Emily Dickinson never knew she was famous

My sisters and I were the kind of kids that killed summer reading.

Sporting events weren’t necessarily our shining moments. But we could certainly kick some book brain ass when those bulletin boards came up in the library telling you what tally of pages equaled what size prize. It was a breeze. We would cash in big and we would cash in early.

My memory is a little fuzzy as to exactly how my hands landed a copy of The Mouse of Amherst. I don’t know if I picked it among a trough of prizes or if it was designated as my reward for whatever number of pages I had achieved. But whatever the journey, the destination was a seat in a swivel chair in our laundry room.

Our three-bedroom, seven people-holding house was not particularly quiet. So we all got creative with the space it offered us. Basement turned teenage hangout, hallways turned imaginary train station, and laundry room turned craft corner. My older sister, but not my oldest sister, had the strongest claim on this last place. It was namely her space for collection and reorganization of all those creative thoughts. But it served as haven for most of us to at least some degree. My mom’s genius was to place a table in there with plastic cabinets to store paints and fabric. I liked the spot because of the window. And I liked the window because of the light that would pour through. And because of the birch tree branches on the other side of the screen.

The book was tiny. The cover only half the size of what I would have considered a standard size book. And thickness - probably less than a centimeter tall.

But the pages were magic to me. They held words arranged in orders I had never seen. Adjectives weren’t following any rules. Punctuation held to no convention. Verbs were jumping tenses and subjects of phrases were missing in action. But with what should have been nonsense was the realest nonsense I had ever read. The meaning was magnified. The confusion forcing you to think longer. The veils making you look harder. The beauty letting you breathe.

This was poetry. This was poetry. This was poetry.

I’m not a diehard fan club member. Not an obsessive. Not an expert. No informed opinion. Really all I have to go on is the poems published in those fat English lit textbooks and this book a fraction of an inch thick. But all the same I love her. All the same I feel like I know her. All the same I want to be like her.

All the same, in secret... in the sunlit air of that laundry room and in this living room lit by lamps... I feel like I am like her. I wish it and believe it.

Her story astounds me. I’m intrigued. She wasn’t anybody anybody knew while she was alive. But after her ceasing to be her somethingness exploded. Exploded for everyone to know and see.

But I think her somethingness was something because no one knew it at the time. Or only a few knew it.

Her motives had to be pure. I don’t know what they were – but I know it couldn’t be fame, power, or wealth. Because she didn’t have any. At least she never did and never knew that she would.

This has me worried. That going public sullies the intent and the result. That it can’t be helped. The secret of her success laid in the absence of striving for success.

I know I shouldn’t be comparing myself to Emily Dickinson… Obviously. And I tend not to break the rules. But here I am breaking them. Because I’m not writing to you. Not writing to anyone. This is my secret spot. It holds no weight to break rules because I have no one to hurt but myself.

And the magic only happens when you don’t exist. When there is no one to impress. No eyes on my words but my own. When it’s just me in my sunlit space looking at the branches of my birch tree.

Yet I’ve found myself walking this impossible in between of brave and honest. The line between them is the true geometric kind. It takes up no space of its own. It just divides.

So I can be brave or honest. I can clench my jaw and resolve to hit this terrifying button with the word “publish” inlaid on its substanceless computer screen color. Or I can just let the words snake into sentences, paragraphs, and pages that no one will ever see.

My only solution is to live in both worlds. To be the nomad letting travel and transition be my home.

I spend some time in the brave zone then retreat to my honesty – hoping that while I dive into one, some remnant of the other has stained my skin and stays a little while before fading away. Hoping that I can trick mathematics into letting me have both. Hoping I can break the rules.