A Time for Reflection
Women have a very difficult time saying no. We are pushed and pulled from every conceivable direction, from children to spouses, from friends to business acquaintances, from obligations to more obligations. We must be there for everyone and we must fulfill all of our obligations, after all it is our responsibility and we simply have no choice, or do we?
Anne Lindbergh penned her memoirs “Gift from the Sea” as a series of present-tense logs in a diary she kept during her visits to her home by the sea during the 1950’s. She used different types of shells or stones from the beach or sea to convey meaning in regard to different aspects of her life.
Anne Truitt, author of the journal/memoir “Daybook,” wrote her memoirs in first person, present-tense over a period of seven years, spanning from 1973 to 1981. Sbe focuses on her family, her art and writing and the combination of them all.
Both Lindbergh and Truitt were successful artists and loving, devoted mothers. They also enjoyed full social lives and stimulating friendships as well as the much needed rejuvenation, inspiration and peace afforded by self-imposed solitude. Intimacy and privacy was essential to them and both acknowledged that women thrive on it. Sensitivity was vital to them both as well and Anne Truitt eloquently surmises this in Daybook when she states; “Many of us [women] have been lonely too, deprived by our male peers of that sensitivity they had to brutalize out of themselves…” (200). But that which is crucial and speaks volumes regarding these accomplished women and their flourishing lives is the profound emphasis they placed on alone time; it was not a luxury to them; it was a source of survival. As Lindbergh says:
Actually these are among the most important times in one’s life-when one is
alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose, the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves…” (Lindbergh, 44).
Lindberg elaborates on the essence of what it means to nourish the woman’s soul by articulating that Virginia Woolf’s thoughts in her classic work on the woman artist, A Room of One’s Own, which merely cracked the door for women to enter. Although Woolf acknowledges the financial security required for a woman to purchase the room, or the time, of her own, she stresses that “…even in poverty and obscurity, [to write] is worthwhile (125).” For instance, both Lindbergh and Truitt were both financially able to afford this time to rejuvenate and replenish their inner selves, however Lindbergh acknowledges that the “problem is not entirely in finding the room of one’s own, the time alone, difficult and necessary as this is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. In fact the problem is how to feed the soul” (Lindbergh, 45).
According to Lindbergh, the demanding lives which most women lead are not ones of simplicity but of multiplicity “that the wise men warn us about” (20). It is interesting here to note that it is “men” who are presumed wise. Could this be because most men have no difficulty or reservations whatsoever in saying no, especially to something or someone which interferes with their plans or personal alone time? I must agree with Ms. Lindbergh in her hypothesis that this life of multiplicity which most women lead “does not bring grace; it destroys the soul” (20).
If this is so, then why do women continue to allow themselves to be pushed to the absolute breaking point? There are many possible reasons, from the archetypal female ideal, which society has placed upon a pedestal for all women to emulate, to the biological roles assigned to women in motherhood, to the women’s liberation movement which theoretically delivered equal rights for women. But these rights failed to get past the front door of the living room. Women could bring home the bacon and cook it up in a pan, whereas until just recently (and still it appears to be rarely), men were only expected to bring the bacon home but not step a foot into the kitchen. That was women’s territory, along with the nursery, the laundry room, entertaining, shopping, the list is endless. To an alarming degree, this idea that women must not only conquer the outside world but remain in control of all domestic responsibilities, especially that of rearing children, remains prevalent even in modern society.
It is somewhat disconcerting that a strong, independent and self-reliant woman such as Truitt says of her domestic responsibilities, “I could lower my standards but in doing so would sink with them, taking my children with me” (Daybook, 63.) However she swiftly defends this statement, by stressing the importance of structured mealtimes to nurture children through stimulating conversation. Ms. Truitt must be commended for her unswerving devotion and untiring dedication to her family and her artistic craft. Although she steadily pushes herself to the limit time and time again, she not only takes time for her children, friends and social life, but also for herself.
The profound insight found in Anne Lindbergh’s compelling questions is a revelation and assertion regarding her hypothesis that a life of multiplicity destroys the soul. She asks; “Can one actually find oneself in someone else? In someone else’s love? Or even in the mirror someone else holds up for one” (60)? She echoes her answer by quoting Eckhart, the German born spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now; “going into one’s own ground and knowing oneself” is the only way to find one’s true identity (Eckhart qtd in Lindbergh, 60). She further expands on the dilemma of the overwhelming demands faced by women, especially by loved ones, by saying “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds” (Lindbergh, 116) and with understated grace and timeless eloquence, Ms. Lindbergh instructs all women how seemingly simple it is to feed one’s soul: “The past is so far away and the near past is so horrible and the future is so perilous, that the present has a chance to expand into a golden eternity of here and now” (Lindbergh, 118).
So if we as women can beg, borrow, buy or steal the time and place to be alone, how do we nourish our depleted bodies, minds, hearts and souls once we are alone? Anne Truitt dreams. She dreams a repetitive dream about the sea (which seems to be a milieu for the creative process.) She dreams of a man whom she is deeply in love with, indeed she is “one with (84)” Stating that their “bodies are the same texture (83)” and she and this man “love one another so closely that each other is only as much as we are other than the sea (84).” In the dream, Truitt and her lover are carried into a crescendo of surging and crashing waves and once more, as in the other dreams, they survive. However, the end of her dream is crucial to the nature of the male /female relationship in context with the fierce, lonely, elated independence of woman as artist and individual; “The magic begins to recede. The color is draining from the rocks, the water, and our bodies. We are separating. We are conscious of each other. We are separate. I begin to feel ‘I’ ” (Truitt, 84, 85).
According to Truitt, the man in her dreams is her animus, the masculine aspect of her personality which affords her the strength and, dare I say-selfishness- to become an independent and successful artist. She learns to “create” the ability to “create” by recognizing and nurturing what her soul needs and how to feed it. All women must follow this example and create the time, place, state of mind needed, to seek out the people who nourish our souls and to discard those who deplete our dreams and who hamper our inner peace. In essence, we must do what likely appears brutally selfish and insensitive to women who have long accepted the roles of socially appointed caretaker and self-inflicted martyr, and ask ourselves the candid and philosophical question: What do I want?
Lindbergh, Anne Morrow. Gift from the Sea. New York: Pantheon Books, 1955.
Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now. Canada: New World Library, 1999.
Truitt, Anne. Daybook: The Journal of an Artist. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1982.
Sharon Lynn Van Meter