"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Anne Morrow Lindbergh

artful recluse(s) . . .

DSC_1308This morning as I sat at the table with the sun streaming through the kitchen window, sipping my freshly made smoothie, I came upon the art section of the NYTimes which had a full page painting from 1644 of a Ming dynasty painter. The Asia Society has just opened an exhibition featuring works by reclusive artists so many years ago.

I was taken by the concept since it resonates with so many of my values and perspectives, including the search for Taoist hermits in the mountains of Sian that I had read about earlier. William Porter, nicknamed Red Pine, described his travels seeking reclusive Taoist priests and priestesses who lived alone in huts, subsisting on very little food, rainwater and sitting among pine needles. It was a romantic search, buffered by humorous encounters with some hermits, “hiding in plain sight.”

Living in solitude has long held an appeal for me and the journals of May Sarton, especially “Plant Dreaming Deep” and “Journal of a Solitude” struck a familiar chord with me when I had three kids at home and no solitude as such at all. I tired of reading Sarton after awhile because her writing became more whining and complaining amidst a lifestyle that included a home in New Hampshire and then on the coast of Maine, a multitude of flowers, inside and out, her loyal pets and friends who showered her with care and gifts of food, even as she continued to wring her hands about not being recognized sufficiently as a poet. That’s probably because her journals were her tour de force with women readers during her generation of writing–not poetry. In any case, her writing about the everyday was different from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s but there was a common theme of domesticity around houses, flowers, food and gardening that appealed to many of us at the time.
I don’t ask myself any longer why living inwardly is appealing. It just is. I have no desire to go on a cruise (esp. when many of the ships keep breaking down) where you’re trapped with hundreds or thousands of people whom you can’t avoid running into. Henry Beston wrote many years ago about living in a small shack which he wrote about in his famous book, “The Outermost House” during the 1920’s in Eastham, Cape Cod. To preserve those areas, the Cape Cod National Seashore reserve came into being in the 1960’s.

I guess if you’re artful or not, taking time alone can allow for a space for reading, rumination, creating and making things that reflect one’s inner senses and individual skill. At least, there’s a possibility to nurture and inform one’s spirit if taken.

For me, the last few weeks of winter have been filled with knitting, the amaryllis and orchids blooming, the canary singing, and I’ve even taken upon myself to (finally) read Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” having picked up a used, boxed three-volume Pleiade edition. Come to think of it, Marcel Proust was a reclusive artist too, writing 4000 plus words in his dimly lit cork-lined bedroom describing the mores and human vagaries of French society which are so universal that they may mirror our own.

Let’s see how far I get with THAT while being grateful for peace and quiet, and most of all, time.

(woman)kind . . .

DSC_0127For a long time, I’ve been thinking about how we women are, that is what separates us or makes us different from men: or mankind. For one thing, I wonder if women have really changed all that much from the days of our mothers or grandmothers. Surely, our daughters’ generation is more outspoken in their ways and in their choices, aren’t they?

At the same time, I also see many of us still putting our needs behind those of our partners, our children or our work. Sure, there are new visible women who have made it, like Sheryl Sandburg of Facebook who has just written a book counseling other women on how not to hold themselves back. Not that many have the resources that she does (help and money) to take care of children and households while forging their professional pathways in life. Will changing our body language and how we present ourselves to others make that much of a difference?

I was just reading from Anne Morrow Lindbergh‘s memoirs, “Locked Rooms and Open Doors – Diaries and Letters 1933-1935” in which she describes being terrified as Charles Lindbergh, her infamous husband, pilots their plane through a dense fog for over an hour, not speaking to her, looking for a place to land. Another one describes how she puts together a small study area for him, with his favorite books in the bookshelves, a standing lamp from the main house to create a space to please him, even though he doesn’t seem to notice when he sees it. And that’s all right with her, she says.

I don’t know, you know? Doesn’t this ring a bell like Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar-winning character in “Silver Linings Playbook” where she complains about “waking up feeling EMPTY” because she does things for others, all the time? Maybe there is a compulsion gene that is in our female DNA that propels us to do things for others in order for them to be happy (at least in our way of thinking?) Or is this just our culture from the time we were young and took care of our dolls and stuffed animals?

There’s been a fuss recently about the 50th publication anniversary of Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique” and columnists writing about how they miss Bella Abzug. Gloria Steinman is still being interviewed, but I never felt personally that any of them represented me during the first wave of the Feminist movement.

I still feel that our issues as women are personal to the degree that we each have things to work out based on our individual situations. And that somehow, nothing much has happened to keep ourselves from constantly wanting to please those around us, to be accepted and acceptable by those we want approval from.

Perhaps it is just part of the human condition that what we do and care about others is also likely to be taken for granted some of the time. Maybe there will never be a movement that will transform or free us because this is just the way things are. Whenever I’ve brought up these thoughts with other women, they nod their heads in recognition and say, “yeah, that’s big.” Even so, I’m glad that I have daughters and granddaughters–a woman kind of family.

Postscript: By an amazing coincidence, PBS is airing “Makers: Women Who Make America” a three-hour documentary on the women’s movement. Here is a link to the trailer:

“gift from the sea” . . .

DSC_2885_2 tbmAnne Morrow Lindbergh (AML) wrote a book called “Gift from the Sea” that was published in 1955. It became a best seller and is considered a seminal book in the feminist movement, largely because it was an early forerunner written in a gentle tone reflecting how hard it can be for women to have a life of their own while tending children, households and husbands. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for 80 weeks and has sold millions of copies, translated into 45 languages, I’m told.
That’s quite an accomplishment when you consider that AML was also the wife of Charles Lindbergh, learned how to fly and accompanied him on long trips around the world, being the first woman to fly across the Pacific at the time. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? a woman flying for the first time across the Pacific? And of course, you might have heard about the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping and sorry aftermath. AML was pregnant at the time and had five subsequent children, four of them still living (Anne died in the 1990’s from cancer.)

Her book, “Gift from the Sea” was the first time a woman talked in a quiet tone about things that matter to us all, like the impossibility of loving someone just the same all the time. One of my favorite quotations from the book when I read it decades ago was: “The most exhausting thing in the world, I have discovered, is being insincere.” You can get a sense of her writing and rhythm just from that one sentence.

I wonder what it must have been like for Charles Lindbergh, the larger than life celebrity husband to know that her book was so popular and sold so well. I read that he supported her writing even to the extent of barring the children from disturbing her when she worked in her study. He was also a prolific writer and authored an autobiographical book about his solo flight across the Atlantic in his plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis” which won a Pulitzer Prize.

Later, the Lindberghs made some publishing gaffes–either due to foolish naivete or from idealistic ignorance–that got them into trouble with the American public. They were perceived, at least he was, as a pro-Nazi sympathizer and possibly anti-Semitic. Their fall from grace on the American stage lasted until Lindbergh died at the age of 72 in 1974. He was buried in Maui, Hawaii according to his own wishes, made when he knew he was dying from lymphatic cancer: the grave dug just so deep and so wide, facing a certain way; a coffin made from eucalyptus wood, the body wrapped in an old favorite Hudson Bay blanket and so on.

AML published thick volumes of her journals which bore wonderful titles like: “Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead” and “The Flower and the Nettle.” I remember cradling these books, reading them through and through when I had three daughters under the age of five. I also shared an intense love of everything domestic: houses, gardens, furnishings, rhythms of running a household. So her books were my companions, ones that I might not have been able to find in person to share how I wanted my home to be like. Of course, she was very rich and I was not, but she wasn’t pretentious in that way. She was also shy and reclusive and I liked that about her too.

Apparently, when one reads Reeve Lindgergh’s memoirs about the last years of her mother’s life and dying near her home in Vermont, Charles Lindbergh, though beloved by the family, was somewhat of a tyrant, controlling and autocratic. I read where he insisted on taking Anne away on flights just at the time the children were born when all she wanted to do was to stay with them at home. During the 1950’s when “Gift from the Sea” was published, it has been said that she had a three year love affair with her physician.

AML died at the age of 94 in 2001. She was cremated and her ashes scattered. Two years later, three children, now grown, revealed themselves in Germany after their mother died, saying that they were fathered by Charles Lindbergh. DNA tests confirmed their story, the eldest was born around 1957. But wait, there’s more. It turns out that the children’s aunt had two children by Charles Lindbergh and his secretary at the time had two children: a total of seven children in three households was revealed. My first thought on hearing this was to wonder if AML ever knew, either from Charles before he died or from elsewhere before she passed away so many years later.

So ironic, don’t you think, that this gentle soul who wrote so well about the difficulty women have to be themselves, to be allowed to be imperfect and so on, would have this happen as a footnote to her 45-year marriage to Charles Lindbergh, a national hero at the time of his transatlantic flight? It’s beyond appalling, I was thinking to myself. I’d also taken some pride that AML had gone to Smith, my alma mater too. In Reeve Lindbergh’s memoirs, AML tells her that she never wanted to go to Smith but preferred Bryn Mawr instead. One of her elders became President of Smith at one time and there is a residential building called Morrow there too–I guess that family ties to Smith were stronger than her individual choice.

So, it was a coincidence of sorts yesterday that I saw on eBay an auction for a first edition of “Gift from the Sea” with its own slipcase, of course published in 1955. I idly put in a bid on it because no one else had, and later found out it was mine for $10.00 with free shipping. I’m glad to have this early edition of this meaningful book because it has been one of my favorites for so long. I only wish that AML’s life had been easier, but perhaps she wouldn’t have written “Gift From the Sea” had it been otherwise.

That’s life, isn’t it?

Postscript: Reeve Lindbergh, AML’s youngest daughter, writes in her memoir, “Forward from Here,” about the revelation of Charles Lindbergh’s seven children by three women in Germany after her mother’s death in 2001 and whether or not AML ever knew:
“She died two years before the news about the other families was revealed, and I have wondered how much she knew about my father’s secret life. A close friend of hers told me this: ‘She knew, but she didn’t know what she knew. . .’ That sounds very much like my mother.”