what have i done with my life

Behind me climbs a tower of papers, each one containing a thought or a quote or an article that I want to write about here. A few minutes ago, I started shuffling through the stack. About midway down, I stopped on a piece of graph paper on which I had scrawled these thoughts from the character Glory in Marilynne Robinson’s Home:

“But oh, the evenings were long.  I am thirty-eight years old, she would say to herself, as she tidied up after supper.  I have a master’s degree.  I taught high school English for thirteen years.  I was a good teacher.  What have I done with my life?  What has become of it?  It’s as if I had a dream of adult life and woke up from it, still here in my parents’ house.”

I knew I had written about other characters expressing this same feeling and I wanted to connect them with Glory. In the search rectangle on the blog, I typed in “life.”

I found two posts: one titled “something more,” in which I wrote about Mrs. Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Clara in Black & White by Dani Shapiro; the other entitled “more than this,” in which I wrote about Ursula in Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence.

Here’s the weird thing: one was written on December 9th and the other on December 11th, 2008.

The end of the year pulls me toward reflection. But where’s the time?

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something more

img_11171My favorite passage in Virginia Woolf’Mrs. Dalloway:

“Do you remember the lake? she said, in an abrupt voice, under pressure of an emotion which caught her heart, made the muscles of her throat stiff, and contracted her lips in a spasm as she said “lake.” For she was a child, throwing bread to the ducks between her parents and at the same time a grown woman coming to her parents who stood by the lake, holding her life in her arms which, as she neared them, grew larger and larger in her arms, until it became a whole life, a complete life, which she put down by them and said, “This is what I have made of it!  This!” And what had she made of it?  What, indeed?  sitting there sewing this morning with Peter.”

This grappling with the fact that we are now the same person we were when we were a child reminds me of the passage that so struck me in Mary Gordon‘s The Rest of Life.  With one important difference.  Here, the narrator, Mrs. Dalloway, appears to be judging her life and finding it coming up short. This was in 1925.

Almost a hundred years later, so does Clara in Dani Shapiro‘s 2007 Black & White:

“…invariably Clara walked away from them feeling that there was a secret club of motherhood, complete with a password no one had ever given her.  Why did this all seem so satisfying to them–the cupcake baking, the constant scheduling, the endless games of Candy Land?  And what was wrong with Clara, what psychic disease caused her constant yearning for something more?”

family history

Dani Shapiro is one of my all-time favorite writers.  She knows how to tell a story–how to slowly release details in order to build tension and lure the reader forward. The first book of hers I read was Family History, published in 2003, but which I did not discover until October of 2005.

How does a writer know what to start with?  When to reveal a detail?  What is just enough to keep a reader interested but not so much that the reader has no place in the process?

It begins:

“I lie in bed these days and watch home movies–a useless exercise, to be sure, but I can’t stop myself.  Ned’s an amateur filmmaker, and ever since we got our first video camera when Kate was born, he has documented our family’s life, not just birthday parties and anniversaries but smaller, more telling moments.

I recommend all her books.

  • Playing With Fire, 1989
  • Fugitive Blue, 1993
  • Picturing the Wreck, 1996
  • Slow Motion, 1998
  • Family History, 2003
  • Black & White, 2007