Personal History with Emily Dickinson

Continuing the quest

Answering 50 Questions is a monumental undertaking!

I answered the first 5 questions in previous posts and working my way through a few more answers, although not necessarily in order of the list.


This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,–
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me! (Emily Dickinson)

Emily and I share a personal history through common experience…we both lived as observers of the world, and not as participants. We lived in our heads, but not in the present, nor with much presence. Living in one’s head is lonely, how ever fertile. “We deceive ourselves….and then, others.”

I struggled, as did Emily, with knowing I had a wild and passionate heart, but a controlled soul. The juxtaposition of a wild heart and controlled soul do not easily co-exist. 

Watching the film, A QUIET PASSION, I was reminded of my former self… my ‘Emily-like’ self… my  ‘observer’ self…my self before meeting my husband. I have not been like Emily in many years.

I completely understood Emily’s response in the film to the headmistress when asked about how she ‘felt’. “I do not feel.” No, Emily, we did not ‘feel’ in the sense of touching or being touched by real things….we conjured feelings and longings through imaginings. Not to say living with imagination isn’t a very good trick when one’s life is somewhat devoid of REAL experience, but it’s SAFE to live in one’s head….it’s a RISK to live in the world.

When I was 21 years old, I remember thinking after leaving a meeting of FRIENDS how SAFE life was while sitting in meeting, but outside the meeting walls, the world and all it had to offer was… scary and an expense to be avoided.

Rescuing the Reluctant

I met my husband-to-be on August 8, 1971. We did not have a smooth first encounter, but eventually I was fascinated with his exuberance. He was tan, I was pale. He was tall, I was shorter than I will admit. He was fit, I was thin…but not fit. He was happy, I was suitably ‘artistic’. He was ALIVE, I was pretending to live. 

My husband was fond of telling people he ‘saved me’ from being a “hippie.” But, I was only a hippie fashion dresser….I never used drugs and barely drank alcohol and did not subscribe to the ‘free love’ ideology.

I would scoff-off his remark as ridiculous, but, he did ‘save me’…he rescued me from being a reluctant participant.

The Art of Living

Unlike me the observer, my husband was fully immersed in the activity of THE ART of LIVING. He was a gifted athlete. 

He was connected to the moment and sucked everything possible out of each one in which he dwelled.

His ability to do this mesmerized me. 

Most of the time, I floated, like a balloon filled with helium…detached, watching, writing, singing, but not truly ‘alive’ in any sense of ‘felt’ experience.

I wrote ‘ethereal’ songs. My husband pointed out most people didn’t understand what I was talking about. So, I began to write songs based on REAL things….RIVER is the first song I wrote for him.

The Gift

My husband taught me to live in the world; to feel, truly feel an experience.  He forced me to act on my passions. He made me take risks and I grew into a whole person, instead of remaining the ‘artistic’ shadow observer I had so carefully nurtured.

He insisted I join in at gatherings and actually walk up and TALK to people, not stand in a corner or sit in a chair WAITING for someone to engage me in conversation. I was used to tete a tete with musician friends; substantive discussion for hours about music and it’s construction, poetry, the music industry, and of course, Viet Nam War politics. 

On the way home after a particular “function” he asked me, “Did you have a good time?” I responded in my most ‘Emily’ like manner, “I am not fond of superficial, meaningless bits of greetings and hallow inquires,” and he patiently explained, “But, you must understand people want to enjoy themselves at parties, not discuss ad-nauseum the philosophical differences between Jung and Freud” “Oooo,” I retorted, “let’s you and I discuss that topic!” To which he flatly said, “I’ll be late for my tee time.”

….that was the contrast between us.

He encouraged me to participate in physical exercise….NOT just mental and vocal acrobat.

So, I became a runner (my best time was a 6:10 mile), power walker (longest walk 10 miles) and golfer (18 handicap was my lowest and I’ve had 3 holes-in-one!). I participated in a decathlon event and won second place. I took swimming lessons. I wanted to impress him.

Alive, but Hidden

I was used to what I referred to as ‘astro flighting’ I didn’t realise it was a disorder!… sending my body out into the world, but keeping my sense of ‘being’ protected. The first time I recall doing this ‘astro flighting’ was in 3rd grade. I was a pedophile victim, so I think it was related to having had that experience. I used ‘Astro flighting’ to allow me to hide in the world and not take any REAL risks.

I recall the first time I consciously ‘chose’ to feel all the anxiety…all the fear…all the excitement of performance. It was in 1987. I was at rehearsal for the IRVING BERLIN CENTENNIAL CONCERT with the Oregon Symphony Pops Orchestra. 

Before taking the stage I told myself, “feel this. Do not send your extended self out, and remain emotionally suspended. THIS is risk…THIS is wonderful…THIS is your dream, REALIZED. FEEL it.”

I have been ALIVE during performance since.

The Real Gift of No Exchange, No Return

I lost my husband three years ago, and I thought I would ‘return’ to being a shadow. I cursed losing him because I did not know how to LIVE without him coaching me, leading me… I believe I often strode and rode in his powerful wake. 

In Dallas


Capitola by the Sea


However, just recently I have realised one of the gifts he left me was that I am whole now….I cannot return to being just an observer….and that’s where Emily and I part company. 

Emily waited all of her life for someone to make her real…I was shown how.


About marycatherinelunsford

On the quest to reinventing, Morphing into Author is my newest adventure.
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