Now and then I read academic books that are so dense in theory and research that I can only read about 5 pages at a time. One that I'm reading now is Aged by Culture, by age researcher Margaret Morganroth Gullette. This is an important book but not an easy one. She defines her field and she defines much else, it's a heavy meal. I am not coming across pithy things to underline because that is definitely not the style. But the following longish bit seemed something I wanted to share. It's from a section called "Age Identity as an Achievement."
Age identity is a special subset of autobiography -- I understand broadly, as a narrative that anyone can tell about one's self, to self and others, whether informally in conversation or written for archival purposes. No particular level of education is required. Age identity is special because its focus is on the meaning of long time, although it can highlight one-time events or short periods of epiphanies. It's what I report when I stand back to survey where my "historic" trail has led me. From observation and self-report, I think that identity over time can be seen as a sense of an achieved portmanteau "me" -- made up, for each subject, of all its changeable and continuing selves together -- connected in different ways, or intermittently, but sometimes barely at all, to a sensuously material body.
The partially conscious, partially unselfconscious, agglomeration includes private, self-defined traits, relationships, heartbreaks, and desires; the secret my father told me when I was eleven, the secret I told my son when he was twenty-one, stuff I'll never tell about early sex, ambitions relinquished, dreams maintained against the odds. Memories of this kind feel authentic, and if they are not, nothing is.
I think of this above quote especially in relation to the writing class I am in at the local community college where most people are writing memoir pieces. A couple that were read yesterday were particularly memorable. It was interesting that one writer let the work speak for itself which it did powerfully. The other writer had no confidence in his writing -- which was quite vivid and needed not explication. But he talked and talked about the subject before and after reading his work. The former was willing to project identity and trust what he wrote, the latter neither trusted his writing nor was he self-assured enough to feel he had project himself adequately.
[the portrait above is, of course, Georgia O'Keefe]
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