A fourth press rejected my manuscript this month. Four are still thinking about it (I hope).
Perhaps like most journal-writers, I enjoy reading the published journals of others. In certain moods I even enjoy reading my own old journals (I have kept one, off and on, for over fifty years). If nothing else, they aid a weak memory and remind me that bad times do eventually get better. Things change.
For one reason or another I have been re-reading two journals by other journal-writers –May Sarton and Madeleine L’Engle—both of whom, of course, had other writing careers: Sarton as a poet (A Durable Fire, etc.)and L’Engle as a novelist (A Wrinkle in Time, etc.). I read them for similar reasons as I re-read my own journals: for reassurance that, as dark as things sometimes get, not only will they eventually get better, but that there is a community of people who feel and have experienced the same things.
For instance, in December of 1982, May Sarton (1912-1995) writes in At Seventy: A Journal,
Why is it, I wonder, that Christmas brings so much depression with it, so many people struggle against an undertow? It is partly because this moment of light shines out of the darkest and shortest days of the year, the lowest ebb of the cycle when wise animals dig themselves in for a long sleep, while we, driven creatures, spend immense energy on wrapping presents, sending off packages, baking cookies (this I used to do but have stopped doing myself, so other people’s cookies are speicailly welcome). Partly it is that memories well up and not all are happy ones. We are dealing with a host of faces and times and sorrows and joys, and there is no time to sort them out.
Madeleine L’Engle’s 1977 journal The Irrational Season includes this fragment of poetry:
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
L’Engle (1918-2007) muses, about this season, “primitive people used to watch the sun drop lower on the horizon in great terror, because they were afraid that one day it was going to go so low that it would never rise again; they would be left in unremitting night. There would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a terror of great darkness would fall upon them. And then, just as it seemed that there would never be another dawn, the sun would start to come back; each day it would rise higher, set later.
“Somewhere in the depths of our unconsciousness we share that primordial fear, and when there is the first indication that the days are going to lengthen, our hearts, too, lift with relief. The end has not come: joy! and so a new year makes its birth known.”
The world is a strange, unpredictable, and often dangerous place. How lucky we are for the “old,” for those who reassure us that, having been through many such periods of darkness or“into the woods” yet again, light will return. I often send my younger self such reassurances.
From the period of 1977 and 1982, I was struggling with unemployment and single-parenthood, trying to find enough time to write because that was what I sensed I needed to do. The future was so uncertain and I was so impatient to know “for sure” what was going to happen. I had had a few poems published here and there and had been interviewed by someone in Madison for an NPR radio show, but that was the extent of it. My piano sat, out of tune and untouched, in a corner.
Sarton and L’Engle were two writers who experienced long periods of self-doubt stemming from what they saw as repeated rejections by publishers and “the academy.” But by the times they had written these journals, they had achieved a modicum of recognition.
Just as “Sabbath” means, etymologically, “heart-rest”—a time for the heart to rest–“solstice” means a time when the sun “stands still.” And so I close with this wonderful, heartening poem by Sarton, which seems “made” for this week’s winter Solstice.
And thanks to Linda Terwilliger for this performance of the poem set to music by Gwyneth Walker.