The White Room

I awaken. Something is different. I blink the sleep from my eyes. Scan my body. Catch my breath. The pain. It’s gone. My eyes flicker to the window. The pine trees are blanketed with fresh snow. A gust of wind seizes the branches and the world is obscured in white. A long, smooth exhale. It is over. 

The lessons I’ve learned over the past year: 

— The difference between signs and wishful thinking. 

— For every demon inside of us there’s an angel. Sometimes they’re the same presence. I’ve identified mine and given them names. We work together now.

— You can pass the test, but feel defeated rather than victorious. 

I’m a profoundly different person than I was a year ago. Am I a better person? I really don’t know. 

I’ve entered a vast, white space. It is utter emptiness, a vacuum of cosmos magnitude, but not desolation. Eerie, but intriguing rather than terrifying. I stand still and listen with innocent curiosity. I have absolutely no idea of what is to come.

There is a recognized form of torture called “white torture”. It’s used by certain organizations and governments, including my own. A prisoner is entombed in a soundproof white cell. Her clothes and even the food she is served is white. All communication with guards must be written down. The only sound is the prisoner’s slippered feet shuffling across the white floor. And her thoughts. Eventually, the prisoner completely loses her personal identity. She will never return to normal.

Is it really amnesia? We are more than just beings who process the sensations of our environment. When the external is stripped away, we are confronted with the blank canvas of the psyche. Out of the white void, something else arises. If we let it. 

I have a new profession. One so alien to me and yet so necessary. I work in a temple of value and worth. Rigid compliance and conformity. The soft rasp of currency gliding through my fingertips. The tinkle of coins. When you touch too much of something it loses its power. It becomes silly.

I close my eyes at night and I’m there again. People have given me money for my work. Stacks and loose bills. Ones, fives, hundreds. Two-thousand and ten-thousand dollar bills. Dreamland denominations. I’m humbled by the generosity. It’s much more than I expected and I wonder if I’ll get into trouble for taking it. I look over at my coworkers, those above me. “Can I take all of this?”

Their smiles are amused and slightly sad. “Of course you can take it. It’s yours. You deserve it.”

I sort through the bills. Some are faded, torn, blood-stained. There is a small stack of twenties with a singed hole through the center, like a gunshot wound. This is all they had to give, but it doesn’t mean it’s all that you’re worth. You are not obligated to accept it. You never have been. I set the soiled bills aside. Mutilated currency is sent back to its origin and it is taken out of circulation. Forever.

The things that I’ve let go. Fundamental facets of my identity and purpose in this life. Who was I? A world traveler. One who will most likely not be welcome in a brave new normal. I refuse to betray my convictions. Even for the road. The vessel that carries my soul is more sacred than an airplane. I have my wilderness, now. I drift amid my trees, gloved hands caressing bark. Eyes lifted to the sky, following a raven’s trajectory. The crunch of my boots in ankle-deep snow. New adventures begin to sprout in my imagination. Whispers fill my mind: permaculture, agroforestry, foraging, herbal medicine. A wonderland surrounds me. 

Who did I wish to be? An author published by a recognized house. Alas, my story is not one that’s sought by the masses. It was not bitterness, but momentary resignation that blossomed into sweet liberation. I never truly wanted to be part of traditional publishing. I am too wild for that world. I have lost the last of my respect for it. Now, only my energy will be within the pages. It won’t be sanitized by outside influences to make it more marketable. I won’t be molded into a Brand®. I have enough faith in my ability as a writer. Those who are destined to read the book will find it. 

What seems like rejection is redirection into new frontiers. I wait and watch and listen. Try to identify this incredible feeling inside. Indifference, effervescence, wonder. Purity. I have passed the test. There are things I will never again allow into my life. If it means that I finish my existence alone, so be it.

Recede. Come home. No one can hurt you here. 

A mischievious smile creeps across my face. I was never really there, anyway.

Years ago, back when I wrote fiction, I wanted to write a story about a woman who believed she was a ghost among the living. There have been so many stories written about phantoms who believe they are still alive, and the story ends when they’ve discovered that they’ve passed on and couldn’t let go of life. The character I envisioned wanders the corridors of her workplace and the various haunts of her daily routine. She no longer bothers to communicate, because no one has ever acknowledged her. Then, one day, a man speaks to her. He peers deep inside of her and smiles. And she realizes she’s alive. She always has been. The others were incapable of seeing her. 

The softest hiss of a paintbrush gliding across bare wood planks. The walls of my little shelter. Just enough white to brighten, but not enough to erase the character. I lift my eyes and brush my hair out of my face with the back of my whitewash-splattered hand. The iridescent glow of snow light through the shiny new window. Snowflakes dance against the pristine window pane. I’ve been writing that story all along. How it ends remains a mystery.

75 thoughts on “The White Room

  1. An interesting introspective and retrospective, Julie. Something many will go through in these pandemic times. I hope the New Year gives you the opportunity to take the path where you want to be. Happy New Year.

  2. What a beautiful post Julie. Your words and photos blended wonderfully and took me on a soulful, insightful journey. I look forward to more of this new you and untamed writing! I hope it’s a beautiful journey for you.

  3. The vessel that carries my soul is more sacred than an airplane. I like that sentence. And of course the story remains a mystery. It will until we are no more, Julie, but so much to enjoy of life until then. Wishing you good health, serenity, and anything else you treasure in this coming year. 🙂 🙂

  4. You have a gift for writing that I’ve rarely seen in others…I look forward to all your posts a d have gone back to the older ones and saved some to read and re read. You can touch the inner soul like no other. And it all pairs nicely with the photographs.

  5. I suppose life is like a whiteboard. Something to fill in with experiences, with tasks, with observations. And every now and then to be erased, partially or maybe even more so – and then to be filled in again with new flavors to meld with the old.

    I hope 2021 brings you joy, and lots of tasty flavors.

    • Tasty new flavors…that’s a fun way to put it. So great to hear from you, Dave. Hope all is well with you. Happy New Year. May it bring you many delightful surprises.

  6. Ah Julie … what a nice way to begin the New Year. No one writes quite like you. I am always drawn into the wonder of your introspection and inspired by the insights.

    Also, I like the black and white photos.

    Peace and blessings to you in 2021. 🥰

  7. By coincidence, more snow arrived here overnight. This and your post remind me how much I long for the cold white places. No place has given greater pleasure and a constant longing for return than the Arctic. I am envious of your deep white winter. Is the last image your new home in the woods? I share your experience and views re publishers and bear in mind, they ain’t necessarily right. I hope to read your memoir one day. All the best for 2021, R

    • Yes, that is my little cabin. 🙂 My little sanctuary. It’s also in the second to last photo, hiding in the trees. I definitely live in a land of winter. I love it, too, but it starts to get tiresome come April. Regarding the traditional literary world…it’s all about trends now. Influencers and all that creepiness. So soulless and boring. I don’t belong there. I’m glad I came to my senses and stopped looking for an agent. I will publish the memoir after my cabin is done. 🙂 Have a fabulous 2012, Robin. Take care.

  8. “I won’t be molded into a Brand®.”

    Julieee! I feel you so. Only the best, bravest, sanest refuse sanitization towards marketing. Hug your white and walk your path, sprinkling black letters into words, just so. ❤ Much love and luck and health for you in 2021!

    • It does seem like a courageous thing to go against what society defines as success. It’s been even more difficult on me since I’ve been back in the USA. But I will walk my path, no matter what the consequences. So much love and joy to you in 2021, dear Manja. Thank you for being a companion on the journey. ❤

  9. Beautiful, Julie. I always feel a little tingle of excitement when your posts pop into my email. We leave 2020 behind with some lessons learned, and I’m glad you experienced growth and letting go and a deepening of self. Published books don’t matter much to the big story we toil over a lifetime, the story of our act of self discover that occurs with each day. That’s the one deserving of our time, energy, and devotion. Have a wonderfully creative new year.

    • This year has been one of the most emotionally brutal for me, but also deeply beautiful. We are led to believe that without outside validation, our work means nothing. It’s so important to write for ourselves, first. You have been a huge inspiration for how to own one’s own writing with grace. Thank you. May your 2021 bring you peace and inspiration, Diana.

      • Thank you for the kind comment, Julie. I learned early on in this writing adventure, that if I enjoyed the creative process and gave a project my every effort and my very best, it had to be enough. I’m glad you came through the old year with a sense of adventure. And I love your writing, always.

  10. I’m really intrigued by that story you wrote about a woman who feels like a ghost among the living. That’s a refreshingly new perspective because, as you said, other have done the other way around. I hope 2021 will treat you well, Julie. I can already feel the peacefulness and serenity of your cabin and its location, perfect to stay away from the constant hustle and bustle of big cities that are at times overwhelming.

    • Hi Bama – Maybe I will put that story into written word one day. For now, it feels as though I’m living it. I am so lucky to live where I do. Whenever I feel despair, I stop and feel where I am. It’s the most beautiful in the winter, because of the pine trees that surround it. Thank you for your kind wishes for the coming year. May 2021 be kind to you as well.

  11. Oh Julie – what a wonderful journey, full of awakenings and illuminations. When we stand still, the world is ours to hold, to cherish. We live in complexity and noise, but stillness comes when we embrace the emergence of thought, of understanding, of love. I feel the crisp air and the winter solace in your photos. Happy New Year, my dear friend. Hugs and more hugs.

    • The trick is to stand still, isn’t it? Let the world go on spinning. It seems that everything is done, and we do everything, to distract us from ourselves. Winter is indeed in full force here, the season of silence. Thank you so very much for your kindness, Rebecca. Wishing you much love and wonder in 2021.

  12. It’s funny when certain ambitions are set aside, how you’re left with the discovery you’ve always had them, albeit on terms of your heart’s own making and not the world’s. I look forward to reading your memoir when it comes, as your writing is always, for me, quite similar to a walk through the natural world in the way that it speaks. There are the dashes of color and form–the individual passages–and then there is the beautifully haunting sensation of the whole that wraps around me as a reader and has this boundaryless sort of feeling.

    I also loved your thoughts of permaculture and foraging and herbal medicine, etc. My wife and I just watched the movie Call of the Forest, which we much enjoyed, and then I finally read The Overstory by Richard Powers, which I didn’t know all that much about but found it resonated profoundly with this movie. A good combo. You’re blessed to live among the trees!

    Happy New Year, Julie!
    Peace
    Michael

    • Hello, dear Michael. Equating my writing’s effect to that of Nature is the ultimate compliment. Thank you so much. I’ve never heard of the movie or book, but will look into them. When I moved to the forest, I decided that I would let my own property be what it is – no garden, flowerbeds, lawn. I could never understand why people move to the woods and insist on landscaping. And gardens. Most of the effort is spent keeping creatures and “weeds” out. My sister, who teaches biology and is a plant wizard, suggested that I do agroforestry, which blends garden plants into the forest. The plants enrich the soil and there’s a symbiosis. Then I stumbled upon permaculture, which is a similar idea. I’ve always been clueless when it comes to keeping plants, but this is something that I can do and let it evolve into what it wants to be. I’m not even going to try to keep the animals away. They can eat whatever they wish. 🙂 Yes, I’m extremely blessed to live here. Happy New Year, to you, too, my friend. May it bring you deeper illumination.

  13. You seem to absorb life’s lessons with more grace than I can muster these days. I admire your ability to ferret out some dots of color in the monochromia and hope to find some myself in the coming year. Your cabin looks very snug among those spectacular trees – a wonderful haven. Happiest 2021 to you, Julie!

    • I’m glad you can feel grace in my words. It really doesn’t feel easy to muster it up, but I do sometimes have brief, peaceful interludes from the turmoil. They come more often, now, and stay longer. Thank you very much for the kind wishes, Lexie. I hope the coming year brings you much peace and clarity.

  14. A beautiful meditation on the year that is gone and what might come Julie. You seem to have travelled through the fire and into some kind of acceptance and hope for the future, whatever that might be. Wishing you all the best for the year to come.

  15. What gorgeous scenery you are privileged to have in your neck of the woods! Wishing you a new year full of that wonder and curiosity I know you will always keep with you. The best stories we write are the ones we live out in the world, full of temptation and contradiction and hope and disappointment. Looking forward to how your story weaves itself into 2021. Sending you much love.

    • Thank you, my dear. I certainly am fortunate to live where I do. I am grateful every day. May your 2021 be filled with magic and adventure. Much love back at you.

  16. “I’m a profoundly different person than I was a year ago.” I am also. Something landed and I no longer abuse myself as not good enough.

    “I’ve entered a vast, white space. It is utter emptiness, a vacuum of cosmos magnitude, but not desolation. Eerie, but intriguing rather than terrifying. I stand still and listen with innocent curiosity. I have absolutely no idea of what is to come.” I barely have words to respond to this, but know I ache for it.

    “Eventually, the prisoner completely loses her personal identity. She will never return to normal.” This too for me is both a longing and a destination that I believe is inevitable. Personalities are fabricated and useful to function in the world, but they are not the truth

    “Out of the white void, something else arises. If we let it.” Indeed. An emptiness that is full. I’ve heard of it. I’ve had glimpses of the lived experience of it.

    “Mutilated currency is sent back to its origin and it is taken out of circulation. Forever.” – I read this as a metaphor for psychological baggage. Gone. Forever.

    “The things that I’ve let go. Fundamental facets of my identity and purpose in this life.” I too, but more is yet needed. I still grieve that which must be relinquished.

    A beautiful and profound post Julie. I sank with pleasure into the depth of it. Thank you. You’re in a good place I believe.

    Alison

    • The external events of this year have been a major catalyst for profound change in many individuals. I’m truly awestruck by this feeling inside of me now. I still feel pain sometimes, but it doesn’t stick around. That which I cling to is what’s causing the turmoil. I let go a little at a time. It is very, very heavy baggage. And it all must be mourned. Who are we if we are not our wounds? It feels like I’m in the process of finding that out. As you so beautifully stated in your interview – “Life will live itself through you.” Yes, if we let it. Thank you for your companionship on the journey, dear Alison. Wishing you love and laughter in 2021.

  17. “In a white room, with black curtains at the station.” One of my favourite Cream (Clapton) songs…
    Angels, demons, ghosts. Soul. Money. The ultimate… demon or ghost?
    Books. Or a book. The ultimate book. Yours.
    I agree you’re not made for traditional publishing. I can only hope you will tell under which stone your book will be buried. As a treasure to look for.
    I have copied your text to a Word file. As often. To re-read at leisure. Each reading is a different “lecture” (In French of course)
    Different? Better? Is it important? As long as you learn? Your path is infinite. Right now it is plodding in snow. Tomorrow? Who knows?
    What is important (to me) is that you find peace in who, what, where you are. At least for a short while… I seem to hear that through your words. Good.
    Bonne année Julie dear.
    (We must get that beer some day!) 🍻
    Biz.

    • Mon cher Brian – That song did cross my mind while writing this. 🙂 I will certainly let readers know when the book is published. Will take a little while because I’m still working on my cabin. In the snow. But before I know it, it will be spring. Everything changes. Bonne annee a toi, mon ami. (Je t’ai laisse des commentaires de voeux de Noel sur ton blog, mais je pense qu’ils sont disparu. Maybe check your spam folder.) Yes, the beer will happen someday, hopefully with our dear Lisa, who seems to have vanished. Have you heard from her?

      • Common references. It is a great song.
        I like the idea of your having a place of your own. A cabin in your childhood place. Sweet.
        I will check my spam. But it can also have been erased when I have too many messages. WP has set a limit. And I have been several days in a row without checking…
        Lisa is fine. I whatsapped her a few days ago. They’ve put the boat “en cale séche” somewhere in Baja. Moved to New Mexico and she’s found a job again in NY. Remote. She has a very “pointue” specialty. Not sure I understand all of it. Something to do with modeling. So it looks like they’re ok.
        Biz. 💕

  18. A beautiful read, Julie. You are exactly where you’re meant to be, and what an amazing place to be ~ the last two photos bring a feel of serenity, nature, and the white quietness which allows for introspective thoughts. And through your writing, you allow us (your faithful readers 🙂 ) a glimpse of this white void and the creativity it has provided. The photo of the isolated ice-fishing hut makes me long to be there, contemplating nature and life. Beautiful. There is something about taking the time to revisit the past, enjoy all the memories (good and bad) and then move to the present with clarity…the future ahead, and your last paragraph eloquently summarizes the feeling, “The softest hiss of a paintbrush gliding across bare wood planks. ~ I’ve been writing that story all along. How it ends remains a mystery.” This is when life truly is enjoyed.

    • Thank you so much, Randall. I’m honored to have you as a faithful reader. 🙂 I’m picturing you in that fishing hut and it makes me smile. I’m sure you’d have provisions to keep you warm. Haha. Past, present, future. All of it is a mystery, when you think about it. And when you surrender to the mystery, then the magic happens. Hope you are well and enjoying yourself. Warmest wishes, my friend.

  19. A friend of mine published a book and she said she had it almost give the book up as not hers any more after it passed through so many proofing and marketing phases by people who seemed to have more control than she did.

    Anyway, love your story idea of the ghost among the living. It’s good to read your writing again as I’ve been a bit away from blogs this year.

    • So nice to hear from you, Alex. I’m not surprised that your friend’s book seemed alien to her after it was homogenized. Very sad. I may not end up selling as many copies as a marketed book, but at least the content will be mine. Hope all is well in your world. Wishing you a bright and beautiful 2021!

  20. This is such a beautiful post. It takes a long time to realize that what you want is usually no further than your own back yard. Funny thing is we only realize it with age. Wishing you a very happy and prosperous new year, Julie.

  21. Beautiful Julie, and you should be published .. 🙂 Your narrative creates visions within that touches my heart and soul..
    Walking in the ghostly existence of the fifth dimension I can whole heartedly relate to….. I have been doing some walking lately and I am sure I am invisible too…. Maybe we are creating our own existence zones 🙂 I doubt I will be traveling in the near future either Julie, Except in my mind and spirit…

    The Inner world is far more important than the outer world… Hold onto your White Space Julie…. We will need as much light as we can muster…
    Beautiful words and loved your photos…
    We had a heavy frost that was magical this morning…
    Sending you LOVE my friend… Huge Hugs ❤ ❤ ❤

    • I love the idea of having my own existence zone. 🙂 I like this white space, so silent and pure, with a soundproof window that peers out to the chaos and turmoil. It’s heaven. Sometimes I cross paths with other angels, such as yourself. And we welcome each other home. Wishing you many more frosty magical mornings, dearest Sue. Hugs back at you. ❤

      • So pleased I crossed paths with you Julie.. And along my walk yesterday another soul saw me and smiled… So rare to find these day as they hide behind masks…. So one soul recognised another enjoying the freedom of Nature in the cold frosty Sunny days sun… I swear our hearts reached out across that silence space…. as we bid each other a good day….
        Sending love across the airwaves Julie… We are Blessed in so many ways, because we understand the magic yet to come.. ❤ ❤ ❤

  22. Hi Julie, A thought-provoking read. “Rejection is redirection into new frontiers”…well said. I love your monochrome images which pair well with your essay. Wishing you a year ahead full of hope, good health and happiness.

  23. One of my favorite quotes comes from one of my teachers who wrote:

    “Life has no shore. Man does not find a safe port. Life slides along, and we pass.”

    I translated it, as best I could, and through a long life experience, now find it as true, as ever.

    Best wishes on your endeavors, wherever may take you. 🙂

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