I don’t write anymore. I haven’t had a regular practice in weeks, and my ballet shoes are probably growing mold. Why don’t I write? I suppose I haven’t much to say. Why not practice? I suppose the fatigue from a newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder has something to do with it… And dancing, my heart, my heart – it is lost somewhere out in the ether. And every time I form a search party to find it, the plan falls away, like a curtain from a stage, and the stage is empty, the theater hollowed out; even the props look tired.
There are secrets to a woman’s life. To every life, of course, there are great secrets to be found, and I am sure there are a universe of them in the heartbeat of the house cat as she lowers her stomach to the earth, scanning for mice. But the secrets with which I am familiar are of the feminine sort, the maternal sort; to be even more specific, the old-fashioned, rarely seen dependent sort. Can I list them? I think suddenly of Clarissa Dalloway as she gathers flowers early in the morning. The party is that evening: she must rush, but only in the most languid of ways, as women of her time and class were permitted.
Even Clarissa, whose mind was revealed to us so intimately, remains removed, apart from us even as the elegant clarity of Woolf’s prose reaches into every synapse of her character. She has secrets. The secret of loneliness? The secret of love’s lack? Her own, and others…
I recently read Woolf’s essay “On Illness.” She was famously often ill, in both limb and mind, and she made the point in this essay, obvious to yogis, that in illness one slows and becomes acutely aware of one’s surroundings, of existence itself. Observation becomes possible, more possible to the ill than to the bustling well: the goings-on in a tree become a reference point, a reality, a connection, to the ill, as those in health hurry past the tree or, in our time, more probably make plans to cut the whole thing down. Illness is a meditation. It is a slowing and a strange sort of gift. So says the woman who was so frequently ill.
So between my illness and the inward life of an introverted melancholy housewife, secrets abound. My marriage…. the love for my children that connects and smothers simultaneously… the understanding, too late, always too late, that my nature is not one that flourishes in one place, under one roof…. but these are whispers, I cannot be so brutal as to reveal the savage nature of my heart. I believe more in Artemis than Jesus, and possibly even more than the Buddha himself: our spiritual beliefs tend to reflect our true nature, and it is certainly her being to which I most relate: a wild being with a wild heart, solitary and self-contained, utterly feminine and totally without need, filled with a protective rage, a hunter and a lover of all she hunts. She, to me, is the representation of every value I hold highest.
How, then, did I come to live as a combination of Aphrodite and Hera? The most important secrets we withhold from ourselves.
I am an absurd romantic, I always have been, and this fact more than any other is what keeps me from being fully active in the world. Illusion is my great and dear friend, and artifice more real to me than whatever might be its opposite. But it is all artifice, yes? All reality, forever morphing, is quickly, quicker than the eye can trace, changing its mask and form.
At any rate, lately in my romantic way I think often of Topanga Canyon, specifically of that place as it must have felt in, say, 1964. The early hippies and the emptiness of that dirt road as it wound its way up and up from Malibu, where the kids hung out smoking and shooting up and bathing their bodies in the salted high-waved sea. Topanga, the hidden place of red earth, shade, brush, and views all the way to Mexico. Lost runaways with bad drugs and rich kids with even worse, and the music and the land and the yearning. The kids set up trucks and teepees to live in, and bathed in rivers, and drank and fought and when the war came close they debated not about its merits but the best way to end it. A lot of them were probably silly, but Topanga… a wild beauty fit for a goddess. Perhaps Artemis lived there for a time, before the Geffens came to buy real estate and the cafe culture set up shop.
Secrets. They had their own. Not the secrets of the feminine sort sitting at home thinking about decor and graduate school in equal measure, but secrets nonetheless.
Maybe writing will come back to me. What did Seamus Heaney say?
“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”