Monday, December 3, 2007

Journal of a Solitude - May Sarton

Journal of a Solitude is a deeply personal book. It chronicles a year in the life of the poet at age 58. Her solitary journaling takes place at her family home, Nelson, in New Hampshire. She hopes, with this journal to;
...break through into the rough, rocky depths, to the matrix itself. There is violence there and anger never resolved. My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence if I cannot find support there.
Sarton writes a level beyond simplistic themes of desire and choice, exploring her internal struggles from a plainly humanistic viewpoint.

I wonder when and why May Sarton was kicked out of the "in crowd"? She's been on my radar since the tender age of eighteen. She's even quoted in my Intermediate Algebra book! Page 1, no less!:

"I see a certain order in the universe[,] and math is one way of making it visible." - May Sarton, As We Are Now, 1973 ; )

In Wikipedia's page on the life and writings of May Sarton, it is stated that "many of her novels and poems are pellucid reflections of the lesbian experience."

1 : admitting maximum passage of light without diffusion or distortion pellucid stream
2 : reflecting light evenly from all surfaces
3 : easy to understand

Sarton strikes me as a lover of many things, flowers, friends, poetry, nature, light. She actively loves the ever changing and the intangible. Her loves truly do seem to diffuse without distortion...there is a purity in her self acceptance that results in stark honesty and a deeply ingrained integrity.

I recall reading, at age eighteen, her images of love; the expectations and concurrent frustrations, and taking them at face value. That hasn't changed, twenty years later. She does not appear to have much of a reservoir of hate. Her problematic anger (Sarton confesses to fits of rage) seems to be based upon her frustrations within the moment. She is forgiving, of others and of herself, with a loving perspective by nature. Sarton is grounded in the moment, completely.

I find myself hesitant to pigeonhole Sarton in any way. I read Journal of a Solitude for the first time at the afore mentioned tender age of eighteen and at that time (I am a little embarrassed to admit) I didn't overtly perceive that Sarton was gay. I realize that sounds strange. As I reread the book now, I see that Sarton addresses the issue quite obviously. I believe the lack of perception on my part came from being young, and being raised in a culture where homosexual rights have always been a hot topic.

She is an activist in the purest sense. In Journal of a Solitude her activism spreads in many directions; she addresses a range of issues from homosexuality to marriage to women's rights to the state of government during that time.

She opines about De Gaulle, upon his death; "Wholeness, so far as statesmen go, may have something to do with speaking in one's own words. De Gaulle did not call in "writers"; the very idea is grotesque. The leader who allows others to speak for him is abdicating. Who is speaking via Nixon? Who wrote this phrase or that? One is never quite sure. He and Agnew became puppets. Who is the ventriloquist who manipulates them?"

Once again; WHY was she kicked out of the in crowd?

Sarton isn't afraid to think or question. Ultimately she isn't afraid to take her thoughts to the highest level she is capable of, regardless of personal discomfort. She isn't afraid to speak her mind. I'm keeping this book next to the bedside for a long while.


Maria said...

A couple of thoughts: First, the in crowd changes, too, mais non? What are or what were the standards of this in crowd? I'd consider this a personality conflict. And, she was a lesbian. I think it's harder for homosexuals, generally. So, was her personality kind of "go along to get along" or was she pretty militant? I don't know enough about the personal lives of May or Gertrude Stein to answer this myself, but because I would consider Gertrude an "insider," is there any merit in a compare/contrast of the two?

Jen said...

What thoughtful observations!

Hm. I wonder too, what the standards of the "in crowd" were. Sarton was publishing from 1930 up until the 90's. This encompasses an enormous realm of change...I imagine her perspectives changed with the times. In Journal of a Solitude she refers to activism on levels other than specifically lesbian activism a number of times.

This was helpful in gaining an overall impression of her life. According to this source, she wasn't so very interested in being viewed first and foremost as a lesbian writer. Feminist, definitely...I think she helped to define feminism for some. She stands out to me for her sexual neutrality. She seems to be more interested in exploring the concept of "love" outside of sexual identity.

Gertrude Stein, I don't know enough about to comment. But I would love to read a compare/contrast of the two.