Monday, August 2, 2010

279) huntington library: our many selves


the literary life 8/2/10

My husband and I visited the Huntington Library in Pasadena today, which is an awesome spot in the city (but away from the city). I'd never been there before, and I was surprised at how much this place has to offer in terms of Japanese/Chinese gardens, tea rooms, art galleries, and historical samples of literary and scientific publications. It was both humbling and galvanizing. Like my husband, I'm an old soul. I prefer tea in the afternoon and a walk through a quiet garden. I'm an avid reader and writer, and being there I could tap into the part of me that likes to retreat from the world, that is easily inspired by reminders of history, the literary greats. While eating buttered scones with jam, I almost felt like I was in Europe, except the center wasn't too crowded because it's Monday. I thought about how when I write, I'm trying in each piece to make sense of the tangle of trees and concrete and books and people and tastes I encounter each day. I thought about how much, in the history of human evolution, has already taken place, and how we cannot begin to fathom the impact of our latest developments: the Internet, the medicines, the psychological epiphanies. This little lucky world, at times so devastating and destructive. At times a hotbed of hysteria. This little world, with its assuaging gardens and haunting casualties. Somehow, being amid such beauty today, I was touched by the yin and yang of it all, and how this feeling is difficult to articulate, but it presents a puzzle worth writing about. Writing for me is the only homeland, as many authors have observed. Writing is that place of energy, hope, and discovery. It's a way to harmonize the competing energies of the world, the competing drives of the self. It's a way to harmonize our competing histories. Some days, I am hungry for it all. I want to read all afternoon. I wish I could simultaneously express my various selves: the artist, the teacher, the baker, the detective, the soccer player, the homemaker, and the historian. I wish I could be it all. Real life is not so open. There are limits. But I was reminded today to take advantage of each moment and not to dwell too long over the mistakes. The world of fiction, of persona poetry, offers us a chance to express our many selves--to experience the lives we have not yet chosen and cannot choose--or to better understand the ones we have. Writing is a form of connection and conversation. Seeing all the historical writing samples today, from Bukowski to Byron, I thought, here's one reason to keep writing: to be part of a conversation on the page that has been going on for centuries. To dare to take part in such a conversation. What audacity really? What courage?

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