I Don't Understand Emily Dickinson


I don't understand Emily Dickinson, neither would she understand me, and none of this matters. 

But I love her poetry. Her bold, uniquely original style of writing  -  the untitled poems, strewn with dashes and irregular capitalized, and often extremely sparing in their language. An apparent rush of words - an experiment in spontaneity, following her stream of consciousness. For instance - 


The Brain - is wider than the Sky - 
For - put them side by side - 
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside - 

The Brain is deeper than the sea - 
For - hold them - Blue to Blue - 
The one the other will absorb - 
A Sponges - Buckets - do - 

The Brain is just the weight of God - 
For - Heft them - Pound for Pound - 
And they will differ - if they do - 
As Syllable from Sound - 


When I first encountered Emily Dickinson, I fell in love with her poems. Intrigued, I looked up her stories. I am always curious about the personal lives of artists and writers, particularly female artists and writers. 

Emily Dickinson was considered an eccentric by many, she was known for her reluctance to greet guests and later in life, to even leave her bedroom. She never married, and most friendships between her and others depended entirely upon correspondence. Dickinson was a recluse for the later years of her life. 

It seemed that Emily Dickinson had lived a life that was the complete opposite of Anais Nin. An extreme introvert. But her free flow writing suggested otherwise. 

She was perhaps flying so high in her Brain of Sky, immersing so deep in her Brain of Sea,  connecting so intimately with her Brain of God that she did not feel the need to even leave her bedroom, and to do anything that is out of her realm would be too onerous a task - to greet others, to engage in trivial, non-essential conversations. 

In a way, I feel I do understand her. Although I can be quite outspoken and loud at times, I also consider myself an introvert at times, especially during the period of creation. I also feel that most socializing was a waste of my time. I could not stand shallow small talks, gossips, draining my energy. 

However, I know that I cannot be a writer living like Emily Dickinson. I tried and failed. 

When I first heard about Dickinson's story,  I found it fascinating and was eager to experiment,  thinking that the reason why she was so productive in her literary life (nearly 1800 poems) was perhaps that she never left the house! 

I stayed at home for an entire week, thinking that I would just write and do nothing. But I found, in the end, I became sad and even a little bit depressed, and I wrote very little.

I realised that I could not just be a full-time writer sitting in one place and write. I need the beach, the sun, the forest, or maybe a bohemian cafe. I also need movements. I need to dance, to do some yoga. I need to travel. It is a flow among all these things that make me happy, fully alive.

My energy needs to move, so the poems can come to me much more effortlessly. When my energy is stagnant, my writing also becomes stagnant. 
I can't understand how Dickinson could just stay at her bedroom all the time. Wouldn't her energy become stagnated, wouldn't that really impact on her health (she died at the age ofo 55)?

I would die living like Emily Dickinson, as in my spirit would die.  


After not having travelled for two weeks, I felt my itchy feet are coming again. Luckily I'm off to Bali and Thailand in two weeks time. I must be a gypsy in my previous life (so is this life). The Sufis are also nomadic souls and I am a Sufi, it makes total sense. I want to roam the world freely and I know I will. Even if I have been to many countries, still I felt it was not enough. It seems that the insatiable wanderlust could not be cured by travelling more. The more I travelled, the more I realise that is still so much I haven't seen and the more my desire to keep on going. 

I also found that I like to make things difficult for myself. When things are too easy, too comfortable, I may take it for granted and lose interest quickly. Even when it comes to writing, I like to write in different places. And after writing in the morning, I also need to do something different in the afternoon. Writing a full day doesn't bring me too much joy. It started to feel like a duty and obligation, not a spontaneous flow of joy. 

That is perhaps why I cannot stand a well-organized domesticated life for too long. I can settle down for a short while, but then my soul yearns to take off again, it needs adventures and I couldn't help it. I can't stop my soul wanting what it wants to do. 

I am more like Elif Shafak, the normadic Turkish writer who is also a lover of Sufism. She admitted that she had to change places all the time, she can't stay at one place for too long. She opposes marriage, but eventually, she did get married. However, even after marriage, she still decided to split her time between London and Istanbul (her husband is based in Istanbul), commuting between the two cities to see her husband. She said she did this out of love. I can totally understand where she is coming from. 


Alas, human beings are perhaps the most complicated animals in the world to understand, our restless mind, our complex emotions, inconsistent behaviours, contradictory statements. 

Every human being is utterly unique. Perhaps no one can fully understand another human being.  Not even our intimate lover, not even our parents. I have given up on understanding others. My job in this lifetime is to know myself. There is still so much to know about myself. I feel I have only started to tap into my unconscious and there is still the trunk of the iceberg that awaits me to explore, to uncover, to unveil. 

So my dear,  strive to Know Thyself.