When we make major moves in our lives, we unburden ourselves -- at least I do. 30 years or so ago when I moved to NYC I happily responded to an ad in the NY Review of Books asking for diaries of girls who were in high school in the '50s. I sent several diaries covering age 12 to 22. They sat in the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College for some time. In the three years I've learned that a couple of Ph.D.candidates referred to my diaries in their theses. A couple of weeks ago a senior at Harvard emailed me saying she was using my high school diaries extensively in her thesis which is about how advertising and media, especially magazines, influenced teenage girls in the 1950s. I'm only 60 or70 miles away from Harvard so she came down to interview me last weekend. I've been partly processing the experience since then.
I realized before talking to her that I remember very little of my high school years -- it was about 55 years ago and I've experienced not just water under the bridge but floods of life experiences. What a strange feeling to talk with someone who knows me as a teenager --only-- while the teenager is someone so embedded, encrusted within me that I can barely recognize her -- for which I'm enormously grateful most of the time.
My teenage self was in many ways a loner, shy to the bone and yet paradoxically capable of public speaking, writing for publication and performing [very badly] on the piano. I have not yet dug up that long buried teen. I don't even want to sort through the artifacts in her tomb. But I cannot deny that, in fact, she is not dead and she is not a zombie or a ghoul, she is me -- or I am her. But covered by years of accretion -- mold and rust, but also gold and jewels. Somehow metaphors are the only way to describe the memories. I shall slowly come to terms with being reminded of those years. Never have I been nostalgic. Those years were always something to live through, an entrapment to escape. Escape I did, joyfully. Do the circus's tigers, when they are finally given the freedom of a large wild animal farm to live out their lives, remember performing to the crack of a trainer's whip, remember jumping through firey hoops? I think not. Metaphors again. The young woman was charming, professional and, of course, intelligent. She has no idea what psychic confusion she unleashed. Not a bad thing, probably a good thing, maybe integration is an important step at this age.
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