In the past few days, small quotations have stuck in my mind from reading, of all things, obituaries about two women writers.
One, Doris Lessing, who won the Nobel prize in literature for writing curmudgeonly self-centered books about her unconventional life, emulated by some struggling with how to live while tied down by family obligations; and Charlotte Zolotow, a prodigious author of seventy-one children’s books and (Harper Collins) editor of her own children books imprint. I must confess that I have tried to read Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” numerous times because I liked the idea of journals with different colors depicting a woman’s life. But I haven’t as yet succeeded in getting past the complaining self-indulgent tone of it all. Zolotow’s books, illustrated by Garth Williams and Maurice Sendak among others, sound very different, described as helping the young to gain perspective about what happens to us all as we grow up.
In the Lessing article, a reviewer, fellow writer J.M. Coetzee, complained:
“There is something depressing in the spectacle of a woman in her 70s still wrestling with an unsubjugated ghost (her mother) from the past. On the other hand, there is no denying the grandeur of the spectacle when the protagonist is as mordantly honest and passionately desirous of salvation as Doris Lessing.”
In the Zolotow piece, Charlotte is quoted:
“We are all the same,” she wrote, “except that adults have found ways to buffer themselves against the full-blown intensity of a child’s emotions.” She added, “We are not different from the children we were — only more experienced, better able to disguise our feelings from others, if not ourselves.”
So, in one instance, a woman is chastised for remembering (and still being impacted) by how badly her mother treated her as a child; and in the second, we are reminded that many of us learn how to buffer ourselves as adults against the truth of our childhood memories. What to do?
I had trouble falling asleep last night and didn’t really know why. As I sat alone in the kitchen, enjoying a cold, blackberry Izze drink while thinking about things, I wanted to figure out for myself how to let go of strong traces of negative influences in my upbringing with the ongoing desire to be honest about them: a Lessing-Zolotow cocktail if you will.
Sometimes, it feels hard being honest with yourself especially since it’s a lot easier to complain and blame others. Another solution is to fool ourselves that everything is just fine when we know it isn’t. Neither really works in the end. And usually, unless it’s the middle of the night and all is quiet, one’s inner voice is hard to hear, being so timidly quiet and all.
Biting the bullet, eating crow, deliberating a choice whether to make things different are all things we may ponder, fleetingly or not. The word that comes to my mind after all this reflection and lost sleep is . . . reconciliation.
1. the restoration of friendly relations
2. the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.
Based on these two definitions, I am thinking that perhaps it is possible to restore friendly relations within oneself once we face sad feelings (Lessing,) and not negate our childhood inner truths (Zolotow) but to reconcile them so we can live better and honestly unburdened once and for all. I don’t know how this may happen for others but last night’s little insomnia bout gave me great relief and removed these obstacles. Hey, maybe it’s my little Ganesh on the kitchen windowsill doing his magic! Whatever it is, Helpers from the Universe tying together bits and pieces from obituaries of all things, I’m glad to be able to think about reconciliation today. And perhaps to sleep better tonight.