"Daphne, one of the great mysteries, is the soul in its solitariness. She would rather be with animals than with humans, as any of us might sometimes feel, especially when we have been the victim of human atrocity or stupidity. As a teacher I often thought of the resistance of my students to learning not as a personality problem, but as the necessary unwillingness of the Daphne soul to submit too much to our humanitarian insistence on enculturation."
~ Thomas Moore ~
ORIGINAL SELF: Living With Paradox and Originality
What is it about a woman alone that so unnerves people? I mean truly alone. She is the scary witch on the hill behind creaking Victorian gates; the odd woman on the street pushing her grocery cart full of all of her worldly belongings; perhaps the woman in the tower. Why do we seem so strange, we Daphne-Women, simply because we live alone and in our solitude create our lives, with our animals, our familiars, our work and our gardens, music and the tending of the hearth, knitting, weaving, crochet, the cooking, the kissing of silken noses with a wary parrot on our shoulder.
It is not about my childhood, which I have already written enough about, it is not about the middle years of marriage and family, it is coming home to myself, to the woman with the dog, safe with a book, hidden in her room, living a life confusing to others. I was once punished as a young girl because I wouldn't go to a football dance with all the other girls. Finally, when I threw up hysterically my mother let me be. I cried into my dog's fur, and then settled in with a book, my little journal and pen, under a shadowy light on my nightstand, and was finally at peace. I was a recalcitrant student, although not so much as to do enough damage to get into trouble, but nothing on this earth can push me into the outside world that those around me would have me seek. As an adult I have been a committed autodidact, reading constantly, studying on my own, carrying boxes of books out of the library, sitting alone for hours writing. This is my way of being in the world. I am content with this life.
Or perhaps the problem is what May Sarton expressed so well in her poem, "Sisters, O My Sisters..."
"We who are writing women and strange monsters
still search our hearts for the difficult answers."
I am a writing woman and there are those who might think me a strange monster, but I think most of all I am a woman at midlife trying to figure out what life means now and where I go from here. I have been writing a lot about solitude. As a journal writing teacher for 30 years what I know is that with journals there are several things that happen. There are the daily details; there are the momentary obsessions; there are the seasonal changes (and surely, midlife is a season); and there are certain specific issues that appear as leitmotifs all throughout our life and our writing. I was an only child for 20 years, a wife and mother for nearly 30, and I have been a woman alone for nearly ten. There is the possibility of a life with someone I have known for 6 1/2 years, but it is as uncertain and odd as the rest of my life, which is why the shoe fits. No other shoe would fit so well. And if not her, I will live with my bevy of animal companions, write, garden and create secret magic in hidden places. We all do that, but very few admit to it. How many hidden places are there in your life?
I just walked in to the kitchen and kind of chuckled. I was thinking that any reader of this blog might begin to wonder if I will ever write about anything besides solitude, the woman alone, animals everywhere, and the garden in all it's glory. Well, I can't say that I will and I can't say that I won't because I just don't know. This is where I am now. This is the part I'm trying to figure out. I think learning about oneself and one's life path is like parking a car. Oh God help me if I have to parallel park. You go in at one angle and that doesn't work. You try at another and go up on the curb. You barely miss hitting the car in front or behind the spot you're trying to get into or both. Finally, you ease in, and collapse on the steering wheel is sheer disbelief. You sit for a few minutes to catch your breath before you can manage to get out of the car, and then you head in the direction of your next challenge.
When you are in a major transition in your life it is just like parallel parking. You have to keep writing about it from many different angles to get at the answer, to discover the truth. The reader might be nodding off just about now, but I think I'm getting somewhere!
It is past midnight. I am still going strong. I am not much of a drinker but I have next to me a glass of cold water, a half glass of merlot, and I am eating Twizzlers. It's an odd combination I know, but it's what writing monsters have past midnight. Eating Twizzlers, sipping Merlot, and reading Colette.
This book, Earthly Paradise, from her collected writings, is a big fat hardcover and you should see the mess I've made of it. Highlighted, underlined, notes in the margins, post-it notes in every color of the rainbow sticking out here, there, and everywhere. Colette died the year I was born. I was born in April of 1954 and she died in August. I have always felt a special connection to her. This book is my prose bible and the spine has been glued, re-glued and then some. It was published in 1966 and has the thick sturdy pages one can really sink their teeth into. Books today are just plain sad.
Where are the old beautiful books? When I go into an antiquarian bookshop I will buy a book on anything at all if it has vellum pages that were cut, gold leafed, and a multi-colored image stamped into the leather cover, worn soft from age. Usually poems, if I'm lucky Keats or Shelly, but often some long forgotten poet, and the book goes surprising cheaply. I once coveted a tiny, complete Bible that had very thin paper, the softest red leather cover I had ever felt, a golden cord wrapped around it, and it was in a glass display case at the register. I really didn't care about reading the Bible (frankly it was so little I would have gone blind) but that book, oh, I just wanted to touch and hold and feel and smell that book, rub the butter-soft leather against my cheek, and oh, to hold something so old and beautiful is worth more than all the gold and diamonds in the world. I am a hopeless romantic with a passion for old books...
My, I've gone astray and no it's not the merlot, I've barely had any.
I have to be very careful with this book of Colette's writings because it is full to the brim with pressed pansies from my garden, now translucent with age, and precious, oh so precious, because they were from the garden I lived in while raising my children when I made a quarter acre garden in the shape of a body of a woman. The chest area, the breasts, were a heart shape made of 60 roses, each rose circled with pansies. 33 flats of pansies, and yes I dug every hole, planted every rose, every pansy, and the rest of the large garden which I tended lovingly and sat outside in to dream and write, little realizing what I'd made, this woman shaped garden, and I went at it with such a vengeance my right/shovel foot was badly hurt and a year later required the surgery that would leave me walking cattywompus forever. The year after that I left the garden in the shape of a woman for a real woman. Life is full of clues but for the most part we are too blind to see them.
Just now, with little Sampson, my velcro pug is in his usual place, asleep on my feet (if I move slightly he scooches over to put his head on my foot again...). I was reading Colette writing about her little French bulldog. She loved her and toward the end of her life the bulldog was her constant companion until she died. This passage brings me full circle to Daphne, alone, with her animals, (...although Colette of course was married to Maurice Goudeket who was her dear companion until she died.) and though Colette was married at the end of her life to a dear man, she had led quite a life, been with men and woman, loved the country most of all and loved her silence and solitude so that she might write daily under the light of her blue lantern. In this passage about her bulldog, she writes...
"...Such is the normal rate of a bulldog bitch's heart. How many times will this one survive her emotions? A little French bulldog, as I am beginning to know, wears itself out in ten years. Even then, it requires special treatment. My long silences, my immobility while writing protect her from herself, from her passionate curiosity from her fear, present at every instant of the day, of feeling herself an orphan, and from her morbid need to listen to and remember human words..."
"...The hearts of animals are always there, palpitating, swelling, and breaking in our shadow."
Perhaps this is why I love animals so. For their tenderness, their vulnerability, all the while fiercely protective of we, their owners. An animal lying belly up beside you is showing the ultimate trust, and if you are like me, you get used to a pug sleeping on your hip as you are on your side. He fits perfectly and it's quite comfortable. Loves pours forth from my being like a waterfall. Animals enculturate far better than I. For me, a soft teddy bear of a boy snuggled next to me and a big black dog on the floor by my side make me feel like I have a life full of riches, with all the other animals asleep around us as well. I whisper, "Thank you God," and I smile. A small boy starts to snore and another day is done.