Voluntary Bondage

breakfast-time  

Last night, while watching another episode of my new obsession, Being Erica, a man recited a very silly poem called "Ping!" and I was immediately reminded of Samuel Becket's, astonishing, impenetrable short story of the same name. So I jumped out of my armchair and ran all of two steps to the bookshelf holding the orange books, in search of  The Penguin Book of the Modern British Short Story, the very first text on my reading list at university, and a book I have treasured ever since.

And there it was, my orange spined, dog-eared copy of this eclectic collection of short -stories. I read Ping out loud to myself, loving the haunting rhythm of the words, and when I was done, flicked through the rest of the book reading my scribbled notes, seeing the lists of stories set as homework, and then settling down to read the two stories most scrawled upon, underlined and littered with the over-enthusiastic exclamation mark, and earnest voice of a nineteen year old girl : Doris Lessing's "To Room Nineteen" and Fay Weldon's "Weekend" 

 Neither of those stories were included in my coursework: I had simply been drawn to them, then, as I would have been now. This feels revelatory: that I was then, what I am now. That at nineteen I empathized with the modern female condition with all the same passion as I do now at forty-one with all the benefits of experience. That I underscored the term "voluntary bondage" over and over and accepted it immediately as the only description of marriage truly suitable to what I knew of the very institution at that time. 

That paragraphs like this from "To Room Nineteen"...

She spoke to herself, severely, thus: All of this quite natural. First I spent twelve years of my adult life working, living my own life. Then I married, and from the moment I became pregnant for the first time, I signed myself over, so to speak, to other people. To the children. Not for one moment in twelve years, have I been alone, had time to myself. So now I have to learn to be alone again. That's all. 

And this from "Weekend"...

She is running around in her nightie. Now if that had been Katie - but there's something so practical about Martha. Reassuring, mind; but the skimpy nightie and the broad rump and the thirty-eight years are all rather embarrassing. Martha can see it in Colin and Katie's eyes. Martin's too. Martha wishes she did not see so much in other people's eyes. Her mother did, too. Dear, dead mother. Did I misjudge you?

resounded with me then and spike me in the throat now. And from this empathy a career was borne.  A daily conversation with women everywhere, intended to both draw their attention to the female condition and if it cannot be solved, (for I do not think it can), to claim it as our own and allow it to define our most creative, intelligent selves,  as women who give our all to raising children, feeding our minds and creating from deep within, something that represents our authenticity, supported by or indeed, despite the confines of marriage.

Are we then at nineteen, already who we will ultimately be?  Do we already know what it is to be a woman, even when we are still, essentially children? Is there a melancholy peculiar to early womanhood, that is consumed by hope as we discover relationships, become Mothers and build homes, that only once again rears it's head when we see our selves, like Martha, reflected in other peoples eyes because the reality of the female condition, of the loss of youth and the possibility of marital pain have become fact?

My Mum tells me that this melancholy is indeed but a fleeting visitor: that at forty we are tortured and at sixty we are soothed. And this may be so: but perhaps who we are at nineteen is telling of who we will always, authentically be, despite age and experience. Despite all those things that shape us thereafter or may happen in our tomorrows?

Are you now, what you were at nineteen?