A Starry Starry Night

It’s a room with clean white walls, hardwood floors, and a blue rug. There’s a big window at the rear of the room, open to the breeze, and white curtains that lightly billow. In the middle, there’s an old mahogany desk with lots of drawers, and a comfortable chair — sometimes blue, sometimes brown. I am wearing a warm gray sweater, and feeling something so profoundly different that I know I’ll wake up every morning for the rest of my life and have that one startled moment of disbelief before I comprehend that it really is mine — this room of my own. This place that feels like home, steady under my feet, worn and sun-bleached in all the right places, humming with such a calm sense of place that even during the night storms, when thunder splits the sky and rain beats against the windows, I feel nothing but gratitude.

Some things really never do change. I’ve imagined the same room since I was nine years old.

I also fell in love with Vincent Van Gogh in grade school, and I still get lost in his night skies and fields of flowers. There’s something about his heavy-handed painting that makes me ache — that makes me want to jump into the scene and find comfort in the company of the Potato Eaters, or to reminisce alone under the awning of the Night Café.

I didn’t know then that Vincent and I shared a birthday. When I found out, it felt like an eerie, beautiful connection — even if one that was created out of nothing more than my want for a brother who could light a night sky with yellow swirls and ease the lines of weathered faces. Warren Beatty could never do that, even though he was also born on March 30th. I wonder if my mother remembered that detail from some horoscope section somewhere – I can’t imagine any other reason she would have picked Warren’s name when, in fourth grade, I asked who my father was. I actually believed her for two months, and read everything I could find about the actor and his sister Shirley at the Washoe County Library. I was such an idiot when it came to my mother. She never stopped lying, and I never stopped wanting to believe her.

In Minnesota today, it’s some ungodly number of degrees below zero. The wind is whipping up snow in cold swirls, the lights are flickering on and off, and I’m feeling the type of restlessness that comes from wanting to be somewhere else, not just in winter but in life.

However, like the room of my own, the dream of “somewhere else” is elusive. At 46, I still feel my desperate teen days of walking the highways and scrounging for food and friends in bus stops too viscerally to ever want to repeat the experience. Through four states and countless cities, I’ve learned – there’s more to leaving than merely being gone. There has to be a safe harbor, money to make it through the rough spots, a plan, a job. And right now, realistically, I’m at least three or four years away from making all of those things come together.

So I stand where I stand. And there’s a gnawing in my gut that won’t go away, no matter how many yellow swirls I imagine in my night skies, or how many weathered faces I seek to ease.

I’ve written a lot of crap lately, and I apologize to those who come to this blog looking for something better. The restlessness has gotten to me, and there’s a feeling of being torn between a world where I need the support of people, specifically you, and my turbulent interior world, where the story of Mila is scratching to get out – but I’m so afraid of spending/wasting more time writing another rejected novel. There are only so many years left, and the roads are narrowing with each one that passes.

And I’m not oblivious, although I often wish I could be. A hurt world is seeking humor and finding relief in comedy. Even bathroom comedy is more welcome than reality right now. When there is a drama, people want a happy ending. They want the slumdogs to miraculously become millionaires. They want the child actors to be lifted up out of poverty in a day, in a month, and they are willing to suspend every other truth in order to create a scene that’s as simple as good vs. evil – and where good, in all of its innocence, ultimately triumphs. Life is just not that clear-cut, but that’s another story.

This story is about standing where I stand, and knowing that there’s no solid foundation under my feet, and no room of my own or redemption on the horizon. And somehow, ironically, I have to make peace with that.

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer’s day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.

Swirling clouds in violet haze — swirling clouds of snow. And somewhere, someplace, someday. . .a room of my own.

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27 comments

  1. First of all, there has never been a time when I haven’t appreciated bathroom humor. When all else fails, shit is funny!

    And second of all, you are a great writer. I hope your story causes you to itch enough to get it out.

  2. Add a chair in the corner of the room. Something overstuffed with a faded fabric that was once a bit too bold but now is just right in it’s shabby chic glory. Invite a friend over to sit in that chair and talk. When it is my day for the invitation, I want to discuss how hard it is to trust your talent, whether your medium is written word, paint, or paper and glue – doubt tries to move in and take over. I want to talk about community and how that is often the antidote when someone asks if you are kidding because you have always inspired them and they feel like the real phoney, never you. I’ll bring warm teas and yeasty cinnamon teas because we may be a while and need a snack.

  3. I cringed when I read, “I’ve written a lot of crap lately, and I apologize to those who come to this blog looking for something better.” I’ve not seen crap here. Maybe I’m too simple to recognize it, but compared to 98% of the other blogs I read… you’ve produced no crap.

    Our daily lives are certainly different, but I long for a room of my own too. A solid foundation and redemption? Sister, I hear you. I think of things my grandmothers endured when I’m attempting to make peace with history, facts, and feelings. It’s difficult.

    I was watching a special on Wallace Stegner recently, and I can’t remember the exact quote, but he conveyed happy experiences and lives make for just that, a happy life, but it’s a boring story. I don’t think “Mila, 17″ needs to be tied up in a pretty bow. I understand the roads are narrowing and your fear of wasting time. I truly do.

    Warm tea and yeasty cinnamon bread sound delicious right now!

  4. I feel a bit ashamed of every moment I’ve sat in my comfortable home and felt trapped by the weight and steadiness of the stability and predicatability of it all, the expectations that come with living the life I have.

    But whether we stand in want or plenty, the ROAD is narrowing for those of us in our late 40s. Sandi is right. We need to trust our talent, and believe in our place in the arts even when we can’t find a buyer. An unpublished novel isn’t a waste of time. It’s magic waiting to happen.

  5. This is gorgeous.

    I couldn’t help but smile when you made mention of the grey sweater, it made me think how you find comfort in that grey robe :) What you are putting down on this blog is of worth to me and every time I leave here I am inspired to write and to challenge my insides to do so more honestly. I love it here. You have made an amazing place here.

  6. But Jane, that restless soul is your muse and it has served you well. You write words that we ordinary folks understand(most of the time)and cherish. I’m sure there are many others who–heaven for fend–don’t read blogs.
    Jane you write because you are a writer and I suspect the best is ahead of you.

  7. i agree with Chris….this blog is 100% crap-free

    i feel this post, Jane, in the core of my being. the same way that Woolf quote stayed taped to my monitor for a couple of years. it was replaced by what is there now…amelia earhart speaking to me about courage…i would have taped up the pearl buck quote about the ‘truly creative mind’ but it’s too damn long…..i digress.

    i share a birthday, occasionally, the day honoring Christopher Columbus. i wished for years it had been a day earlier so i could claim a kindred spirit with John Lennon.

    can i get a copy of the novel?

    ;)

  8. Jane I understand completely the yearning of the security of having your own sanctuary, space, roots. Even though we “own” a home, I don’t feel that security. Probably because the truth of the situation is a bank owns this home and the stress from that realization is at times too much to think about so we just pluck along working working working for this home. If we were to do it again we would buy something much smaller and far less expensive. My dream is a little cottage with space outside for a garden, along the Mendocino coast where we can raise Katie with fresh air, peaceful and the beautiful surroundings of the Redwoods and ocean.

    I come to your blog and enjoy reading it because I enjoy you. Your blog & your writing is part of you and that’s what makes reading it. You are witty, intelligent, beautiful and have an abundance of common sense which in todays world seems to be on the decline. Never stop writing.

    BTW… the mother issue… I sadly personally get.

  9. Oh oh oh, put me on the ‘list’ of those wanting and waiting to read any and every thing you’ve ever written!

    I’m not a writer, but you make me wish I was; I’d want to write just like you!

    As to ‘crap’? I’ve never found any here so you really need to cut that crap talk out! (unless it’s bathroom humor which I’ve also been known to chuckle over)

    Keep writing, Jane. “It’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good”

  10. This is really, really good. I love it.

    I think your best writing is when you are sharing these pieces of yourself with us. You always have such a way with words, but when it is personal it’s so much more compelling. I’m just right there with you, in a way I have no words to describe.

    Mila, 17 is equally as good. I think you should pour your heart into it. Right now you can’t worry about the outcome … you can only create. There are never any guarantees. Time marches on regardless, so you might as well do something you love.

    And by the way, a nine year old child is not an idiot for believing her Mom. Nine year olds shouldn’t have to worry about that and I’m sorry you had to.

  11. Yeah Jane – everything here is awesome. Your writing makes me feel like a complete fake. Which I am when it comes to writing. But that’s cool. I don’t claim to be a writer – I just like the outlet of a space for some thoughts that swirl in my own night sky – :-)

    I feel for you when you write this. I am a 41-year-old woman and I have a room of my own. And although you say you have no solid foundation under your feet, when I read you, I get the complete opposite feeling. You seem to have lived such an incredible life that you are filled with these words that seem to flow out of you with such wisdom and grace. It’s weird how we feel about ourselves and our own lives at times and what others see and feel….

    I like what the last commenter said – to dive in with your novel. You have such a talent for writing and you love it so go….but if money is the thing then wow. I get it. I told Ryan on his blog earlier that the creative people always have it tougher in life….always. It’s in the soul. And there’s not enough room in “normal” life for creativity I think. We should value it more as a society – in the right ways….

    Well I loved this post. I’m hooked in general on Jane Devin.

  12. First, living in MN at this time of year is hard on everyone. When it’s coupled with angst it really can turn into just what you are describing. I know this well and as we both know – getting out, opening the window, strong sunlight and moving freely again are right around the corner and can’t come a moment too soon.
    Second, you know I think you are an amazing writer, AND I think YOU know it as well! And I know you hate quotes and cliches etc…but truly, Life’s a journey not a destination. You are stopping yourself because you are creating the destination in your head and are afraid of what it might be???…Knock it off would ya? Enjoy the journey and who knows, maybe the destination (the mood of readers/buyers you are predicting) will be different by the time you are done!…and as far as owning your space, here’s another one -you can’t take it with ya! Really…Jane, you can’t. Whatever you are feeling you did not amass into your profile, well, legacies are built by what you share and you have that already in family and friends and this blog. Now get finishing the book would ya?

  13. Dear Jane,

    I, too, fell in love with Vincent as a child. He was the subject of years of research on my part. I related to his mind, his oddity and his art.

    At 49, I’m lucky to have a room of my own. A print of “Starry Night” hangs to my right; Linda Woods’ “Compassion”, “Strength”, and “Namaste” hang to my left. Nirvana…and I’m grateful every day for the gifts and blessings I enjoy, cannot explain, but deeply appreciate.

    Thankfully, I no longer dream of somewhere else. I’ve found peace and my place in the world. I wish that for you, too, because this post — your work — conveys the gnawing from your gut to mine. Your words, both the joyous and the challenging, become visceral. The stories you tell are important, worth telling and worth reading.

    I hope that you’ll stand in your place and tell your story and proudly find the redemption you seek…as well as a room of your own.

  14. This is a beautiful post followed by many warm and loving comments. Jane, dream it and you can have it. A room of your own is waiting somewhere, I’m sure.

    I’d always wanted a house and when I got it I loved it so. Then I lost it. (divorce) I got a bit of money, but not enough for a house I wanted. So I bought a small house for my daughter. Within a few years so much happened I could write a book, but to make a long story short, my daughter came into a lot of money. One of the first things she bought – a dream of a house for me and my new husband. The first room of my own in the dream house I gave away to my dad. He died in it after six years. I used his money to build another room of my own at the back of the house with the best views. Dad’s room went to a retiring brother-in-law who pays rent so I no longer have to work. When my son tragically lost the love of his life and needed some place to recover I gave him my room with the beautiful view. I hope I will get it back soon as he seems to have recovered after several years. I have mourned its loss, but I don’t regret what I did. When I think of how much has happened to me, some very good, some pretty bad, after I was 46 I have to smile at those of you who see your paths narrowing. A man who lives across the street from me hurt his foot dancing. He is over 90. I am going to dance when I am 90 too.

    Thank you for your post, Jane. The days have been gray but your words have brought me sunshine. My sweater and my keyboard comfort me in this room which is not quite the one of my dreams.

  15. Wow — such warmth and so many beautiful thoughts from all of you. It’s so appreciated. Yes, an overstuffed chair, a good friend or two, the smell of cinnamon… I’d be there if I could.

    I failed to detail why the journey negates the destination. I’ll save that for some other time. Right now, I’ll just wrap myself up in your words and know that if the room doesn’t exist, the warmth does.

    Thank you, all.

  16. A dreamer lives forever! You have a voice and what I read here is genuine and thought-provoking. Be assured, you are a writer.

    Here’s a Wendell Berry poem for you:
    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
    — Wendell Berry

  17. Mary, Berry’s poem is beautiful.

    The peace (or not) of wild things is part of what I’m writing now. Elephant Girl as Elephant Woman. I don’t know how many people here remember the original story, it’s in the archives, but it wasn’t complete for me. Someone asked me in that thread why it was Girls and not Woman. It’s because it takes 40 or more years for the Elephant Girl to make that transition.

    And this will make no sense to those who’ve not read the story. :-)

  18. Much of this post echoes with me. I have a room of my own now, for the first time ever, and i feel the fear of failure at my shoulder. It’s huge. We have three children and no money. The weight of trying to make something better happen…it’s hard. I don’t want it to fuck up my writing.

    I love your love for Vincent.

  19. You’re a puzzle and you throw shards our way, not crap. Even your throw away lines “journey negates the destination” give me pause. I am currently contemplating that one between the mundane moments.

    Life does take a turn after 40; statistically speaking you are most likely closer to death than birth! Oh, that probably did not help, but I’m there with you. Remember, we choose to come here and read your blog! Hope you have a spring-like weekend!

  20. integrity impels our yearnings…wisdom the rudder steers our steps. the yearning desire for place stems from a hunger for validity, meaning, purpose — at least tis true in my own experiences….we have all …in thought..the ‘place’ wherein we can have the grandest oasis of all in which to dwell…so long as the dark cement walls of longing and the dusty shelves of shoulda coulda wouldas are banished…deeply drawn to what and how you write…keep on wherever you be…no apology…connects like mindeds…and therein that connection we find yet another safe harbor…grateful to find you on twitter and now here..thank you for welcoming me into your homes…:)

  21. Maggie, it’s so hard, especially with kids. Lack of time and too much stress leaves us with little energy to be creative. We have to carve it out where we can, and try to create a space in which nothing else matters. It’s not easy.

    I totally get where you’re coming from. I didn’t write nearly as much when my kids were little.

  22. You can work hard to get something you want, but may not have the time/energy/resources left to pursue other passions in any significant way. If you have two colliding passions, say writing and a desire for a room of one’s own, the journey to one may negate the other.

    I’m glad you’re here !

  23. I think you’re doing just fine, Jane. You’re a great writer. Keep it up!

    And I’m sharing a lovely award with you only I have no idea how to put a link in a comment so you’ll have to go to my blog to pick it up. Total lack of html skills here.

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