“For it is the spirit of woman that is going dry, not the mechanics that are wanting. Mechanically, woman has gained in the past generation. Certainly in America, our lives are easier, freer, more open to opportunities, thanks—among other things—to the Feminist battles. The room of one’s own, the hour alone are now more possible in a wider economic class than ever before. But these hard-won prizes are insufficient because we have not yet learned how to use them. […] With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them. With our pitchers, we attempt sometimes to water a field, not a garden. We throw ourselves indiscriminately into committees and causes. Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands and distractions. Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel, we add more centrifugal activities to our lives—which tend to throw us off balance. […]

“The answer is not in going back, in putting woman in the home and giving her the broom and needle again. …[Nor] in the feverish pursuit of centrifugal activities which only lead in the end to fragmentation. Woman’s life today is tending more and more toward the state William James describes so well in the German word, ‘Zerrissenheit—torn-to-pieces-hood.’ She cannot live perpetually in ‘Zerrissenheit.’ She will be shattered into a thousand pieces. On the contrary, she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. …it should be something of one’s own…What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.

“The cell of self-knowledge is the stall in which the pilgrim must be reborn, says St. Catherine of Siena” (45-50).

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, from Gift from the Sea

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Trying to write again today. Thinking about writing some kind of moving, self-contained essay gives me non-productive anxiety, so it’ll be rambly.

But I’m trying to save my life again, today. Which, in our shockingly inter-dependent universe, means looking for help or guidance, not steeling myself into some iron bar of blank stability. Not that steeling myself doesn’t have a strange allure: I’ve done a lot of that in the past two years. “Unsustainable” is all I’ll say about that kind of living, for now. So I look outside of myself for help or guidance, and I’ve decided to finally read through this lovely 50th anniversary edition of Gift from the Sea that I found at Union Avenue Books last month.

And, of course.

It’s so odd to think about how long and crazy life can feel, how many small lives I feel I’ve lived, and have passed into some kind of shadowy, living memory. Untouchable, though they touch me. When I dove into feminist lit & theory as a college student, I couldn’t have understood where I would find myself in 2016, because I felt equal to all the punishing forces of the world. Like, all of them. Ah, youth! If I felt mistreated, I could retreat and recover within myself a sense of self, justice, and make art from it. I could separate myself from the powerful paternalism in my family, I had the freedom to make my own life in the way I wanted (to an extent). How lucky I was!

But settling down, getting married and having a kid, staying at home with her, not sleeping much or eating well, depressed and anxious and a black umbrella of guilt hanging over it all, I slowly realized those wide open spaces all around me had contracted into a little fenced yard. Grad school helped me figure out how to squeeze time alone and good writing & thinking out of a few small windows of time, but in fact, grad school afforded me much more time than new motherhood did.

Yes, occasionally Mary would nap, and I would be completely overwhelmed with the rippling stormcloud of undone tasks (all important!) that hung over this precious hour of time, and because guilt usually won out, the chosen task would usually be: laundry, or dishes, or finding some food for myself somewhere. Tasks of survival. I have barely written five pages in the last two years. And this Zerrissenheit Lindbergh describes is my own state of mind.

My husband also struggles. He would be the first to say that this isn’t a “woman’s problem,” as he has wrestled with the bankruptcy that fragmentation causes, for years. I agree that it’s more a “modern problem” than a “woman’s problem,” but I have been shocked—and continue to be shocked—by how many mothers I know who are trying to eke out a healthy mental life in the midst of this very same Zerrissenheit. I don’t have tons of male friends; if you do, you can draw some helpful conclusions on that front. But what I’m learning from my experience and my friends’ is that we struggle terribly to keep ourselves together and healthy, and try to deal with guilt we have for (not pursuing a career, or for working and leaving the baby in childcare, or fighting with the husband in front of the baby, or not feeding the baby kale, or always picking the baby up when it cries, or ignoring the baby when it cries, or yelling at the baby and then picking it up and crying yourself, etc., can you tell I’m talking about myself here) by trying to water a field with a pitcher.

So proudly, my twenty-year old self figured out how to avoid all these pitfalls. First I didn’t want to get married; then I wanted to have a full-time career so childcare and housework could be split 50/50, completely fair, easy-peasy; then BOOM! I didn’t have a career, and I thought I’d enjoy being a stay-at-home-parent because you get fun times with a baby plus free time to write and make stuff, right? And the baby comes three weeks early and it’s a long slide down into chaos from there.

Anyways. Dramatic. It’s called growing up, I know. I now understand so much of the resistance to feminist ideals that I encountered, pre-baby. I can accept where I am though. I can take a reality check and continue to move forward. I can keep trying to honor myself enough to MAKE time to listen to myself, to write, to troubleshoot, to pray, to say mantras, to accept small gifts from the world, especially the ones—like Lindbergh’s seashells—that call me to inward attentiveness.

And that inward attentiveness, can I get an amen from Anne Lamott, does *not* include all the crabby spiders of gloom, guilt, glinting broken windows, and freight-train forces of anxiety and rage, ET CETERA. I got lots. I read Gift from the Sea and my soul clears of these ghosts, and I remember one of those instagram graphics I saw this morning which exhorted me to focus on who I am becoming, not who I once was, or whatever. I’m trying pretty hard to become a good woman (artist+wife+mother+daughter+sister+writer+consumer+worker), and I think I’m on the path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements