Patricia Hughes’s Until the Eye Opens: Writings from Blind Faith is, perhaps above all else, a chronicling of her love affair with her writer self. Unlike all others, this particular relationship transcends both time and space. Consequently, it outlives or outweighs all other relationships, including those socially-constructed, compulsory ones meant to be unconditional and binding like the relationships with her mother, her father, her grandmother, her sisters, her lovers, and her sons. The relationship that most tortures and satisfies her simultaneously—the one that is, in the end, everlasting—is in fact this one with her writer self.
The brevity of the above description obscures, however, the complexity of Hughes’s undertaking in Until the Eye Opens: Writings from Blind Faith. For writing for and about a love affair that stems for and from the writer self is more than an exercise in revelation and confession: this kind of writing scratches at old wounds hiding under years of hardened scar tissue. It is self-serving and masochistic at once. For Hughes, writing is more than mere words: for her, written words represent life more than her actual life represents it. For Hughes, writing yields being.
She writes: “If I feel the call to come here where I am washing dishes, I heed. No more everything else first. The call is a miracle. Do what you do with miracles. I move in and out of consciousness, when I am the pen and when I am not the pen. All I need is to be like glass” (28-29).
What is implicit in Hughes’s work, what is buried under much easily identifiable deliberation and self-doubt and is far more difficult for us to access, is awareness of Hughes’s courage:
"When I write, I feel I must learn to shift to a lower gear, to listen for different sounds that don’t feel like the usual me. I haven’t written in almost ten days. I stay away from here when heavy stuff is clunking down around me in my real life: fights with Richard, a big decision about Shane. I rarely write about daily life. When I am calm, writing happens. When I’m an emotional tornado, writing stops. How do I do it—life and truth and writing? I am somewhere not in poetry and not in journaling, avoiding the truth and trying to find it. Wherever the Amazon takes me." (83)
Writers doubt. We doubt our worthiness, our ability, our audacity when we give our writing priority above all else and when we recognize that we expect our readers to also give our writing priority above all else. Our doubt propels us and makes us strive for more. We discretely document doubt; we discuss it with ourselves, with those who love us, with those who listen. We are often crippled by it or plainly stopped by it. What we do far less often is publish that doubt for our readers to become intimate with it.
For Hughes’s work, this is both a virtue and a weakness. Though she is courageous for doing so, there is a point in the narrative when, as a reader, we long for Hughes to discard the writer’s doubt—though doing so happens only rarely in the actual life of a writer. And yet, this is what readers need. We need the illusion of stability, of confidence, of defiance against that monstrosity of doubt. We need Hughes to more readily release herself from her self-imposed imprisonment. When Hughes releases herself from doubt, it is in the moments that Hughes’s writing is at its best. It is when she stops writing about writing—or her lack of writing—and starts writing about the life she feels she fails to live while she waits to write that she engages us most.
Hughes complains about her inability to write fiction. She asserts that she must write of her life, though she finds that difficult because she claims she doesn’t have a life of which to write. Then, as quickly as from one paragraph to another, magic occurs. She releases herself and illuminates the page. She gives us that life that passes for moments in between writing for her, while existing as nuggets of her Hughes’s truth for us:
"Catholic girls. Sixteen Catholic girls, hanging out at sixteen, on the corner for all to see. Downy fresh and Tide bright and smelling of Jean Naté and Heaven Scent. Pure white blouses, not a scuff on a shoe, hanging out there on the corner of the Bellville Turnpike and Kearny Avenue where the curb has been worn down to street level and old cobblestones moan through the macadam and the road bed has separated from the hill, where every sound of every truck on its way to Jersey City is stored in the vast empty bottomless drum of the land." (68)
It is in these wielding creeks of Hughes’s life that erupt between doubt and writing-doubt that become the most nourishing, both for us and her relationship with her writer self.
Patricia Hughes lives in Prineville, Oregon and loves to live close to nature. She works in the education field and received a degree in English from the University of California, Davis.
Dalel Serda spends most of her time documenting the lives of those overlooked by the status quo. She seeks them out both here and overseas. Recent chapters from a larger project have recently been published in Amarillo Bay and the forthcoming NewBorder Anthology (Texas A&M University Press).