What is an epiphany?
A lightbulb moment?
The clicking of an internal switch?
It is all of these and more.
I believe we experience many throughout life.
I experienced an Aha moment while reading the master of epiphanies’ short story “The Dead” in his Dubliners. Who do I speak of? The one and only James Joyce. As I currently read Ulysses, I think of the passage in “The Dead” that illuminates in perfect words why I love writing so much. What it means to write. Joyce’s books are not an easy read. They require interaction. No breezing through each page, paragraph, sentence, even at times words. What are words? Sentences? What is their purpose for me? Sure, they are meant to convey a message. Each author has a different message, medium within a medium, but it is the following excerpt from “The Dead” that epitomizes the aura I like to convey in my writing and why it is an endeavor so dear to me.
“He stood still in the gloom of the hall, trying to catch the air that the voice was singing and gazing up at his wife. There was a grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something. He asked himself what is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of. If he were a painter he would paint her in that attitude. Her blue felt hat would show off the bronze of her hair against the darkness and the dark panels of her skirt would show off the light ones. Distant Music he would call the picture if he were a painter” (Dubliners. 211).
Painting a picture with words.
Not just any picture because each person will see it and read it in their perspective with hints from the author. As I read that paragraph over and again, I realize that this IS why I write. I have found myself making this statement throughout the years, but it struck me as I drank in Joyce’s words. This is writing. This is storytelling. Just as a painting impresses images into the viewer’s irises and psyche so does Joyce with his words. Words allow for interpretation. The audience deciding what shade of brown her hair will be or the sound of the music wafting from above the stairs. Each bringing their own experience, connecting with the existing ambience.
Her face is a blur, reminiscent of a scene painted by Claude Monet. Not completely clear, but we can imagine the emotions coursing through her as she stands on the stairs. Admired by the man who loves her, unaware of his ogling eyes as she is transported to another time or place as he is transported into his love of her. His realization of her beauty as a woman. Seeing her as a woman, not a wife, not a mother. This is painting pictures with words. It goes beyond painting pictures with words. This type of writing engages all the senses. It is universal. We all have that song. We all have had that love.
We all have distant memories or emotions which lie dormant within us. A volcano of feelings quietly simmering beneath the surface.
I travel from reality, finding myself standing in the center of the story of this couple, this moment. The epiphanic switch of realization as I read the description of this woman as if in an old photograph, her countenance hard to see. I imagine a small smile play on her lips, one hand held on her chest, the other daintily rests on the banister. Oblivious to all except the sound of a singing voice above her. Her chin upright, stretching her neck as close to the sound as she can reach. Her foot poised to descend to the next step. I use Joyce’s brilliant brushstrokes of words to form a single scene of impressionistic color and softness of sensation. I can almost hear the sweet song in the background.
Calming my own nervous twitter within my head.
My eyes drink each portion of the painting before moving on to the next. Making my way to what I imagine are old wooden steps in an ancient home, slightly brightened by dim lights. I see the floor, scuffed, aged as the women who live in the house. My gaze alights on his boots. I see his long overcoat as my eyes slowly move, along with the rhythm of the song, to admire his blurred visage staring longingly at his wife. An epiphany of his own written there as quieted love bursts forth. His expression soft. His eyes bright with lust. This is a scene of a couple momentarily residing in two different worlds yet standing within feet of one another. She shines brightly. The lightbulb of his conscience.
I have grown to love James Joyce’s writing in a deeper sense than most authors. He reached a place I had been unable to access but able to voice. Awakened. My mind excitedly active. I gladly participate in my vision of this blink of time in a story of what appears to be about love. A quick shot in a bigger picture. All the while realizing there is more to what I am witnessing, reading. It is a story of death, but the death of whom? The death of what? Someone she is remembering. Is this a past moment? The death of love? The death of a perception? The beauty of the most genius paragraph ever written. Or so I believe.
Epiphany gifted upon me by James Joyce.
For me, it is the death of uncertainty. With death there is birth. The birth of why I write.
I write to paint pictures with words.