Friday, December 18, 2009

Trying to Think

I have been trying to think about a response to The Cuban in London's response to my reading blog. He mentioned an article by Rachel Cusk in the Guardian that was talking about women writers, an article he didn't entirely agree with. But this will only in the vaguest way relate to his thoughts...........

I'll start by talking about my new therapist (I decided to go back this age, seventy, in spite of having definitively given up therapy as my religion when I was sixty. Enough was enough.) But I want to try to make a better thing of my next, hopefully, ten years and need some help. At any rate, the therapist assumed that I'm an intellectual. I was so surprised that I blurted out, "But I don't read the New York Review of Books." And, of course, he said, "Is that what an intellectual is?" Yes, I think it is. And I'm guessing that the Cuban is a very good example of an intellectual, not just the narrow sort. (I am particularly fond of the glance that he and his wife exchanged the last time they took their son to a MacDonalds and the boy told them that he liked going there so much because there is always a present. Poor child. He should not have spoken his mind if he'd ever wanted to see those golden arches again. That reminded me of how much my daughter wanted the Sugar Pops, Lucky Charms, that her friends ate for breakfast and how she begged to be allowed one or two boxes a year, a most special present. And that I made her tofu spinach pie, carefully hiding the tofu container so she wouldn't know.)

But the thought I'm trying to connect to is the difference in being a woman of seventy and being one of sixty. When Sally was here,  I casually mentioned that I think there is a profound difference between those two ages and she said, "Yes." Just a simple yes. Of course I wanted to jump all over her, to suggest that we do 'something' about that...   Since she is a scholar, thoughtful and knowledgeable, elegantly educated, who writes about photography and photographers with historical perspective and my knowledge could fit on the head of a pin, I didn't propose a project.

But I think someone should write about that ten year difference. (Perhaps there are many books on this subject and I haven't read them.) Of course I have a woman friend in her late seventies who is 'the' Rodin scholar, and well as having been a stellar professor. And I have other friends, close to may age, who are well published, successful, were fine teachers and friends who were fine mid-wives, social workers, etc. In other words, these women of seventy, or a couple of years younger, set out to have careers, made clear decisions and followed a path. My ending up teaching didn't happen that way, a consequence of the chaos of my teenage years and the aftermath. Perhaps if my mother had lived, I would have followed my cousin Patsy's example. Thirteen years older, she was the fashion editor of the New York Time's Magazine section. Though I never read the Times, I checked, whenever I could, to see what she was doing with that two page spread. And applauded when she used models of color, when she hired Diane Arbus to take the photographs, when she broke out of the box that the fashion world dictates.

But most women who graduated from Paul D. Schrieber High School in 1957 got married, created homes, raised children. That was a normal expectation. Just when did it change?

When I went to visit my ex (and only) husband two years ago, we talked about our collective past, that I had gotten pregnant in my second year of college, had an abortion and that we'd married afterwards. A short marriage. Abortion was illegal then and mine had to be certified by two psychiatrists who wrote letters saying that my difficult childhood left me unfit to be a mother at that time. What was interesting is how dispassionately we could talk about this experience that had effected us both profoundly. And how we could disagree about the outcome, that I could say it would have been better for me to have had that child because he or she would have had a decent father, whether or not we'd divorced. That I knew that my having the abortion was best for him, though it hadn't been for me. We must have gone around and about this subject for quite a while, mulling over the past, the consequences of my having gotten pregnant just when some  young woman had died of an illegal abortion, and all the practitioners had closed their shutters, even the most beloved doctor in Pennsylvania to whose house many women were driven in the middle of the night.

When he took me back to the train station, I sat there, trying to read, but instead considering our discussion which I, of course, decided would make an excellent video -- these two seventy years olds talking about this formative experience of fifty years ago after which he headed toward making a great deal of money in television (a job he later gave up so he could take care of his two children, after his wife left) and I could head downward, one job paying less than another until I finally got pregnant again, had my baby beautiful girl, had more therapy and started my slow trip upward.

To my surprise, he agreed. And I spent another weekend there in the late fall, both of us talking to the video camera. And it's being edited because I don't have the skill to handle such complex material. And maybe it will fall the way most of my work falls, into some cavern of finished, but not show. But at least I acted upon the idea. 

(There is also a lot about class in that little video. I hope it will be visible. His gorgeous house in Westport and my scrabbly place in a mainly hispanic little city. I have gone down and he has gone up to the enjoyment of fine dining, fine wine, cars and classical music. I've headed to the racetrack. That could be a comedy in itself.)

There's no segue out of this -- Monday was an eleven hour day, the early part spent in grading, writing notes to students who may or may not read them, a meeting, then going when it was almost dark to the bead store where a tall, very sweet young Dutch woman with delicate fingers finally found a solution to putting the dolls together. My daughter had suggested I sell them, $25 a piece, okay, $35, two for $50, but I refused and now she's using them in a video that they will work on over Christmas. (No one would have bought them anyway and they are too time consuming to make and not as cumbersome as all my other stuff -- thousands and thousands of negatives, contact sheets, boxes of prints, now boxes of clay pieces -- all of which my friend Marion (a photographer, a teacher, a mother, energetic and active) reminded me I have to start clearing out for some sort of move that I plan in the future. She has been working steadily for three or four years on the same task in her house, looking at places now and then, preparing.)

I have spent almost $400 at the vet Wednesday and yesterday, a day which included falling off the chair when I was climbing up to put plastic over the windows. When I move, it will be to someplace with good storm windows!

Nemaste, as the dishwasher says.


  1. Being seventy years old feels different. It is like the feeling I had at the fresh grave of a family member who for years had caused so much trouble. As I watched the coffin being lowered and walked away, I thought, "This is what it comes to." All the trouble evaporated, meant nothing. So now, the hell with trouble. At seventy, I think one sees the end. How to live these years? As if my life depended on living, which it does!

    Have you read Catherine Bateson's book about the pattern of women's lives? A pattern of interruptions.

    I think we may be friends with the same Rodin scholar.

  2. I enjoyed the McDonald's passage in Cuban's post also. He and his wife are parenting with courage and thought. I see so many parents take the easy route and then society has to pick up the pieces, to teach these pampered children that the world does not exist for the singular purpose of catering to them.

    I think it is wonderful you made the video. Whether or not it is shown anywhere, I bet it was cathartic. The fact that you went back to make the video speaks volumes about both of you.

    I applaud you for going back into therapy; that takes a lot of courage too. I hope it is fruitful.

  3. I loved the wit and sharp sense of humour of this post. And I owe you this, by the way:

    I realised afterwards that I'd never left the link behind.

    To me an intellectual is a person with a degree of sensitivity, objectivity and subjectivity large enough to understand and accept the various phenomena he/she encounters. Above all empiricism is called for. Many intellectuals preach from the comfort of their sofas or from the bistrots of urban centres. I believe more in the everyday life, in the daily grind. Your blog, with its invaluable snippets of your very own life and observations, is serious, intellectual material. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

    PS: Dylan singing carols? I'd rather he stuck to 'Masters of War'! :-)