Today, on the 105th anniversary of my adoptive mother's birth, I have finally joined Redroom. To commemorate two such momentous milestones in my life, I thought I might begin my first blog. I have never studied blogging -- I wonder if it would be a good class to teach on the graduate level -- and don't know quite where to begin, but I have a lot to say, about being a woman, and about being a person with disabilities in today's disabled world, and a writer in a wonderfully unique community for writers but in a nation which has little respect for writing as an art or as anything but a medium for propaganda and/or anaesthesia.
I want my own writing to be neither; I want to enrich my life and perhaps the lives of othersl. I want to write about the things that people do not speak about, and that's why I admire the writers whom I do admire, from Rumi through Rilke, Dostoevsky through Tillie Olsen, Thomas Wolfe (not Tom) through William Vollman and Kate Braverman. All of them courageous enough to take a step away from what popularity demands, from what the bestseller lists tout as successful and "good". All brave enough to be failures.
The man who was my first mentor as a writer was my professor at Columbia, was Edward Dahlberg. Dahlberg, whose name is probably forgotten now by all but a handful of admiring writers (which includes myself and the poet Robert Creeley, both of whom were honored to have been his students). Dahlberg wrote about what he called "Beautiful Failures," among whom he probably counted himself. These were people who were able to go their own ways in their own art without considerations of popularity or greed. How unfashionable they were, even then these beauties, and how admirable. I came upon Dahlberg's autobiography "Because I was Flesh" in a Philadelphia bookstore in 1966, and instantly was wild about his unique, elaborate prose and his magnificent self pity. I knew I had come upon a master, and when the Columbia MFA program suddenly opened, with Dahlberg 's name on the masthead, I applied for it at once even though my husband at the time did not want to live back in New York. Due either to luck or to fate I was accepted, maybe only because I was a woman; Dahlberg later confided in me that he had chosen "the best of the worst," but that he found me attractive. Ouch. Nonetheless. The word "best" was at least peripherally applied to me, or at least to my writing. I spent a year of studying with him until it felt as if he were fascinated more by whatever charms I possessed as a nubile 28-year-old woman than as a writer, and then he was fired for alienating more than half his class, and Columbia became embroiled in the 1968 student strike. Demonstrating a flexibilitiy I didn't even know I had at that age, I immediately became involved in the strike, becoming the strike representative of my department (Writing) at the School of the Arts. It was a period during which many women were beginning to understand that freedom might apply to the people of Vietnam, or Mississippi. or Harlem, but if we were middle class and appeared to be well off, it did not apply to us.
And then one day, I came across an article by an artist, Pat Mainardi, called "The Politics of Housework," and my life was changed again.