A reader recently called Rough Beauty—a fairy tale. She was not being kind. At first I laughed. Anyone who knows me knows I am no princess; not once have I been a damsel in distress. The course of my life has been a dirty mess, traversing the scarred landscape of family and fire, the misery of isolation and working too much for too little. I could go on, but you get the picture.
And yet, I’ve had the kind of year that you get in story books: I published my first book to critical acclaim and I bought my very first house—a real beauty on an acre and a half of land where I wake every morning to a tree-house view of the forest through French doors in the bedroom. That I never thought either event was possible makes 2018 sparkle with fairy dust. And I recently agreed to marry Greg in the 7th year of our courtship. This small thunderbolt arrived in the most unexpected way, as we were hiking a new trail near Rollins Pass, and for the third time this year, my landscape shifted. I can’t decide if the fact that these firsts have come now—when I am in my fifth decade—makes the tale more saccharine or sweet, but it does write the not so traditional nature of my life large.
Lately, I’ve been mindful of the late summer blooms, counting every sip of color, each delicate petal—savoring the last of the season. And so it is as I watch the course of my days, as I seem to be coming into the kinds of things we call milestones rather belatedly. I recently read Rick Bass’ memoir The Traveling Feast in which the writer, now sixty and ending his long marriage, wonders how many more books he might be able to write, and, I think, if he will ever love again. Does he have either in him? is the subtext of what is a beautiful but mournful book. My trajectory is almost the opposite of Bass’, a writer whose first publication came early and in The Paris Review, whose champions were Gordon Lish and George Plimpton. Just like the aster, which doesn’t imagine itself tardy to the riot of summer; growing instead according to its own sense of season and instinct, I try not to be bothered by time or the question of what I’ve been doing all these years.
Clearly, mine is the tale of the late bloomer, written about most poignantly in the last lines of Sylvia Plath poem, “Poppies in October”:
Oh my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a field of frost in a dawn of cornflowers.
The circumstances of our lives are made more beautiful by context and timing. Here, Plath finds the astonishing—made even more so—out of season and surrounded by death. That my life has burst forth with so much now is a kind of miracle. But that doesn’t make it mythic. No one’s life is easy—it only seems so from the outside looking in. What’s true is The Story is Ours. And like the poppies in Plath’s poem, it can be “a gift/a love gift” if we’re willing to see it for what it is, if we have the guts to tell the tale.
Join me for From From Memory to Memoir, a 4-week class at The Light House North beginning September 11th.