“I’ll lay out the pages like tarot cards, a major arcana of the past.”


This morning, while swimming, I was thinking of the editing work I’d be doing when I got home. The pool was busier than usual and maybe that’s the reason why I accidentally did an extra set of laps so that I swam 1200 meters instead of my usual 1000. Or maybe it was because I was thinking and planning the process of working on these pages. There are 42 of them. The essay I began in October has grown to more than 20,000 words and has become more memoir-ish than I anticipated. I thought I’d be writing about one particular aspect of what I quickly realized was a much more complicated nest of stories and so I let the inevitable happen. I settled in for the duration. I’m writing about a relationship, about a collection of paintings and drawings, and I’m trying to puzzle through what it meant to be objectified by a very intense male gaze. What it meant to be a young woman at the receiving end of the gaze, knowing and not knowing what the implications would be. There’s an archive of letters to go with the paintings and reading these has been a very strange experience. I realize now how I’d blocked certain memories. If I’m to write honestly, I have to acknowledge my responsibility for what happened, its long consequences. And I’m willing to do that, though it’s hard.

This morning I cleared the table of almost everything but a few elegant pine cones and the candles and I’ll lay out the pages like tarot cards, a major arcana of the past. There’s a magician, yes, and a tower; there’s an empress, a hanged man, and I wish there had been temperance. When the pages are in the sequence in which I wrote them, I’m hoping I’ll see a pattern, a reading, that will help me to see what I need to do next. I thought this would be more analytical than it’s become. There are areas I’ve needed to explore from a theoretical perspective, using Julia Kristeva’s magnificent “Stabat Mater”, some Freud, some Jung; but the bedrock is personal experience and for that I’m relying on memory, which is both remarkably reliable and deceptive. When I look an old journal kept during this time, I realize I am right about details and a time-frame; but the letters tell me I didn’t pay attention to the suffering of others. I’m holding myself to account for that but maybe it’s too late. I was young. I was 23.

Yes, but what can I say about the Parthenon – that my own ghost met me, the girl of 23, with all her life to come… (Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary)

When we write about representations of women in art, are we always projecting? Am I now, as I write about my younger self, still her, still looking over her (my) shoulder, expecting the worst? Her gaze is my gaze. The painter is long dead. Some of my models for this book are the Caryatids supporting the entablature of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens. I’ve always loved their strength, their far-seeing eyes. I hope for that far-seeing as I lay out my pages, determine what to do next.

2 thoughts on ““I’ll lay out the pages like tarot cards, a major arcana of the past.””

  1. Theresa, if you haven’t, you should read Annie Ernaux’s “A Girl’s Story.” An extraordinarily candid and honest exploration of her 17-year-old self. Some can’t stand her, and this is all I’ve read by her, but it sounds like something you’d be interested in at this stage of your work.

    1. Thanks for this suggestion, Beth. I haven’t read “A Girl’s Story” though I did read others of hers — “Getting Lost” was very good, for example. And she writes what she needs to write, moving in and out of fiction to memoir with such grace. I’ll look for “A Girl’s Story”.

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