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Dispatch to Jane from My Subconscious photo

Dear Jane,

Hope you’ve been well since I wrote to you last, dear girl. I imagine heaven isn’t all that different day in and day out, and where else would you be, having written Persuasion?

I have a question for you. How did you bear it? That creeping loneliness, the way it whispers in the darkness. Sometimes, lying there at night after my own domestic and industrious day, I wonder how much longer I can bear it. Do you know what I mean?

Surely you do. 41 years is short, all things considered, but long enough twice over for the “slings and arrows" part of life. I think the first time I felt this, concentrated down enough to easily coat the back of a spoon, was 16 or 17. Certainly I was old enough to feel the dread, the shuddering low in the belly, preceding a salty sting in the back of the throat.

The peculiar weight of loneliness became manifest at some point, and now it is a stone in my pocket, growing denser and denser, dragging me downward.

I am 24 now, almost 25. We’ve done away with terms like spinster, but I find some odd comfort in donning the title. It makes this loneliness mine, especially mine, instead of a malaise that seizes nearly everybody, at some point, for a time. It makes dressing up for weddings, where I am a guest needled with well-meaning, “you’re next”s, less painful. I am not just a lonely wretch, I am a spinster. And what happens to spinsters in novels? More often than not, grand romances.

When I was 19, I had a therapist tell me that I was waiting for someone to come and rescue me, and that this was not going to happen. Up until that point, I was a staunch high fantasy and sci-fi reader, and I don’t think of myself as particularly spiteful, but for years now I have devoured romance novels like a half-starved python. There is some thorn catching on the soft parts of me, satiated only by the tritest tropes.

I now understand one of my patients with both a stomach ulcer and an addiction to black coffee.

What did you do, Jane?

When the numbness began to set in, when the spectral faces of past paramours swam across your vision? Is that what spurred you, famous spinster, to the writing desk, where you penned your great works? I’ve studied you enough that I wouldn’t dare to call them romances, but there was always relationship drama and resolution in each one.

Was that how you outran it? Not quite willing it; rather, escaping the desperation of willing it by writing success into being? Imagination with an outcome, with stakes. More than a daydream; a story.

You have to understand how much this pricks at me. This is my spindle, that I am warned away from by all who love me and despair with my despair. My dearest G tells me there is peace to be found in sublimation, a concept I think you would have liked, and I think he is right. When I write by myself or with him, I find that the tornado of inner turmoil quiets, as if the writing siphons off strands of wind, consuming them, making my grief small. From a looming fog that chokes my lungs to a golem that fits in my fist--what a transformation! What magic do we have at our disposal!

But one cannot always write. Sometimes the words do not come, not for days and weeks.

There are other spinsters, those who do not make it into your suite of novels. These are women intimately familiar with the spindle, the shuttle, the loom. Spinsters in the laboring sense.

I would not be better off as a spinster from your century, inhaling tiny clots of thread and bent over in back-breaking angles to manage huge machines. But perhaps pushing deeper into time, looking upon an older mistress of the spindle, I could find something to emulate. Seated around a hearth, with children and barn-cats playing at my feet, with an analog loom before me. Working on a rug, perhaps, or some kind of woven fabric for my wintry garments.

What would I do to while away the time? Repetitive motion after repetitive motion, my hands engaged in a familiar dance. The children wanting attention, the cats wanting a still lap to sit and snooze in. It would be time for a story, this one with a different pomp and gravitas to it. No longer sitting for hours to contemplate the next words, instead spinning a yarn for all present, spinning yarn for myself.

How lovely it would be to make something like that. Something with a slippery weight to it, that I could show another proudly. See, see?

Something material.

What did you do during grieving days, Jane, when you couldn’t manage more than a clause or two? I imagine you soft, human, all pathos and no logos. Did you weep? Did you tremble? Did you think of the past, and burn?

Someone must feel the way I do. So I sit here, and imagine that it was you. Someone formidable, someone feted. Someone no one would dare to call pathetic. There are many differences between us, but the most salient is this: I cannot turn my internal monologue against you, my love.

It is just as possible that this did not consume you. The ember at your center could have been about your writing, its volume, its acclaim, its pristineness. I extrapolate so much from the echoes of my heart in Persuasion, from Wentworth’s speeches and Anne’s melancholic reflections. You turned down a proposal, as did Anne, as did I. Like Anne, I too, “hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! Alas!” Were you wise and reasonable? Or did you long for it, too?

It all begins to blend together. I do not know where I, flesh and blood, begin, and where this literary grief ends.

There is the everyday pain, and then there is the one that seeks the tail of a special occasion. How did it feel, Jane, to watch those around you marry? Siblings, friends, then nieces and nephews? You once wrote to your niece, Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection, which is consistent across your works. None of our heroines marry for anything else, but none of them remain, die, unmarried either.

And then there was your fiance for a day, who by all accounts was no one to inspire Affection. But there were other men from time to time, and says Anne: “when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure.” How could anyone write this without having known the feeling firsthand? Manifold?

I still ache for past loves. Perhaps too much. It seems to be my default setting, and I cannot find a lasting way to change it. Every time I think I’ve shaken off the warm, golden memory of a grizzled smile or specific laugh or gentle touch, it returns to me out of the ether, still just as devastating on the hundredth remembrance.

A part of me savors it, Jane.

I wish you had taught more readily in your novels, which I seem to read the way one reads a self-help book, the art of letting go. There is plenty of attempting and failing to let go that ends in a triumphant love, with the notable exception of silly Marianne Dashwood and her scandalous, villainous first love, John Willoughby. Then again, what could she do when he became engaged to another woman? (Pine and fall ill, yes, but she bounced back eventually, triumphant love a mere add-on.)

Another question: if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what is this?

It goes without saying that I am a real girl, not a puppet made of wood or a character made of inked paper.

As fanciful as I can be, I am not Sex and the City-fying your characters and declaring, much like one would a Zodiac sign, that I am a Marianne. No, I imbue her with my own self, and entangle myself too deeply with the stories. I can drop myself into nearly anything but Emma, who I adore but do not find sufficiently similar for projection and introjection.

More new-ish ideas, these less lovable because they are like mirrors. Projection casts the negative (usually) in the Self upon the Other, and introjection the positive (hopefully) of the Other onto the Self. When I first read Sense and Sensibility, I could not stand Marianne. I found her selfish, sniveling, flighty; she whose greatest crime was having a badly broken heart.

That is projection-introjection, my dear Jane. To go from hate to love, with minimal dissonance in between.

I am not Mari/anne. She is not me. But were you imbuing them--Anne, Marianne, Emma, on and on--with yourself? Is that what all creation is at its base; a defense mechanism?

Jane, my dear Jane. Why do I pick up this pen and write to you, of all people? Why do I disturb your image and ask it to see me in all my torrid splendor?

My therapist says nothing is as extreme as I may want it to be.

You were not so lovelorn, your works not so sublimatory (yet certainly sublime); I am not so flighty, so selfish, so sniveling. I am less caricature, more woman. You are less alive, more dead. Your good opinion cannot exist, and I can only chase it.

Let this letter be a mechanism, then. Let it be intricate, delicate, so fine and so dys/functional.

Let it be mine, if it is nothing else.

I love you, Jane. It is always worth repeating.

--a a khaliq.