angel in the house

by haywardhelen


For two months there has been an angel in my house. Many times I’ve asked her if she might leave, but she simply folds her wings, looks admonishing, and stays.


Eng Lit readers will know that the angel in the house is lifted from an essay by Virginia Woolf, who also entertained regular visitations from a critical yet well-mannered presence who would look over Virginia’s shoulder while she was trying to write, querying and interrupting her flow, forever pointing to the people who might be listening in.


‘I think I hate English even more than Science’, my daughter says to me at breakfast this morning. Is it my imagination, I ask myself, or is Emma glaring at me? Is she making the connection that I think she is making – that I was once an English teacher, and that I regularly write about the kind of ideas that she recoils from discussing in English class?


A couple of nights ago my son sauntered into my study after supper. My first impulse was to put my hands over the pages on my desk. Forcing myself not to move my hands from my lap, and to affect insouciance, Alex started talking about something completely unrelated to his childhood that I’d tried to capture in the pages on my desk. Even while Alex was in the room I heard the angel speak. ‘Why’, she whispered to me and only me, ‘are you writing about your family in such an intimate way?’ And even though my son has given me permission to write about his childhood, I breathed a sigh of relief when he shut my study door behind him.


I used to laugh at my husband, whose angel has a permanent place on his shoulder whenever he is writing. But then my own angel came to visit – and stay – and I have stopped laughing.


My angel arrived two months ago after I mentioned a friend in a blog post. On finding out about it a month later, she, my friend, took great offence. I had broken my friend’s confidence by using our conversation as material in a post, and she made it clear that I was no longer to be trusted. The angel’s verdict was instant. I had written out of egoism, riding slipshod over the feelings of a friend in my rush to express my muddled feelings about my daughter’s coming of age. And yes, there would be a consequence, mild given the hurt I’d caused – which is that for a good long while I would write no more blogs.


Initially I didn’t mind too much. I was too busy correcting a manuscript to write a blog post anyway. But then a couple of ideas that I had for a blog fizzled out. I tried again. Again my idea was a squib. Whether it was that I had nothing worth writing about, or that what I wanted to write about my angel wouldn’t let me to tackle, I wasn’t sure.


Just as when I take out my pencils to draw – I’ll draw a lemon on a plate or a vase of flowers – I’ve always written from life. I don’t write to entertain, to escape – or to hurt a friend’s feelings. Writing isn’t a hobby for me. For fear of sounding grandiose, I can feel the flutter of the angel’s wings even now, I write to understand life.


Clearly I hurt my friend’s feelings. Quite possibly even if she can find it in herself to forgive me she will never trust me again. And I will have to find a way of living with this without feeling permanently inhibited – which will be more complex than simply writing a blog about it.


Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I went to church by myself. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to church by myself. But it was the first Easter Sunday that I’d gone on my own. I’m not a great believer, but I do believe in life. And somehow Easter isn’t Easter without sitting in a congregation and hearing about the resurrection story. Not so my teenagers, who made it clear that they didn’t want to go. Nor my husband who is currently overseas working. And so I went along, early so as not to take up the morning. A new Bishop gave a thunderous sermon. Sadly there was no choir, which I missed. Even so I got something important from being there. Not absolution. Nor reassurance. But a renewed sense that we are all in this thing called life together.

And even though the angel was still with me, I left the church feeling lighter.