Virginia Woolf sat in the library at Oxford imagining the books that Shakespeare’s sister didn’t publish.
Sometimes when I walk deep in Widener’s belly, I feel the incredible pressure of the books that are not there.
There is a ghost Widener full of books that did not get written.
There is a book I did not write when I put all my energy into not-eating, and there is a book I did not write when I felt weird because I was in love with a girl. There is a book I didn’t write when I was dodging sexual comments, and there is a book I didn’t write when I was feeling inadequate for not receiving sexual comments. There is a book I didn’t write when I was sick with what I thought was love.
There are books that you didn’t write, either.
There are books you didn’t write because you were waiting for someone to make a racist comment, and there were books you didn’t write because someone made a racist comment. There were books you didn’t write because you were trying to figure out if it was really a racist comment and everyone said you were being too sensitive, and you wondered if maybe you were.
There were books you didn’t write because you are sensitive, because of course you are sensitive, because the half-sleights and the full-sleights wear you down and all the books in you start rioting and say: Hey! I am a book! Let me out, let me out of here!
But the book cannot come out because there is no ramp into the building where the book writers are supposed to hang out.
And the book cannot come out because you needed a job and no one told you The Crimson gives federal work-study.
And the book cannot come out because everyone keeps saying you’re a girl and you know you’re not.
And the book cannot come out because you are not the kind of person who writes books.
There are more.
There are books all over the country. There are books in farms and there are books in cities. There are books without pencils or laptops to set them to the page. There are books that will not be accepted by publishers. There are books out of print. There are layers upon layers of unwritten books, books receding forever away from the publishing house, the internet, the library. Beside each Widener, there is a Widener of ghost books, saying I am here, I am here, I am here.
Because feeling is often less valued than calculation, let’s do some math.
Let’s say you and I spent an hour a week in high school not writing books because we felt so weird we were queer.
Let’s say we spent 10 hours a week freshman fall feeling so dumb and unwanted—because we are sluts, because how dare we expect to both fuck and be taken seriously?— that we could not work on our books.
Let’s tally up all the days it was difficult to get out of bed.
Let’s tally up all the time we spent turning to the side, and then to the other side, so we could see our bellies in the mirror every morning before showering: grabbing our thighs, grabbing our other thighs, doing it again. Five minutes a day for 10 years.
Let’s tally up all the times we were hit, and worried about it.
Let’s tally up all the times we were hit, and worried about the person who did it.
Add up the bullshit. I don’t mean the time spent with family or lovers or friends. I don’t mean the hours you spent watching Netflix in bed, the hours you spent kissing, the hours you prayed, the hours you spent saying fuck homework and smoking weed by the Charles with your roommates from freshman year.
I don’t mean any of that. I mean the hours you spent not-writing because you were preoccupied with being the kind of person who can’t or shouldn’t or who isn’t able to or can’t afford to write books.
Add it up.
Say it takes 20 minutes to write a page. Say you can write three pages in an hour. In a hundred hours you have a book.
How many books could you have written?
How many books are here right now, pushing against the heads of their authors, unable to emerge?
How many books sit in that ghost Widener, points of imponderable gravity, refracting light, calling I am a book. I am a book. You don’t see me, but you feel the weight of my absence. And I am here, I am here, I am here.