In search of new stories, I found myself drawn to Diane di Prima’s 2001 memoir, “Recollections of My Life as a Woman. “ It focuses on her childhood and her life in New York – a portrayal of the artist as a young woman, in all of her romantic and intuitive glory. Ms. di Prima is remarkable because as a poet in her early twenties in 1950s New York City, she decided she wanted to be a mother, and a single mother on top of that.
“I was a poet,” she wrote, continuing, “There was nothing I could experience, as a human in a female body, that I wouldn’t experience…. There should not, it seems to me, be a quarrel between these two objectives: to have a baby and to be a poet. Nonetheless, she continued, “A conflict has held me tight.”
Her memories revolve around this conflict between motherhood and the demands of an artist. At one point, overwhelmed by the demands of raising children on her own while running a press, founding an avant-garde theater, protecting her left-wing friends from FBI raids and the crushing misery of life in the city. he artist in New York, Mrs. Di Prima contracted a marriage of convenience with a man she distrusted. He was the ex-boyfriend of her male best friend. Besides its messy origins, this relationship resembles the dream that I have heard so many straight women describe, jokingly and not jokingly – wishing to start a family with a friend, to avoid the complications of romantic love.
But Ms. di Prima is honest about the limits of the arrangement. She wrote that she avoided the pains of romance, but the man she married is still an overbearing and abusive mess, in her narrative. Moreover, in marriage she lost something integral to herself. “One of my most precious and precious possessions was my independence: my struggle for control of my own life,” she wrote, continuing: “I didn’t see that it had of intrinsic value to anyone other than me, that it was a coin. it was precious only in the kingdom, a currency that could not cross borders.
These words, when I read them, ring in me like the chime of a tuning fork. I have never read such a precise description of what marriage asks some people to give up. Those who panic about the rising number of single Americans fail to see that this statistic includes lives of hard-earned independence – lives that always intersect with a community, with a home, with a belief in something. larger than oneself. People who cling to the old tales of celibacy and marriage cannot yet see these lives for what they are because, as Ms. di Prima says, they are not “an objectively valuable commodity.” Their meaning is “a currency that cannot cross borders”.
These lives threaten the community narratives currently in place. But what is a threat to some may be a glimmer of a new world to come to others.