I promise I’m not going to turn this into My Divorce Blog or My Depression Recovery Blog, but those things are continuing to influence my reading.
These days, I’m pondering what I want my new life be like. My nest will soon be emptier than I ever expected. What do I want to put into the spaces that are open in my life with no children at home, and now, no husband? What am I learning about what caused my long spell of depression, and how it–and I–contributed to the end of my marriage? And how do I want to change in response to what I’m learning?
It’s too soon to have an answer to those big questions, though I’m working on it.
I’m starting with smaller question about what I want and what makes me happy. Like “Would I like doing yoga every morning?” (yes! that’s a sunrise view from my mat above) and “What pretty cup should I choose for my coffee today?”
Recently I listened to two very different books in which the authors explored creative ways of re-fashioning themselves, and which gave me hope and inspiration for my own refashioning.
Anonymous, Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, read by Gabra Zackman (with Lyle Lovett)
I did not expect to find myself listening to this book, much less enjoying it and being moved by it. I was vaguely aware of @duchessgoldblat as a “funny” Twitter account I didn’t find that funny. When I saw a book had come out, I thought “blah, cashing in stunt, how could you get a whole book out of that?” Then one day, browsing library audiobooks, I wondered how they did get a book out of it, and clicked on the description. The book, I learned, revealed how “an author deep in grief rebuilt a life worth living” in part through creating Duchess. I clicked. Because that is my task in life right now.
Duchess (not a title, but a first name; the author adopted Duchess Goldblatt from a friend’s pet name + mom’s maiden name “stripper name”), I learned is loved not just for her humor but for her kindness. The account drew a community of fans, come of whom met up in real life and became friends. They loved Duchess, and she loved them back, tweeting affirmation and support. One of them was Lyle Lovett, who eventually became a real-life friend of the author, a devoted fan. He reads his own parts in the audiobook. In “real life,” the newly-divorced author felt friendless, unlovable, unlikable, a failure–everything Duchess was not. Creating Duchess allowed her to explore or create new parts of herself. Duchess, after all, was her.
I never really warmed to Duchess’ humor, which is just not my style. But I did care about Duchess’ creator and her story of (perhaps unintended, at first) self-discovery.
Nell Painter, Old in Art School, read by the author
Nell Irvin Painter is a distinguished historian who wrote, among other things, a biography of Sojourner Truth and The History of White People. Nell Painter is a woman who, upon her retirement from Princeton, went to art school, earning first a BFA and then and MFA. They are the same person, of course, and yet not quite: the name Painter uses to distinguish her memoir from her academic work also marks some difference between her artist and academic selves.
Painter always made art, but she wanted to be a “real artist”–and like a real academic, she felt she had to go to school for that. Anyone who has been to grad school knows that it often makes you tremendously self-doubting and insecure. I had to admire Painter (or maybe question her judgment) for choosing to put herself through that again when she had been at the peak of her profession. And certainly, she did deal with a lot of insecurity. Maybe people, including some of her teachers, told her she could never become a professional artist starting in her mid-60s. She had to learn to see differently, to think differently, more visually.
Ultimately, and sometimes against the resistance of her teachers, she finds a way to incorporate her “20th century eyes” and her deep knowledge of African-American history with the new techniques and 21st-century art theory she learns. Some of that history, art history, and theory is in her book, as is some of her evolving art. (Rohan has a thoughtful reflection on Old in Art School if you want to read more about it).
This story of a late-life transformation, the willingness to risk and make herself vulnerable, to become a beginner again, was inspiring.
These books reminded me that I’m far from the end of my own story. It’s taken an unexpected and unwelcome turn, but there can be plenty of good new things to come. I’m learning to risk vulnerability and to make changes that will help to bring them about.