"And now we who are writing women and strange monsters
From The Collected Poems of May Sarton
I am starting a new page for the Dragonfly Cottage website, called Words, Words, Words ~ A Writer's Journey. It's sole purpose will be to help me keep on track as I write a book, a book that has been a decade, a lifetime, in the making. On this new blog I shall explore thoughts and ideas about writing in general, my writing practices, my resources, and day-to-day struggles as I write the book, The Road To Dragonfly Cottage. Certainly the writing and content of the book will remain private, but the blog itself can be a jumping off place for me each day, a day to let the chatter of my mind settle down and play itself out, warm up practice that will lead me into the day's writing. As a teacher of a writing practice for 30 years, I will also share many journal exercises along the way that might help other writers examine their souls and their lives in a way that might open up a critical vein to allow the blood to flow more freely into their writing. It must be fresh, even if we are writing about an experience that feels a lifetime ago, and it must be our living blood on the page.
It's very difficult, at times, to get writing done here at the cottage. Ask anyone who works at home. You either do nothing but write, save the absolute essentials of life like caring for the animals and trying to remember to eat as well, OR, you use every conceivable thing in the world as an excuse NOT to write. The laundry HAS to be done! I can't help it if the gnomes are at it again. We accept them here and believe in them if nobody else does. Yes, we are fanciful and whimsical, but gnomes do really exist, oh ye of little faith...
Just this morning I heard them
singing, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to
play with the pugs we go..." It is
most disconcerting to try to
write the story of your life with
gnomes riding around your tiny
cottage on pugs shouting "Yeehah!"
every time they pass your desk.
Strange monsters. May referred to a time in history when it was hard to get published as a woman, and yet women were struggling to keep writing anyway. Women's work in the sixties was just coming alive as writing militants like May Sarton wrote Mrs. Stevens Hears The Mermaids Singing, and lost several teaching jobs because it was the book that she wrote, at the time of the burgeoning women's movement, when she came out a lesbian. It just wasn't done then, and though she set a great many readers on their ear, had Women's Studies centers around the globe cheering, she lost a job at a college that was a significant part of her income, but that book still stands today as one of the iconic writings of the times. We who must write, write. We don't write what is popular, we hope people will read it, but in the end we write it because it is what we are burning to say. May wrote against all odds and against much criticsm. At 45 she took off for New Hampshire to live alone, away from everything she knew and loved, and just wrote what was in her heart to write. Such amazing work she did there!
I think about this as I write here in the cottage. I was 45 (the same age May was when she left the outer world to move to New Hampshire to live alone and write...) when I left my marriage, came out a lesbian, and would turn to an inner world that was truly my most comfortable living space (... writing women and strange monsters...), and I broke all the norms that were expected of me at the time. The happy little housewife had "gone funny" and I heard things, more often than I like to remember, like "with less money and material possessions than she has ever had, she is writing like a demon. What's wrong with her? She's nuts!" People who had known me my whole life long dropped like flies and disappeared. I know no one today from my former life save my family and a couple of friends who came along just before the changes, and understood, even before I did, what was about to happen.
One finally has to be stripped bare of the outside layers of polite society and "Miss Manners" rules and etiquette to get to the meat of what one has to say. And I mean HAS to say if they are going to live. Quasimoto was better understood than the woman writer.
I had to laugh today as I was working on the new page for the website. There is a page where I need to write a bio. I've had a pretty standard bio for years, updating here and there as new things were accomplished and some old things had kind of faded into the background. As I started to write this I just giggled outloud in an unseemly manner because I've been listening to Natalie Goldberg explaining to Julia Cameron in one of the best interviews on writing I've heard, ever, from a 2 c.d. set called A Conversation on The Writing Life by Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way) and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down The Bones), about what Natalie calls "First Thoughts." She wrote about it in her book Writing Down The Bones, which I first read over 20 years ago, prior to studying with Natalie twice, and having had all of my students read this amazing book. (The best selling book on writing ever and my absolute favorite.) Natalie speaks of "First Thoughts" as the way the mind first flashes on something, before second and third thoughts (the inner critic) come in to tell you that you shouldn't write it that way, it is probably impolite, and it's not the cutting edge of the truth, or so I think. Second and third thoughts are safe. So I laughed because I started writing a bio which was definitely from "First Thoughts," but absolutely on the money (If you can imagine that the way that I survived a childhood of abuse was to create an imaginary world to live in. I understood, long ago, that Alice was probably happier down the Rabbit Hole, and Dorothy in Oz, no matter her protestions at the end that there's no place like home, witches and flying monkeys notwithstanding.).
So I decided to write the bio from what I feel is the gut-level truth, meaning the truth that while the essence is real, the facts are somewhat hidden behind the seven veils. I am not afraid to tell my own truth, but you'll never see me writing a "Tell All" book. I will turn my life inside out to share things that I hope might help others, things I've learned from personal experience. I will NOT write about anyone I know and love because their lives are their own and it's not my right to invade their privacy, as well I am a woman that protects those she loves like a tigress protecting her young. And so I fell into metaphor, not as a way to be overly poetic, but to get my point across without revealing other people's truths. So while the bio has something to do with the fact that I was adopted, that I lived through a childhood of abuse, that writing was the raft that saved my life, you will read a fanciful bio that tells the truth, my truth, in an entertaining way. It begins...
"Maitri Libellule was delivered by a stork who mistakenly dropped her in a stand of forsythia bushes with a notebook and pen her only tools for life." There really were forsythia bushes. It's where I hid to write as a very young girl, writing quite fitting poems and stories and filling notebooks by age nine. It's no one's business what the details of my life were during those years, it only matters what the outcome was (who I am today) and who I became along the way.
I once wrote a book called Voyage of The Stranger: The Peregrinations of an Adopted Child. It was very poetically written but told a story that was absolutely, painfully true, and yet came to a time of understanding and redemption. The publisher loved it and kept it for some time, and finally said that she would publish it if I would go back in and be specific about the details of my abuse. It wasn't so much that I was afraid to do so, though I wouldn't under any circumstances -- that all falls under TMI ~ Too Much Information -- but my editor and the publisher misunderstood the whole concept, the whole meaning of the book (And, among other things, Sexual Abuse was one of the big topics of the day with books coming out by the boatload. Trust me, my therapist made me read them, I know.) I did not want to be a spokesperson for the sexual abuse movement. I lived it, lived through it, and had the right to close the curtain on that part of my life in order to feel well and sane now. It would have been nice to have sold the book, but my sanity and well-being won out.
I had spent a lifetime feeling like the little girl with her nose pressed to glass watching the happy family inside, and wanting desperately to belong. The book, though it mentioned abuse among other factors that caused me, to the best of my understanding at the time, to feel this way, was NOT a book about abuse, it was a book about how many of us (...and there are thousands, millions!) who feel just like the little girl on the outside looking in, wanting to belong. THAT is what I wanted to focus on. And we all feel that way for different reasons. Abuse was one of the keys, among many other things, that made me feel that way, but the next person might feel that way for other reasons. I wanted it to be a book for those who felt like strangers in life, those who never fit in, those whose little noses had been pressed to the glass for most of their life, longing, but unable, to cross the threshold, to go inside and join the happy people. It might even be that the happy family inside wanted them there, but they were unable to go. I have been unable to go inside my whole life. It took me half a century to learn to make a home on the other side of the glass and be, without excuses, happy living there. I can visit the happy family, I can love them, but I will never be a part of them in the way that society expects. I was there fully when I raised my children, but at midlife I am free to live on the other side of the glass. Writing women and strange monsters, indeed. And if that be what I am, then that be what I be, because I am comfortable and happy in my own skin for the first time in my life, and it was a long time coming.
And so I write my life and live my days as best I can, even if the dishes only get done every few days, all the animals have fresh food and water and treats and toys, and I eat, and there are enough clean clothes to wear, and if I live in a kind of disarray with piles of books and fiber supplies all around me, so be it.
So yes, I am a writing woman and strange monster, and I imagine I will live out the rest of my life this way, searching my heart for the difficult answers. And I will feel blessed to have lived such a life.
Be who you are, be all that you are, let your heart lead the way. I am here cheering you on!
Blessings, Love and Joy in Abundance,