Juste une fable n° 6
early on there was trouble with my appearance. i found myself in a beauty shop, where some woman i did not like, an unkempt woman, was rubbing my legs and waxing my toes. i couldn't believe i had asked for that. maybe this was just something i had to go through to get what i wanted, which was some colors on my lower extremities, something like a border between me and the ground. i wanted dark pink or red, as usual, certainly not wax on my feet.
but when i got up from the chair things got worse. for, though i didn't ask for that, it seems the shop was going to weigh me. i think they were going to weigh me before doing something about my hair. i was upset when i got on the scale, which was wobbly and hard to see, when the dial spun and the needle stopped at 134.
134 is a lot for me. but i decided i'd take my licks, as my father used to say, and jump off the scale before it got any higher. however, the lady, she walked by and said, wow 350-400 lbs. that's a lot for you.
that sobered me up. i said, what are you talking about? i don't weigh that much, see. when i got back on, the scale went just above 140. so i hopped off again, because i'd made my point. but this lady, she really insisted. she said again, 400, that's way too much.
so i stopped passers-by. i didn't want to get on that crazy scale again. and i started asking, do i look like i weigh 400lbs? i didn't think so, and they didn't either, but i must have looked at least 150, because part of their reassurance felt like it was being polite. well, that finally pissed me off at the woman and the place. i yelled that i wanted to speak to the manager. and the next thing you know i was out of there.
but then i ran into the same kind of problem again. or at least it feels the same to me now. i was trying to communicate with someone about my writing, trying to explain the problem i have with getting it out there, and there were scenes even where i was at my desk and trying to write.
i was frustrated because i was writing the same thing over and over again, and i thought it was true and beautiful though imperfect, but that i wasn't getting anywhere, partly because i didn't know what my writing was for.
was i trying to soothe children, to inspire adults? to make myself whole, or break myself into parts? i didn't know and i was stuck like a record, so i pushed aside the pictures and the dvds that were around my writing table and i pushed away all the books that i had ever made, and i decided once again, i'd go out and look for some help.
who could possibly help me with a problem like this? i forgot how i was going about it during the day, which was exposing myself to the idea that i can't make a commitment to myself, or rather, more precisely, to the notion that my self has not quite yet come together in the way it has to so that i can be in a position to make such a commitment. i forgot all that and went for help of the type i used to seek before.
and i walked first into the streets of princeton. there i stopped in a coffee shop where i first met up with a publishing kind of lady of the sort my mother used to be. her attitude was that all writing problems could be solved from the outside, by packaging. but bizarrely, very queerly, she didn't represent marketing, no. her point of view was that everything was in the paratext, or in certain things about the appearances of language, which i care little about, such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
since i was still a professor, this lady was respectful of me, and it seemed to be her feeling that i would find a solution to my problem, if i would just keep having coffee with people like herself. she acknowledged that the business of writing is very hard to get in. and she wanted me to understand too that it wasn't easy either to have to keep the gate.
but i'm an impatient woman, calculating and shrewd, so i walked off from that situation, and just before i left, i communicated that the problem i was having was a little deeper than that. this led me next to an encounter with an older woman poet.
now, the older woman poet is someone i've met before, and not really someone who i want to be with. this is a big problem, because that's precisely who i am, and who i'm bound to be, especially if i ever figure out my problems with my writing. the older woman poet is exactly the person who i'm having trouble making friends with by day, though i've known her a very long time. i've been carrying her inside me since i was 23.
it's not that i mind myself, so much, that this is who i am. i'd rather be an old woman poet than just about anything else. but i'm very uncomfortable with other people seeing me that way, and feel i need all kinds of power and position so that others won't look down on me, and make me feel like trash.
they might think i'm too ugly to be exposing my feelings like that, because desire, which is energy, is the property of the young. they might think i'm deluded, because in what i write there is always the sense that what i write tomorrow will be truer, will come closer to what i want and what i'm looking for, than what i write today. and, above all, they might ridicule me around the idea of what my writing is for. who would i think i am, they'd wonder, to consider the idea that anyone in the world would want to lay hold of my thoughts, and try them for their own?
well, all this was so powerful and so negative that i was paralyzed, really, at the thought of going any further with my writing, though going further with my writing is the only thing i want to do. but when i tried to explain this to a passer-by, an objective sort of ageless, nameless person, a person of good sense, it was explained to me that in princeton there are plenty of activities for seniors, and that i'd find a woman named pam tyler, who was responsible for community outreach, down the hall to the right on the fourth floor.
i was feeling pretty low about this, about the same, i guess, as i'd felt with the scale and my helper at the beauty shop before. but i wasn't yet quite ready to scream for the manager and leave. i went meekly up the elevator and down the hall to the right. i saw the office where the desks of the community outreach teachers must be, but i skulked around rather than entering, because at this point it became clear that i had already tried this solution to my problem, back in my thirties and my forties. i knew it was a dead end and would never work.
i certainly didn't want to get involved with any poetry workshops. death on the rack would be better for my writing than that.
there was no editorial solution. even the editors were beginning to come to grips with that. and the beauty shop? it was depressing, but at least in that department, the problems were somewhat exterior, even if they were mine. so i decided i could try again to deal with those people and avoid eating candy at night. all in all i came to the conclusion that this holistic approach that i'm taking is the best one that i can, even though my strategy's radically divided between binding my body (for the sake of appearances) and trying to free my soul.
this made me uncomfortable, for sure, because the problems i am talking about are real and perhaps insurmountable, in the sense that i really am old and they're a mountain. but at least i had something solid, like the earth and ground underfoot.
Mary Shaw est professeure de littérature française des dix-neuvième et vingtième siècles à l'Université de Rutgers (New Jersey). Outre ses travaux universitaires, elle a publié deux livres pour enfants ainsi qu'un recueil de poésie intitulé Album Without Pictures (2008).