most of the books she is famous for, and as far as I can tell, completely incapable of writing a clumsy word. I have a peculiar confession: I do not like the letters to Vita Sackville-West very much. They are the great gossipy interest of this volume: the lesbian affair of one of the greatest writers of all time! The love of her life! But in her letters to Vita I find the Virginia Woolf I like least, snarky and bitchy, putting down everybody (brilliantly), showing off, or so it seems to me. She seems to have loved Vita more than Vita loved her, not to mention a class element–Vita of course was every inch an aristocrat–which is just present enough that this ignorant American could catch a whiff of it, and I get a constant sense of Virginia straining to please, just the slightest bit, but enough to put me off. It is of course the last thing I associate with her writing elsewhere, which is written as though there was not even an audience to please.

That said, the rest is pure delight: her letters to Vanessa Bell, which are everything the Vita letters are, minus the annoying parts; her letters to Bloomsbury friends, which sparkle and flash like the flower petals in her story “Kew Gardens”; her miscellaneous business letters and invitations to dine (I always find these kind of quotidian letters fascinating), and especially her letters to the dying Jacques Raverat, and briefly after his death, to his wife Gwen. With Raverat, unlike Vita, Vanessa, or anyone else that I can find, she had a correspondent with whom she felt completely equal, and could discuss art and her work completely seriously and earnestly without any jocularity or false modesty. I have no real idea who Raverat was, outside of these letters, but he brought out the best in her, somehow–perhaps his absence from her daily life, or his foreignness, helped, but it also seems that he had a great mind that she was really stimulated by. Her letter to Gwen after his death is to me one of the most moving things she ever wrote–and as she is probably my favorite author, that is saying an enormous amount.

There are other points of interest–Katherine Mansfield dies at the beginning of the volume, and as I’m always fascinated by their relationship, it’s interesting to see Woolf’s attitude toward her change, deepen, when her threatening competition is gone. There are letters to Leonard Woolf which are unexpected insights into their relationship. And of course there are discussions (generally hidden under jokes) of her great novels written during this period. But as always with Woolf, these more ‘indirect’, if that is the word, pleasures are secondary to the simple joy of reading her writing, which in is never lighter and more charming, more quick and funny, than in her letters.

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Month of Letters: Week 1

Three days in and feeling fine.  Something makes this so much easier than the “30 Days of Creativity” challenge.  I can identify some of it: the privacy, the fact that there is a recipient depending on me.  But there seems to be some other mysterious reasons why to be amorphously “creative” every day was such torture and these letters have been pleasant.  Really, writing them has not gone that well: they feel a bit stilted and uncomfortable, where I’d like them to float and soar.  But the physical process makes up for it: I love decorating and embellishing the letters and the envelopes, and pushing the possibilities of mail.

I’ve been reading some of Virginia Woolf’s letters, so perhaps I have set too high a standard for myself for the writing.  She never seems to have written a clumsy word in her life.  The funny thing about books of letters (I have several) is that the longer, more personal, more composed letters are rarely the ones that interest me the most.  Often the most fascinating are letters asking for money, or making appointments, that sort of thing.  I have a book of Delacroix’s letters, with one or two examples of his letters requesting certain colors from Mrs. Haro’s; though he was one of the few artists who could write compellingly about art, these businesslike paint orders are at least as interesting.

Another thing that’s interesting in books of letters is that, even in those epistolary ages, one of the most frequent themes is “write me back!”  I’m always self-conscious, even in e-mail, of asking for a reply, and of writing again to someone who hasn’t written me back yet.  But people were quite shameless about this in the old days, it seems, heaping comic abuse on their lazy friends for not writing, begging and pleading for mail, writing several times without a word in reply.  So perhaps I shouldn’t be so worried about it?  I don’t know.  In any case, I take comfort in Samuel Johnson’s saying, in a letter apologizing for not writing to Boswell, “Do not fancy that an intermission of writing is a decay of kindness.”

Really, the same sort of worries that make my writing on this wretched blog so bland have been getting in the way of these letters, and I hope I will shed them soon.  The only thing I have discovered about art in my life is that fear kills it: fear of incomprehensibility, fear of sentimentality, fear of bad taste, fear of pretentiousness, fear of anything.  I hope these letters to be something of a training regimen, for throwing away that fear.

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A letter a day keeps Alzheimer’s at bay

Today I happened to hear about, which is a NaNoWriMo-style challenge: to write and send a letter a day for the month of February.  Now, as everyone who knows me is well aware, and as I have blogged about before, I actually took on a similar challenge back in college, but for a whole year.  The challenge then was a haiku a day, but of course just a bare haiku in an envelope rarely satisfied either the sender or the recipient, so my friend Tim and I ended up sending each other all kinds of things, sometimes incredibly elaborate pieces of mail art.  So I know what it’s like: I know both the pleasure and the frustrations of having to set aside a space of time to sit down and write/make something, every single day.

My last attempt at something like this didn’t turn out so well–in fact, I’ve tried various challenges and it’s never really come together since that one year.  The fact that I was getting mail every day as well as sending it was an important positive feedback loop; and the fact that Tim and I have always had a bit of a competitive streak that made me want to one-up his amazing letters helped to make things awesomer than they might have been.  So: I am asking you for an address to send mail; I would also like to remind you that one of the rules of this challenge is that I must reply to everything I recieve.  In other words, you don’t have to do anything, you certainly don’t have to take the challenge yourself; if you tell me your address I will probably send you something.  BUT the likelihood of my achieving the goal, and the quality of the things I send, will be much increased if you send me something yourself.  Just send me an e-mail or leave a comment with yours, and we can exchange addresses.  (I don’t quite trust the Internet enough to put my address out here for everyone to see.)

Looking forward to corresponding with you!  Let’s do it!


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We’re winners!

Craftster Best of 2012 Winner
I’m a Craftster Best of 2012 Winner!

My niece A. and I are officially winners! If you click the picture you will find that the dress she designed and I sewed were chosen as one of Craftster’s Best of 2012. I’m very flattered to be honored by my crafty peers. I haven’t told my niece yet, but I assume she’ll take it in stride and say, “of course we did.”



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Christmas Presents

Link and Zelda dolls I made for my brother and his wife, both big Zelda fans.

This year I made every Christmas present I gave, a feat I’ve attempted for years but never accomplished.  That’s partly because this year I decided not to try to make clothes.  Handmade clothes can fit, or they can be a surprise, never both: so they haven’t really worked out as presents.  (In my family, the secrecy of Christmas presents is absolutely sacred.)

Instead, I made toys!  Everyone got a different style.  I’ve made a couple of stuffed animals before, but they didn’t come out that well.  But practice is making perfect, and I feel like the presents came out well this time.  It was so fun, and so practical (not needing any fittings etc.) that I’m thinking of opening an etsy shop and selling dolls.  What do you think?

This is Akihiko, a character from a video game called Persona 3, which my niece loves. His head is made of papier-mâché and painted with acrylics. It took me as long to make the head as the rest of him put together, and it still doesn’t look that great, although better than the initial attempts at a cloth head.

My brother-in-law loves Back to the Future and Doc Brown specifically, and he is a puppetteer. So I made this hand puppet of Doc Brown as he appears at the end of the first movie, my favorite outfit of his. The hair is made of batting, the glasses of silver paper from a craft store, the transparent tie I cut out of a duvet cover. I drew the kanji on his shirt with a sharpie–figuring the text on his real shirt was probably nonsense, I just wrote some characters that look nice to me.

I had no idea what to make my brother until three days before Christmas, when I suddenly remembered the computer game we’d played as children, The Secret of Monkey Island, and its main character, Guybrush Threepwood. As I was about to start cutting the felt, I remembered that voodoo dolls were an important part of the sequel, and the whole thing came together almost instantly.

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The Case of the Golden Kimonos

The Golden Kimonos

Once upon a time, I got the call from a costume shop I sometimes work at.  “We need two kimonos, right away,” they said.  The designs for the show were 1930’s, Western clothes, but they wanted a fairly accurate pair of kimonos, in dark golden/bronze, with floral silk lining.  They gave me fabric and two days.

Kimonos are not difficult to draft, as they’re all straight lines (almost entirely rectangles) but they are a bit complicated to sew, and they’re fully lined.  The first night I stayed up late; the second I pulled an all-nighter.  It was exhausting, but satisfying, to see them mostly finished at the end, just waiting to be hemmed to fit the actresses.  When delivered, everyone loved them; the costume designer was very happy.

One kimono hanging up

The tech rehearsals began a day or two later, and soon I heard from the costume shop manager again.  He sounded tired and very, very grumpy.  “You’ll never believe this,” he said, “but your kimonos got cut from the show.”  Apparently, the colors weren’t working; I think it was that the masks that the cast was wearing seemed washed out when contrasted with the golden fabric.  In place of my kimonos, they pulled two dressing gowns out of their costume collection.

The other kimono hanging up

In actual fact, I didn’t mind.  It comes with the territory.  I learned this lesson, really, from working with some college kids who majored in things like history and music and for whom the costume shop was just a job.  They usually didn’t really like the plays, and they were well used to their hard work being cut from the show at the last minute.  “I once told all my friends to come see the 20 knit dog heads we made,” one of them told me, “but it turned out there were zero knit dog heads.”  Seeing things you’ve made on stage is wonderful, but as long as I’ve done a good job sewing, and as long as I still get paid, I’m fine with my work being put into storage.  These kimonos have been–they’ve never gotten hemmed.  As you can see in these pictures, they need ironing.  But I’m happy enough with them that I don’t mind that they never made it in front of an audience.

Now when my designs are cut by the director!  That’s depressing!

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