Begin here, as May Sarton always wrote when she closed the door to her study and sat down to write. Begin here. Ok. So. I’m just going to get all my blurts out so I can buckle down on Book. Feel free to roll your eyes for I am blatantly using this forum to glide into my Foxhole. I am sorry, dear Sirenader, you deserve better and I promise to do right by you soon. But just showing up at the plate today feels like a feat, what with this cold-cold-cold and brain sludge and financial worries and existentially broken heart and okay yes blurts. SO. I wanna write, stage, and star in a new Broadway production entitled SNOTSICLES! THE MUSICAL! to take place on the first day of Febrooooary and ALSO I want an appropriate occasion for the gorgeous ill-advisedly long earrings I was gifted for my birthday and ALSO I miss sex on the regular and ALSO It offends me that my ex no longer stalks me on social media though I stopped following him halfway through that disaster of a relationship and ALSO fuck valdeTrump GOP MAGA corporatized Dems too. ALSO I think I have bitten off more than I can chew with this book sheeeit why isn’t it done yet it’s never gonna sell ALSO Grey’s Anatomy slayed last night and I 100 percent can defend my continued passion for the show ALSO should it bother me that I am a 48-year-old woman who still wears pigtails? Probably OK THANKS SEE YA SOON. (I hope.)
Never married, she was born in 1917 to English nobility that lost its cash. After serving for the BBC Overseas during World War II, she worked as a groundbreaking book editor for decades; her authors included Simone de Beauvoir, Norman Mailer, Jean Rhys, John Updike, Jack Kerouac, and Margaret Atwood. In her late 40s, she published her first book of fiction and went on to pen two more novels and ten memoirs. She also moved through a stable of glittering, great loves well into her dotage.
Coolly phrased, exuberantly hot-blooded, her subject-verb subject-verb rhythms taught me so much about the multitudes uncluttered sentences could hold. Never was there a Hemingway dissociation in her reserve–just precise passion and ever-piercing truth.
Once she hit her 90s, I held my breath every time her name appeared in Google alerts. Each one heralded more brilliant things she’d written, more generous comments she’d made. By this year I stopped thinking she’d ever die, and took enormous comfort in that fact–as if a life could persist so long as it was usefully and joyously lived. Then Thursday the news I’d been dreading arrived.
Already it had been a tumultuous few days–the stranger’s slap, my financial white flag, the return to my memoir for the first time since November, not to mention the triumph of Nancy Pelosi, the arrest of Roger Stone. But nothing proved more destabilizing than this headline: “Diana Athill, dead at 101.”
What life she lived. What life she shared. She and Mary Oliver both deserve their rest but I imagine instead they’re diving with great zeal into the Book of Akashic Records–both of them always so appreciative of other people’s words. Thank you thank you thank you thank you, child-free mothers. You showed younger Jo Marches how to love everything big and everything small about ourselves and the world.
I have known K since our late 20s–actually I turned 30 a few days after meeting him*–but we only became solid friends in our 40s. First he had a crush on me and I found him esoteric. Then I had a crush on him and he found me extra. Only now that we’ve outgrown feeling slighted by people who don’t desire us have we become good friends.
It’s the best.
Because we are neighbors, we often meet up for coffee, go on rambling walks, help each other out. We have seen each other through some very hard times–illnesses, deaths, breakups, poverty. Neither of us are out of the woods in that final category, and we talk about how being broke is different when you get older. Aging is a constant undercurrent of our conversations.
Perhaps I should say overcurrent because the topic looms. Continue Reading →