Talking to Myself

At age 16:

May 22, 1977 
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. I guess it all started when I became old enough to read. Books seem to bring something in the imagination alive that didn’t really exist before. Reading used to be my only haven, for a while you can forget everything else and beome a new person. Books have brought so much to my life and mind that if I could write and make my characters live in the minds of the readers, I’d be happy.
 
Today has been a very thoughtful day for me. I’ve been remembering books that I’ve read, like “The Camerons” and just thinking about them again brings a tear to my eye. Then I think that I’d love to be a writer.
 
I saw the movie “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. “Jane Eyre” was on too. I loved it. But as I was watching it, I thought that all I wanted from life would be to be loved. Later was a special on Grace Kelly – Princess Grace of Monaco. She was elegant, graceful, and tasteful – not to mention rich enough to support these habits. I thought I’d love to have elegance, beauty and poise – not to mention enough money to support these habits!
 
I suppose, then that this is an outline of what I want my future to be:
  • Slender and graceful – always showing exquisite taste in the clothes that I wear and in everything connected with life.
  • I want to be a rich, well-known novelist and journalist.
  • And I want to love and be loved like in the movies and in books. 
Not necessarily in that order.
Do you think it is too much to ask?
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At age 25

December 27, 1986
The sun is shining down on the woods and streaming through the glass doors. I am sitting at an old wood table, dappled with the sun. I am smoking and drinking whatever they call that concoction of instant tea and Tang and listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash. I have just had a long, hot shower – my hair is wet and I smell like the wonderful carnation-scented lotion Jeff and Marsha brought me from London. It is 1:15 on a Satuday afternoon and at 3:00 my friend Cathann is coming over. I have just finished reading the Prydain Chronicles (the Black Cauldron books) and I really loved them. What more could I ask from any day?
 
And yet, I am not as happy as I feel one should be on a fine day in a fine setting. I am worried about the future and money — all the things that can dampen spirits. Why can’t I put them aside for even a short while? It was easy to forget them back when I could have saved myself from this trouble. Will I ever have control of myself?
 
Also, the books I’ve just finished make me long to be a truly wise and good person. I know I am not – but how does one get there? Or are any as good as characters in novels? Probably not. But why not?
 
So here I am, in my annual year-end anxiety-ridden existential dilemma. Some year I’ll have only hope and eagerness for the future instead of mainly regret for what the past year was not. And on that day, will I have attained wisdom?
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At age 38

December 30, 1999
I remember in grade school being asked to calculate how old I would be in the year 2000. Wow – 38! I didn’t think of it as elderly, I just thought of it as being so old that in Sister Irma Mary’s third grade classroom it was impossible to extend my imagination that far.
 
And yet, here it is. No longer something to imagine – now something to be lived. On the one hand, I know intellectually that the calendar is a human construct with arbitrary origins and therefore has no intrinsic meaning. On the other hand, I’m swayed. We humans have given it meaning through the force of custom, history, even invention. The whole Y2K issue has forced this particular turning of the years to have meaning in a way that even the all-seeing Sister Irma Mary could never have expected…
 
…Despite my self-admonishments, I have felt a prickle of fearful anticipation upon hearing these reports. I can’t forget my recurrent nightmare of panic and holocaust and my attempts to reach my parents…this seems like the time if ever such a horrible vision were to come to pass.
 
And yet, there’s so much more going on – there’s the positive excitement, also. On the winter solstice last week, the moon was the brightest it has been in 133 years, an auspicious sign. And it was so beautiful in the sky that night. I was out for dinner with Joe R. and we drove around a little afterwards. But Joe didn’t seem very interested in the concept, so I cherished the experience quietly in my heart, just as I did with the comet a couple of years ago. The people I know who might also feel the romance and sense of personal significance that I do on such occasions are always far away from me.
 
And in my personal life I have felt myself approaching a new crossroads and know I will be taking a turn from my current path – like the moon I’m at a rare point in my circumambulation of the universe.
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I have kept a journal, off and on, for most of my life. I was inspired to share these excerpts with you upon reading a poem by Pamela Alexander, “Talking to Myself at 34” from her book Navigable Waterways. Reading the poem, I was truly struck by the idea of my journals as a form of talking to myself, of telling myself what it is I know. I grabbed three of the many notebooks that have served as my journals and selected these excerpts randomly. (Well, the December 30, 1999 entry was the first in that notebook and seemed like too good a date to pass up!)

Alexander’s poem speaks of two women, the real one and the imagined one. As I sat in a cozy chair in this house I love, reading bits and pieces of my journals, it came to me that there has been purpose (as well as meaning) in this never-ending conversation I’ve had with myself. The purpose has been to bring these two versions of myself, real and aspirational, closer together inside my skin. I’m not the woman I dream of being – not yet, anyway. But I grow incrementally closer.

The end of Alexander’s poem reads:

Hey, you,

in an old house

with tools that want to be used.

A few cracked windows. Outside them,

cars and radios and shouting people

make a city.

Inside, I discover the door’s duplicity

by looking at wood carefully for the first time

in years. Real wood

made into imagined wood.

.

So the you I’m calling to,

the you that is me,

the one who wants to tell me

everything I know

is both real and invented,

the woman whose name is on the front door

and the imagined person, the one

made with small strokes

on this paper

that used to be trees.

 
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A Poem by May Sarton

Now I Become Myself

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

May Sarton


Winter Night

“…That’s how little I understand winter, how it can bewitch its inhabitants (for it is more like a country than a season, a thing to which one belongs), so they cannot say and don’t know whether they love the winter or hate it.”

— Patricia Hampl, from “A Romantic Education”

Do not ask me tonight whether I love it or hate it. Tonight, Winter may be a country or a hostile season — whichever, it has me fully in its frigid grasp and I cannot get warm. So I have been browsing through Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season to see what a wide variety of writers have to say about winter, spirit, imagination. I definitely recommend this collection!

As I skimmed through the book, thinking about winter and writers, the idea of cold never far from the surface of my thoughts, I was reminded of a poem by William Stafford, which I think is worth sharing (thought it is NOT included in the book).

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.

.

I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.