HOW EMILY DICKENSON TAUGHT US TO GRAPPLE WITH THE ABSTRACT.

Emily Dickinson. When we hear her name we think the Mother of slant rhymes, experimentation with poetical techniques, and maybe the word strange. (I mean, she wore just white dresses for like ever. Maybe she was trying to pull a Steve Jobs before it was cool?) But anyway.

Born in 1830, she grew up in a world full of constraints and limitations, especially as a woman. She was expected to call on acquaintances and in return, entertain guests. But such formalities seemed foolish to her and she spent much of her time alone, in her garden or spilling her soul on her paper.

Escape.

It’s the one word that seemed to follow Dickinson throughout her story. The poet wanted to escape from the confines of social norm. She wanted to escape the limitations of what was expected from poets of that day. She wanted to push the boundaries and make the abstract tangible.

After spending a few years in boarding school, Dickinson returned to her home and retreated into herself and her poetry. She drown herself into every word she wrote. She became one with her poetry.

The narrators in her poetry often knew of the inescapable limitations of life, but imagined escaping them anyway. She questioned and grappled with many confusing concepts, like death, immortality and religion. Writing them out was her way of trying to make them physical and something she could explore on a deeper level.

She defined the meaning of things without confining those things to what people in those days understood of them.

There is so much we can take from Dickinson’s life, but here are just a few.

Spill your soul.

Whatever your artform is, painting, writing, making, whatever it is, put your entire self into it. Make it so that people don’t know where you end and your art begins.

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

Challenge and Experiment.

Stand up to your “glass ceiling”. And then once you’re up there, shatter it. People might not see it right away, they might even ridicule you for it, but eventually they will see it, and see your strength. Try new things. Wear black and brown together. Mix orange and green. Experiment, make your own rules.

“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.”

Make the abstract tangible. 

Is something in your life confusing to you? What do you wrestle to understand? Create it. Let it seep into your artform and explore it. Paint it. Write it. Get it out, and then once it is in front of you, in a tangible way, grapple with why it confuses you and how you can better understand it.

“I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.”

Learn to find joy in small things.

Hunger for life. When you’re in your gardening, sweating and pulling weeds, study those stinking little potato bugs and find their beauty. Baking bread? Explore the smells of each ingredient and what they remind you of. Bring your past and your future into each experience you have.

“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.”

Confront life friends, wrestle with concepts that maybe don’t make sense. Make them real to you and explore them, find the joy in them.  


Teagan Olivia Sturmer is a maker and published author currently living in Nashville, TN. She believes that more people should enjoy the simple pleasures of matching pajama sets, hot tea and a good book. She makes and writes because it grounds her and gives her a sense of belonging. If she could have her way, it would always be Autumn and Winter, and always Christmas. You can find her work on Etsy at Muted Rose Mercantile, and on Instagram @teaganolivia


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