Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Autonomy and Destiny

Tomorrow I'll write about the postcard I found in Asheville that depicts Allan Ginsberg and Gregory Corso in a 'modest pose', but I have little time for that tonight.

I went back to the residency evals from my first residency to find this quotation from a Judith Grossman lecture on Virginia Woolf. The topic was, apparently, how Woolf dealt with her marginalization by major male figures of the era, including Eliot and Joyce. Emerging from a deep depression after having been slighted by T. S. Eliot, Woolf wrote, "I find at age 40 that I can begin to say something in my own voice, and so can go on without praise."

I turned 40 about two months after residency, and the quote has been in my head ever since--there is such truth in that statement of Woolf's. It was as I started at Warren Wilson, just before I turned 40 that I really began to write for myself, no longer trying to put on a facade to please others.

Maybe it has something to do with having had children, fulfilled my biologic destiny, that I could turn away from what had always been expected of me toward what I wanted to be. I had a friend from college with whom I was in touch just before that who talked about the difference between male and female life cycles being something along the lines of the center two of the four life stages being reversed.

I can't remember exactly what the names of the four were, but men, according to him, go through their 'warrior' phase second, and then their 'domestic' phase third, while women go through their 'domestic' phase second, and their 'warrior' phase third. This means that women work out what will be their relationship toward family and childrearing in their 20s and 30s, then launch into a quest mode in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s--a drive to explore, expand, and find autonomy. Men go through their quest phase in their 20s and 30s, and are typically ready to settle down into domesticity later in life.

This seems true in the way most generalizations that seem familiar seem true. Supposedly it's why so many marriages end while partners are in their 40s and early 50s: husband and wife find themselves on different trajectories. I have a female friend right now who's in the middle of ending her marriage precisely because she craves autonomy so much--that's the word she used, 'autonomy', which I recognize from my own emotional struggles within my marriage. Who doesn't want autonomy after 5-10 years of small children clinging to your skirts?

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