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An island self

''When the self speaks to the self, who is speaking?'' Virginia Woolf once asked. I had never thought about the inner voice in that particular way before. I only knew that whenever I sat down to my journal, or slipped a fresh sheet in the typewriter, or even put pen to a scrap of paper while riding the subway, something became complete. I was no longer alone. Or to put it another way, that shadow self was a twin with whom I could share my thoughts and feelings. Like a mirror, it sent back a recognizable image. I started a poem: We walk always with that silent figure, that gold ghost by our side. . . .

But the poem was never finished because my golden phantom refused to be mute. It had been vocal ever since I was a child, growing up on a Pennsylvania farm with only my dog and self and journal for companions.

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A writer friend tells me she escapes to her journal every day to center herself, or the demands of husband and offspring would scatter her to bits. I suspect that, like most writers, she harbors that same companionable creature. But going to the journal means not only searching for the center, but the circumference also. If one needs to know that innermost point, one must be able to find one's bounds. The shape is then established: the thin margin of clay that outlines the shape of the jar, the container that in turn shapes the ideas that come from it.

I'm not certain it's important to define this self who appears whenever I open that blue-bound notebook, a journal which at times seems like an island to which I take my boat in the evening. Calm sea, prosperous voyage? But the voyage is different each time; the island, though it has its bounds of ocean, is always full of changes, a new geography of terrain. What continually surprises is that - though I may come to it merely from a sense of need, without a thought of what to write - something starts, opens. Ideas begin to flow; horizons, skylines melt away. I am reminded that the words journalm and journeym have the same derivation.

So I might push the metaphor to posit the existence of an island self. There is the mainland, everyday self - that to which we return, as to a safe harbor, after our journeyings. But the island self has its convenient solitudes. Detached from the main, it keeps its distance, requiring one to make that journey which stretches the psyche just a little further. A small world unto itself, it has the capacity to miniaturize, or extract the essence of feeling or experience. And like the island - which gathers about its being the aura of some golden age, an Eden innocence - it is outside the press and clutter of dailiness. The air is clear, untainted. It is perhaps this almost legend-like quality of the island that makes one want to return, a lost part of the self which has not vanished after all.

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