(Ok February…hit me with your best shot. I’m going to go a bit dark here. Let’s see if I can come up for air by the end.)
…ma per trattar del ben ch’i vi trovai, diro dell’ altre cose, ch’io v’ho scorte.
(…but to treat of the good that I found there, I will tell of other things I there discerned.)
– Dante, Inferno, 1:3
I created this haunting piece on March 22, 1994. I was 15. I not only drew the darkness, I was drawn to the darkness. I would always just go right to the edge of the black and pull myself back. But there were times I couldn’t catch myself before falling deeper. I wasn’t equipped to write the darkness while in it. I didn’t want to name it and writing about it would make it more real. But writing the darkness during those periods would have been helpful to read at a later point in time. To remember. To forgive.
I took a course in university on motherhood. I have to admit that I took it hoping to get an easy A. I thought to myself, “I’m a mother now. This will be a piece of cake. How hard could it be?” I did not expect a course on motherhood to initiate writing the darkness. The above quote from Dante is found at the very beginning of one of the books on the required reading list: Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich. This book made me uncomfortable and uneasy. She wrote the darkness – the darkness of motherhood, the darkness of feminine rage, the darkness of the woman experience.
I was uncomfortable with these dark words. These taboo confessions rocked me because at the time I was desperately trying not to confess these same things in fear that there was something wrong with me. Why wasn’t I a picture of serenity like those women in the prenatal guides?
Rich begins with her own confessions:
I was haunted by the stereotype of the mother whose love is “unconditional”; and by the literary and visual images of motherhood as a single-minded identity. If I knew parts of myself existed that would never cohere to those images, weren’t those parts then abnormal, monstrous? And – as my eldest son, now aged twenty-one, remarked on reading the above passages: “You seemed to feel you ought to love us all the time. But there is no human relationship where you love the other person at every moment.” Yes, I tried to explain to him, but women – above all, mothers – have been supposed to love that way.
This was another piece I created in 1994 entitled Mother and Child, my then image of this sacred relationship…
On Woman Born’s first chapter is called “Anger and Tenderness.” She talks about being with a group of mothers who confessed to the “unacceptable, but undeniable anger.” My grandmother, my mother, my aunts – none of them spoke of this anger. Could I? Would I? Because I, too, know this anger. If I hadn’t read Rich’s raw and honest experiences, how would I know that motherhood can have dark moments?
No one mentions the psychic crisis of bearing a first child, the excitation of long-buried feelings about one’s own mother, the sense of confused power and powerlessness, of being taken over on the one hand and of touching new physical and psychic potentialities on the other, a heightened sensibility which can be exhilarating, bewildering, and exhausting.
Why are we so afraid of the dark? If we all wrote, spoke, drew, or simply accepted the darkness, we would be less inclined to stay there. The light would find us. The commonality and similar experiences alone would give us comfort. Can we give ourselves permission to talk about our encounters with the darkness?
Rich includes a poem by Audre Lorde where she asks:
What do we want from each other
after we have told our stories
do we want
to be healed do we want
mossy quiet stealing over our scars
do we want
the all-powerful unfrightening sister
who will make the pain go away
the past be not so
(I’m going to have lighten things up soon…that was heavy.)
Trying to survive the February blues by getting my write on with writealm: