Photo Credit: Portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning (whose admiration of one another turned into love and they eloped in 1846), by Thomas Buchanan Read, 1853, oil on canvas at Christie’s, New York City, NY: Jan Arkesteijn/Wikimedia Commons/PD Art (PD Old 100 1923)
“Everybody comes into your life for a reason. There are no random personal relationships” (Dream Intuition, 2016, 3:04).
A friend of mine, Charlotte Elea, who, in addition to tarot readings and dream work is also a writer, posted a video on her YouTube channel about the way in which we live in multiplicity even as we might not always recognize it. This means that we influence and are influenced by our relationships with others, past and present. We are different things to different people and anything can spark us to change, whether we realize it or not.
What struck me about Charlotte’s beautiful words was the idea that “[w]e exist not in a vacuum but in multiplicity” (Dream Intuition, 2016, 5:37) doesn’t just apply in a personal sense but also in an artistic one. I recently watched the film The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), a biopic about the courtship of Elizabeth Barrett (played by Norma Shearer) and Robert Browning (Fredric March). Barrett and Browning did not meet and court in the way that was conventional for the 19th century because Barrett was ill and confined to her bed for much of her life. But she published some translations and poetry which caught Browning’s attention enough to write her letters of admiration (a bold move for the time). Barrett responded with equal enthusiasm for his work. This correspondence became the highlight of those years for Barrett. Not only was she physically constrained by her illness but also psychologically constricted. Her father was the model gaslighter, manipulating his daughter to serve his needs, confessing an undying love for her that kept her in an emotional cage and shut out everyone else. The film gives us a window into this limited emotional life before Browning pays a spontaneous visit to Barrett at her home on Wimpole Street. In that first meeting, Barrett tearfully relates to him how much his letters and his poetry have meant to her. Browning’s passionate response, though somewhat overpowering, leaves its mark on her so that she gains a new will to live.
As Charlotte points out in her video, the impact that people can have on our lives might be about something that we needed to know about ourselves or something that the other person needed to know about himself or herself. One of my favorite writers, Anais Nin, talks about her long standing friendship with writer Henry Miller, saying that “Miller and I were concerned with freedom from old forms, with revolution in writing, and we met over the championships of two rebels: Buñuel in films, André Breton in surrealistic theory” (Nin, location 1262). But while their similar ideals about art drew them together, their differences made up a part of who Nin became as a writer. For example, Miller was in favor of writing in a colloquial style, what Nin calls “the language of the street” (location 756). This was directly opposite to the style Nin eventually developed in her own writing, a poetic prose style that incorporates lavish descriptions, multileveled meanings, and psychological reality. Nin writes:
“To Henry Miller who advocated naturalness and teased me for not adopting colloquial English, I once answered: ‘but it is not natural to me.’ A writer should use the language most integral to what he is, natural to him” (Nin, location 1590).
In Nin’s relationship with Miller and her involvement in his work, she developed and held fast to her own beliefs about writing and language.
One of the beauties of the internet age is that many artists can now connect with other artists quiet easily, in message boards like the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler and Facebook groups like Writer’s Soapbox and everything in between. While most people interacting online don’t become best friends, these relationships can be static enough when people belong to the same groups or post on the same message boards year after year so that we can come to value certain people’s interactions with us to the point that their ideas have influence over us.
In June, I signed up to be part of a critique group through the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association. It was the first time in my life I actively sought critique partners and I was very nervous about giving my work to other writers since I had been writing in the safety of my own world for many years. The three women with whom I work are talented and professional writers whose astute and honest but kind feedback I’ve come to value. What I didn’t anticipate was how much they would make me critically review my own writing style and beliefs. I realized through these critiques that I overwrite – a lot! Their own work has shown me ways in which my own writing becomes too dense and vague, when I aim too high in my prose and when I need to simplify and tone down.
I had one exchange in particular with one of the women who confessed that she felt my writing was so complex that she couldn’t understand everything I was trying to say. Her comment touched me because I realized it wasn’t that she wasn’t getting it but that I, as a writer, wasn’t doing my job in telling a compelling story that was, in the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a suspension of disbelief – in other words, taking readers into the story and characters without questioning their truth or reality. Our exchange made me approach my writing in a new way by taking out all the flowers and weeds to get to the seed of what I am trying to say.
I want to end this with a simple quote from Charlotte from her video:
“Each of us has a bigger impact on people than we think we do. We impact others in ways that we will never know” (Dream Intuition, 2016, 6:32).
Dream Intuition. “The Undeniable Multiplicty of Your Impact.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 October 2016. Web. 12 October 2016.
Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press. The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.