I’ve been in the fog of finals the last few weeks. It is rare that I pop my head up from behind my laptop or textbooks to do, read, or watch anything, but I heard today that a great American poet, Adrienne Rich passed away last week. I have spent many hours bent delicately over her words, feeling both fragile and strong, alone but understood. I’m so glad to have found her work in a time of my life when I needed to fall asleep with my mind curled around a book of poems that whispered soothingly in my ear from underneath my pillow, speaking to me of my own self worth. People say words can’t change anything, but sometimes they change everything.
I was introduced to her prose as an undergraduate taking a feminist literature class that was to me an honest to God semester long therapy session. I don’t think I missed one single class. I was drowning in the worst self-loathing of my life. I could not conjure up a single redeemable quality in myself. I felt crazy. I felt uncomfortable being alone with myself. There was never silence and that bothered me. I was embarrassed by the way my mind was unable to quiet itself, about how much I thought, cared, how much simple injustices hurt me even when they were directed at someone else. The idea of womenhood was so foreign to me. I felt outside of it. Like being a tomboy had ruined the experience of it somehow. Reading her work made me feel like my expression of femininity was both sacred and unfiltered because I alone had dictated it. Instead of buying into a socially contrived and perpetuated idea of what I as a women should be, I had created a genuine female experience by embracing myself as I was and continue to be, instead of altering myself to fit into a confining mask of what society deems feminine. I had created my own meaning of what is is to be a woman and lived accordingly.
Later, after I had Harper, I found myself struggling. Motherhood did not come naturally to me which is not to say that I feel I am a bad mother only that I am not at home in the role.. My life was this confusing dichotomy. I found myself violently thrown from being in absolute love with my daughter to being so angry that I had so little control over any of the decisions in my life. And that made me feel terrible. It was like all the stuff I loved about my daughter also put me on edge. Her need for me was both flattering and unbearable. And then once again Adrienne Rich’s work found me. On a rare Saturday out I stumbled upon a worn copy of Of Woman Born at Bluestocking Books in San Diego for $3.56. I found myself waking early, before Harper in the mornings to pour myself into the worn pages with abandon. I was not the only woman to lay awake at night listening to their sweet baby breathing in almost silent puffs and try to remember what it was like to go to sleep worrying only that I would sleep through my alarm. I was not alone in the little box of my home, a baby on my breast every two hours, without fail. And most of all the title of mother did not have to be the end of my sovereignty as it has historically been for many women in the past. It brought to light the importance of social change, of raising my daughter outside of stereotypes so frequently perpetuated by mothers in Western culture, and to be aware that motherhood can be and is an act of feminism. My body and my mind are strong. My daughter is proof of just how amazing the female experience is.
Adrienne Rich has been to be proof that women were destined for both greatness and brilliance. Her words have provided me with a blanket of protection from my own insecurities.