Posted on 22 April 2007

Time flies: I see another week has passed and I am becoming anxious about a number of issues. (I have changed my return flight to Vancouver to May 9th to try and deal with some.) I also feel guilt that I have not written a thoughtful blog for quite some time.

In a sense I’ve been hibernating – is that the right word? – perhaps better to say that I am on retreat. I wish to think about my life alone for a time. I do not want conversation. I want to leave “the argument and jargon in a room” and sit and think about “the many-lived, unending/ forms in which [I] find [myself]. (Transcendental Etudes)

Silence allows me to follow my thoughts more closely to their conclusion – or to see there is no conclusion. No one else is allowed a word. I want to know that what comes from me is truly mine. Though after writing this, I wonder if I have ever had an original thought. The majority of my ideas comes from books. (Or I only trust my ideas after I have read them by another author. I would like to stop this. I want to trust myself here and now.)

I find it easier to think clearly in France, outside my own culture but, after a week in Northern Ireland, I am reminded that I am a mix of two cultures. I have lived most of my life in Canada but I was raised by two people who still cling to the values of their native land. Although Maxine Hong Kingston comes from a more complicated background than mine, I feel as she does: “I continue to sort out what’s just my childhood, just my imagination, just my family, just the village, just movies, just living.”

I was a dutiful daughter. (I thought this might be a good first sentence for my novel, inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s first autobiography. She was the first writer to put ideas into my head – in other words, to lead me astray.)

With this idea, I began to research “the beaver” as Sartre called her. I found some disturbing information. She and Sartre were not saints: they were mean-spirited, catty even. They used people. They had love affairs with many and told each other all the juicy details in accord with Sartre’s “transparency” requirement for their relationship or “soul marriage” as one reviewer called it. But I am regurgitating his conclusion. He rejects the theory that their relationship was “a post-patriarchal partnership of equals… an open marriage” and insists that “[t]he affairs with other people formed the very basis of their relationship.”

For the most part, Sartre went after pretty, insecure women and Beauvoir went after pretty, insecure women and strong men. And, shocking to me, they didn’t always tell the whole truth to the other. So much for transparency…

Once upon a time, I knew a French couple who lived in a similar fashion to this famous pair. Perhaps they still do. I have no idea.

How do I feel about Beauvoir now? I’m not sure. She is more human, less an idol. And though I find both couples’ meanness to their conquests cruel, part of me still admires all four. They lived their ideas, flaunted social convention, and pushed many – myself included – to think outside the norm.

Before I started this research, I was thinking about love. I quote from my journal: “I had a flash the other night. We don’t, at this time in our lives, want someone to mirror us. We want to be magnified and still found beautiful. We want to be found even more beautiful than when we were young and firm. For now, our bodies have softened to a sweet ripeness.

“This is the way I think I should think and though, on rare occasions, I like what I see in the mirror, I am more prone to say not ‘how beautiful’ but ‘not bad.’ Now what does that mean? Not bad for a woman of 58 who has had three children? But I want to leave my children out of my thoughts about love. Not because I don’t love them. I do. Not because they aren’t beautiful. They are. But because they are not me – though the beginning of their lives are written on my body.

“One son, not so long ago, quoted a cowboy poem to me, “The Westerner” by Badger Clark. I was impressed by the words and my son’s attitude to his life. Here’s the first verse:

‘My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains,
And each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.
I lay proud claim to their blood and name,
But I lean on no dead kin;
My name is mine, for the praise or scorn,
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.’

“How did this son become so wise so young?

“But I don’t want to talk about my (oops, our) intelligent, talented, beautiful children, I want to speak about me. My favourite subject. (I wince when I write this.) A friend told me that I write well about myself and not so well about others. (I had just written a story about her.) A French friend once gave an article about a French male whose considerable contribution to French literature were his diaries and, I thought, I could do that but would I dare?

“I think I would be a better writer if I allowed my mean thoughts to appear more often. I admire MFK Fisher’s writing so much. She does not apologize for her less-than-kind thoughts. She simply states them and moves on with her story. A good lesson.”

Enough of my journal. Yesterday I picked up a book of Atwood’s poetry and two lines stopped me short. “The desire to be loved is the last illusion:/ Give it up and you will be free.”

I spoke to Susan about love. She said that she still has a desire to love as she would like to love. I read her Atwood’s two lines. And she said, yes love’s all nonsense really.

What I think she meant is that we get caught up in our own fictions and if Hollis is right in “Creating a Life” that’s what it’s all about. We have to create our own love story. Only problem is that we have to convince another to play their part.

Big smile.

The sun is shining. I’m going for a walk.

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