Thank you for your honesty and openness. “Graduation,” in Issue 155, really touched me. I was feeling woggly about some symptoms of my aging body, watching the part of me that is frightened of my physical and ego deaths and the part of me that remembers and yearns for a rainbowed state of unity beyond any kind of love.
Probably I opened The Sun to interrupt the internal yo-yo ride, to ground myself. There was the glamorous window seat on the cover, and a promise from Jack Underhill, who is a powerful person himself. I opened to you and Norma laughing at the camera, and thought, “Oh, that’s what he looks like.” Your candor, as always, caught me; your empathy was overwhelming.
My father was a traveling salesman, and no matter how good I was, no matter how hard I tried for perfection, he always left. I savored my self-pity through yours. “Oh, poor Elizabeth. She’s really getting old, and weird things are happening in her body. Since she’s practically given up psychedelics, she doesn’t even have a religion anymore, nothing to hold on to. Everyone’s a vegetarian or something else with an ‘ian’ or an ‘ist’ after it. What’s going to happen to her after she dies — which can’t be very long from now. Other people believe in heaven or reincarnation or karma or for God’s sake something. Only Elizabeth woggles around.”
On top of it all, it was raining too hard to garden. Then I went on the air and did a Sy Safransky–type confession. Nothing’s changed. But the catharsis happened, some mysterious internal alchemy. It felt great to get home and have a bagel.
In your article you wrote that you and Norma are laughing in the photograph, but you can’t remember why. Did it ever occur to you that you might have been laughing because you were happy?
The following is a response to a letter that appeared in Issue 156.
Your cry touches me as if it were a former me crying out to the present me.
Your fear of losing yourself as Artist mirrors the fear I had nineteen years ago as a new mother living in the “barren” suburbs with a husband who thought I was a whining fool. I had so much guilt and fear I couldn’t see. I wish now I had known then that the artist and the mother are one. I couldn’t see that; I was too afraid. Afraid of being less than I wanted to be, afraid that by being a mother I couldn’t be a writer, too. I had the sense, as you do (where does it come from?), that mothers cannot be real artists. The truth simply was that it was impossible to do everything at once.
Do you have Issue 143 of The Sun? Natalie Goldberg in “Writing Down the Bones” talks about composting. Find it. Read it. It may help you allow yourself to follow those demands that babies make, and trust that when you get back to the Artist in you, the talent will not only still be there, it will be fuller and richer. Why does it seem that if we don’t sit there every moment hatching our creativity, it will go away?
Recently someone told me an Indian friend of his had observed the trouble with Westerners is that after they plant a seed, they keep digging it up to see how it is doing. Relax, K.S.B. It is not necessary to always be working on ourselves. You cannot make mistakes. Even your anguish, loneliness, and fear are part of the composting that feeds the creativity you think can desert you.
My baby daughter is nineteen now, a drama student at New York University, creative and happy; and I am the accomplished author I feared I would never be. As I look back on those years, one thing I would change is the gnashing and worrying I did about things turning out — for her, for me. That babyhood time was over in a minute (or so it seems from here). I wished it away with worry.
I hear you murdering yourself in a hundred little ways. Don’t do it. Bless yourself.
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