Last night I started reading May Sarton’s At Seventy, the journal she started on her seventieth birthday, and I’m in love with her. How did I go so long without reading her? It crosses my mind that her voice is so familiar to me that perhaps I have read her, but I don’t think so? She writes like someone I could know, and I refuse to think she’s dead, even though I know she was born in 1912. I’d love to look up her Wikipedia but then it will tell me when she died, and I can’t know. I do think that there’s another volume of journals after this one, and that means she didn’t head out with this book, which is delightful to know.
When talking to a coaching client yesterday, she expressed an idea I hadn’t thought about much before—the idea that older women do not, in fact, know everything. The wisdom of the crone still includes lots of confusion and apprehension and everyday humanity which makes sense! Of course it does! There’s something in my heart, though, that believes a woman of seventy or eighty must have it all dialed. She just gets it.
And in many ways, it already seems like May Sarton does, even though she says she doesn’t.
“I suppose real old age begins when one looks backward rather than forward, but I look forward with joy to the years ahead and especially to the surprises that any day may bring.”
I love this. I always wonder when I’m going to start looking backward, and I haven’t come close to wanting to do so yet. I have a romantic image of sitting around with my journals and morning pages one afternoon (should this be a Replenish assignment?) and see where I’ve come from, but I haven’t. I think I’d be both too overwhelmed and also too bored to survive the experience. I know I caught some of the past Rachael in those pages, but how much? Will I recognize her? At least I should read the parts that I wrote in the treehouse hovel apartment, because obviously, I can’t get that place out of my mind. My sister said last night that maybe it’s a place of fertility for me, which struck a resounding chord. Yes, that might be it, but how do I claim that? Or do I need to? Is there a need for exorcism or is it just what it is—a place I’ll always dream of like tsunamis and Venice?
Last night with sisters at the Alley, talking about Mom and the way she was able to lose it on me, something neither of them remembered. (I deserved it. I was the bad kid and couldn’t stand my mother from 14-17). One sister wanted to know where she was all the time Mom and I were fighting, and she said, “Maybe I was at swim practice.” Yes, she probably was! She always succeeded, and I was the underachiever, though I didn’t know that at the time. I think I fought depression so much and didn’t know that, either.
I just knew I wasn’t good enough, never good enough, and of course, that was exacerbated by the fact that when I tried to write, the one thing I wanted to do, I couldn’t figure out how to break in.
Writing was a forest that was closed to me, walled off. I had to earn my way in by building a ladder to get over the wall, but I kept looking for a door, for a break in the stones. I spent years walking around the forest, searching for my way in. Much later I found out that the only way to build the ladder was out of words. I find myself wishing someone had told me this clearly, but I bet they did. I bet Anne Lamott says something like that in Bird by Bird.
I wasn’t ready to hear it, probably. I had talent, I thought, and talent had always opened doors in walls (to other things) for me. I thought if I had enough talent, I’d deserve to find the door.
I gave looking for a long time. Then I painstakingly built a ladder out of words. Now I live in the forest, and it’s such an amazing place to be.
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