I know all I have written here, or I know it the way I remember it....Lillian Hellman, Pentimento
When I was in high school, I read Lillian Hellman's memoir Pentimento. It was a radical read for a little Texas gal in a little conservative Texas community, but I didn't know it at the time. I devoured the pages: Lillian married and divorced, slept with Dashiel Hammett and others, testified heroically at the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, and basically lived the life she wished to--she didn't get the man and live happily ever after--regrets and all. She made her living writing, as I now do. The idea of success held up to me at the time were the girls who had gotten engaged senior year or had been accepted by Southwest Airlines as stewardesses. Not to marry. Sex before marriage. Drinking. Times alone. Work. Competing with men. Besting men. Living without men. This was not anywhere in the Houston Ship Channel landscape around me. I read and reread that book. Some of it was for the sheer poetry of her prose. Some of it was for the way she'd linked the pieces of her life. Some of it was for the pieces of her life: New Orleans, Julia, Dashiel, the farm, New York. And some of it, I now know, was because she was modeling another way to live, a way that didn't offer security, but was authentic, and authenticity was something I craved but had no idea how to incorporate, much less pronounce. Later, there were other books by Margaret Mead, Anais Nin, and Ann Lindbergh--women living lives which weren't easy, but were rich in experience--and then when I was in my 20s, feminism made its braless, glorious, revolutionary debut defined and starred in by Gloria Steinem and company, and the rest, as they say, is history....my history, flawed and marked up like a bad spelling test....a little like my very dear Ms. Hellman's.