Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Searching for Mercy Street

I got to New York yesterday and got down to the hotel, and took a looong nap and then a little walk around Chelsea. I’ve really missed the big, rotten apple. I feel really tiny and anonymous here – I remember that feeling that faded over the years I was here – and it’s both thrilling and terrifying. I got up at dawn’s buttcrack and was HBIC at work, where I chaired a meeting and just generally was awesome. As the organization falls to pieces around me.

I am reading Searching for Mercy Street, My Journey Back to My Mother: Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton which is fascinating. I love Anne Sexton’s poetry and I read her biography a long time ago, as well as her Self Portrait in Letters (that was edited by Linda). Writing seems like the inevitable calling for Linda, including this “confessional” writing, because, as she notes, her mother made her life into a documentary. In the wake of Sylvia Plaths’ son Nicholas Hughes’ suicide, Linda contributed an op-ed to the New York Times which further recounts her time in the home of her mother and her own battle with depression and suicidal tendencies.

Linda grew up scared of being sent away to live with abusive relatives, as she was when Anne first went into the psychiatric ward, and always afraid that something was going to set off the mania in her mother. By Linda’s account (and I believe every word she writes), Anne was not just a little depressed now and then with suicidal tendencies, she was really “crazy”, for lack of a better word. Back then they called it “hysteria”. She was inappropriately and obliviously sexual around the children, physically violent, frightened and obsessed with thoughts of killing herself (and her daughters), manic, easily overwhelmed, and extremely self absorbed. However, when she discovered poetry, and achieved a certain level of success writing it, she became obsessed with her writing. She would make time for anything that had to do with it: meeting poets and editors for lunch, attending events, working with her rock band who set her poems to music.

This confused many and infuriated her husband and mother in law, both of whom argued that if she could go hang out with Maxine Kumin, she could get out of bed to take care of the children, or at the very least pick up around the house. However in her teen years Linda does have fond memories of sharing her own poetry with her famous mother, and bonding over the craft of writing, and becoming friends…”intimate as sisters”. Still, Anne made her constantly uncomfortable with frank talk of everything, attempting to “tell it true”.

So far there are two important lessons to take from the book. One: You are not fully insane if you can bake cookies. And two: Writing can either cleanse or make things infinitely more filthy.

No comments: