When you’re reading Mrs. Dalloway on the train home from teaching at Rikers and you remember a conversation you had at the beginning of the summer with your therapist, when the two of you established the room as a metaphor for your life—you go to your room (which can be anywhere really) to be alone, to reflect, to create, but if you spend too much time in the room you forget about all the other voices outside of your own head. And you marvel at Woolf’s internal dialectic of finding a room of her own while remaining open to every voice she hears on the streets, in the shops, in the government facilities, at parties, at funerals and wakes, on the trains and omnibuses, all pulsing and pressing against her—you feel those voices too, and you wonder at the voices of the inmates you teach, and who teach you, voices informed only by the monotonous day-to-day of waiting for the freedom you are enjoying at this very moment. You feel those voices within you, and recoil at the sneering use of the term “social justice warrior” to belittle the impulse to serve and share space with people who don’t share your privilege on the assumption that this feeling of well-being, of expanded consciousness at serving friends you might never make if you didn’t seek them out when they were at their weakest, is somehow an ulterior motive for the service. Remember, duty is also an ulterior motive, as is the desire for a pleasant afterlife, as is any moral authority you may presume. There’s nothing so pure as the kindness of an atheist, a simple act of unselfishness that never asks to be repaid. Catherine Ann Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean sang this, but Virginia Woolf could have written it. The voice is the same.

What are the Sneaky Feels?

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AuthorJohn Proctor