Monday, December 12, 2016

My Own Canoe: A Tale of Linda and Louisa

There was that one day early on I related to Bronson Alcott. ("Although Bronson Alcott was unfortunate in never being understood by the many, he was singularly blessed by being understood by the distinguished few.")  But then, I kept reading Invincible Louisa and shit got real and I came to see how scarily similar I am to Louisa herself. And not just 'cause we both got names that start with an L and end in an A, yo.

Let's check it out.
(Quoting from Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, Alcott Centennial Edition, ISBN: 0-316-56590-3)

"At the end of the day, both little girls would write in their journals, Anna [sister] filling hers with quiet, pleasant reflections and a record of the work she had done, Louisa covering her blotted pages with accounts of her turbulent thoughts, of her glorious runs on the hill, with the wind all about her, and, alas, of her quarrels..."    p. 41

I, too, have an older sister. We did keep journals when we were young, but I'd say that passage above is basically an apt description of Lesley's and my Facebook pages.

Oooohhh, here's a part about life's work....very much related to current work...which is NOT my life work...? (Don't worry, I've already had this conversation with my boss...)

"What she had learned...made her a good teacher, but it could not make her love the task of instruction. Besides knowledge, she brought to the task energy and an enthusiasm for succeeding, along with that boundless friendliness which is the heart of a real teacher's success.  [That's me, ever "establishing rapport"...]  The little girls got much from her; she in turn got much from them....Louisa gave generously and taught well, but she could not learn to like her work. She was too restless and impetuous..."  p. 63

Right, then. Moving on, to her sister's marriage:

"...after going to see Anna in her new house and observing her sister's happiness in her new life:
'Very sweet and pretty; but I would rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.'" -p. 94

Seriously. I would rather paddle my own canoe. Who can put it any better than that?

From personal back to professional, she struggled at first, as we all do, don't we? to write and succeed at making a living writing, and specifically to write a novel.

"She remarked finally that she was tired of long stories, that she would rather 'fall back on rubbishy tales, for they pay best and I can't starve on praise.' It was a belief unworthy of her, unworthy of her real powers, of her father's principles, of Emerson's teaching..."   p. 134

Ahh, that's my problem - falling short by slacking off and being unworthy of Emerson's teaching! But there's still hope because:

"Things, just the same, were bound to be better for one of Louisa's spirit. She was a strange mixture of impetuousness and toiling perseverance, of wild, impossible fancies and practical sense."

I'm pretty sure no one has ever summed up Lindouisa so well.

Eventually, she gets to travel the world (Louisa without borders?) and "stopped at Frankfurt to see the house of Goethe, for Louisa would never be anything but an ardent hero-worshipper, and here was the shrine of one of her literary idols."  p. 137   The problem with this trip, though, is that she was able to go abroad by working, as the companion/helper/nurse-ish personal assistant to a woman with issues. "It was very hard for her to be hampered by the inabilities of another." p. 138, which is basically my motto. But she does meet a good guy whom she befriends (and who inspires Laurie, for ye Little Women aficionados) but who is not her suitor -- he's twelve years younger than her, for one thing. She does have suitors, though, in her life, but...

"She was so busy...that she rarely gave thought to matrimony...Life was so full for her without marriage, so beset with activities and responsibilities, that certainly matrimony was something which she never consciously missed. She had a great desire for independence, which it would have been hard for her to give up for any person's sake."  p. 140

I have had that exact conversation in those exact words so very many times.

"On the other hand, she had great capacity for affection and sentiment, for romance and for happiness."  p. 140

See, e.g., crying at Coca-Cola ads and the like.

Writing is a struggle. At one point, "she planned various novels later -- indeed, her mind was always a seething ferment of plans..."  p. 182  Check and check! And there's the obligatory moment in every writer's life (mine has lasted for a decade) in which she lives in a pleasant house with the family but, natch, "There is no mention of a study or of any privacy for herself, where she could write in peace." - p. 183  The eternal goddamn fucking struggle.

Yet, as we all know, she meets with success! Will this be my future, too?

"With Little Women, Louisa achieved what she really wanted, a piece of work which she actually knew to be her best. With it she achieved also the appreciation of the world and such prosperity as gave her full power, at last, to do just what she wished. It is delightful to read of how her name came to be on every tongue; how she grew to be not merely famous, which mattered little to her, but universally beloved, which mattered much. After all the years of doubting her own power, of looking for her true field, of thinking of herself as a struggling failure, she was obliged at last to admit, even in the depths of her own soul, that she was a success."  - p 155

May it become so.

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