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written 2004 after reading "The Bitch In The House"


commentary • 05.04.04


I like what the very excellent Vivian Gornick is saying. "The Bitch in the House" is a book of 26 short essays written by American women talking about their lives as mothers and wives. Vivian is one of them, a latter day feminist now in her 60s. She says that independence is about “being in a state of becoming”. It’s not something you’re granted, but something you have to continually work at achieving. She says “it’s not a thing one demands or pleads for but a thing one earns. Not a gift granted but a condition pulled out of one’s own reluctant self.” She quotes Checkov who said: “Others made me a slave, but I am a squeezed slave out of myself drop by drop.” Gornick talks about self-knowledge and learning to know what you can live with and what you can’t and why. She believes that’s what independence is.

She also draws from Thoreau. He went off to the forest to ask himself what exactly was it he needed and what was he willing to pay to get it. He wanted to put himself to the test. He found he wanted to live in a state of inner independence but not actually be without people. This is similar to what I feel: that you want independence in yourself in order that you can relate better in a less needy way. The best kind of relationship grows from this. Thoreau thought that in order to do this you required as stripped down an atmosphere as you could manage so you could sort out real needs from those imposed upon you.

It’s good to read about people whose thoughts resonate with my own. Interesting that Thoreau was deliberating 150 years ago. I wonder if culturally we are any closer to this as a way of life. Doesn’t appear so. I know absolutely no one in my world with these kinds of preoccupations. And the broader culture is so decadent at the moment that the possibility of such refinement seems lost. Maybe it’s an undercurrent kind of thing whose arrival will be subtle and unseen. Yeah, that’ll be it.