I see your brilliance AND your jadedness; and I love them
May 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) is the author that made me abandon my original plan to buy a book about some soapy love stories to accompany me on train–for what could be better than preparing yourself for sweet, romantic dream just as you were about to fall asleep with the ground moving unsteadily beneath you and everything outside the window looked like painted shadows?
However, as I wandered aimlessly along the English fiction bookshelves with my right index finger tracing the spines of every book that caught my eye (I wish I could do that with Chinese books!) when it stopped at Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (and selected writings). As I read the summary these words just floated around my head–and stayed: ‘brink of insanity,’ ‘recesses of her mind,’ and ‘America’s leading feminist intellectual’ that made me return to the shelf where the book was placed even when I did encounter several other interesting titles about everlasting love (a few focused on same sex relationship) that, unexpectedly, made me yawn.
I decided to walk aimlessly again around the train station before having my dinner but the sight of a guy reading a hardback reminded me of my recent purchase and hence I parked myself and my backpacks unintentionally packed for building muscles due to everlasting anxiousness of the mind of never ending what ifs, on one of the seats available there and started reading the first story, The Yellow Wallpaper. What a revelation! I demand justice from the Minister of Education for not including this remarkable author in the syllabus for English literature! But then, maybe it’s a good thing students are not forced to read her masterpieces because her charm would have disappeared in the tormented hands of discriminating exams and grades.
How great is great, you demand to know? This, is the only honest answer that I can give you: have you ever encountered a simple sentence–anywhere, be it on an ad, food wrapper, t-shirt, etc.–that made you stop short of what you were doing at that moment just to ponder on the words of that simple sentence and try to search for their relevance to your life because you just remembered, “Hey, isn’t this how I live my life? Isn’t this what I always believe even when others try to kill me for it?”
I introduce you, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
This is the edition that I own and now I plan to buy her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1935, published posthumously after her suicide) after reading its selected chapters in this edition. For the stories, I’m terribly fond of An Unnatural Mother, Turned, and Mr Peeble’s Heart. And of course, The Yellow Wallpaper that after reading its very last sentence, I had to control my foolish anticipation of finding some individuals who had to creep over me every time! The comic strip at the beginning of this post is Kate Beaton’s parody of the story that I remembered myself laughing so hard when I first encountered it on her Hark! A Vagrant webcomic website. Nevertheless, this particular story of Mrs. Gilman titled Turned always made me double-check if it wasn’t written in the future, instead of in the year 1911. It’s a story about an educated woman who’s cheated by her husband with a young girl she cared the most for. The betrayal turns out to be profoundly hurtful since the younger woman, Gerta, was pregnant with an illegitimate child as the result of the relationship when our protagonist, Mrs Marroner has tried unsuccessfully to conceive for years.
How do they come where they are not wanted–and don’t come where they are wanted!
What happens next in the story is anyone’s guess. Yes, she does tell Gerta to pack her bag and leave the house immediately and isn’t that normal and the most sensible thing to do for that worthless piece of a smut who dares to steal our husband’s love and affection? Yes, that is the most sensible thing to do given our experiences with people around us. How can I forget gossips and deep conversations about this-and-that uncle of mine who married his fourth wife secretively but once the first wife and other wives found out they couldn’t stop hating the so-called seductress for seducing my uncle in the first place? Isn’t that what most women do? This is where Charlotte Perkins Gilman showed she wasn’t most women. Mrs Marroner, a woman who held a Ph.D., who had been on the faculty of a college, after crying her heart out at the betrayal, starts to analysing the situation and later comes to conclusion of how her husband, for his own pleasure, had chosen to rob Gerta of her life’s best joys–namely the hope of a happy life, with marriage and motherhood; honourable independence, even–with all that splendid, clean young beauty that she so clearly possessed. The ending of this story is not something that I picture married women in my country will ever do but then, it is just as admirable as to have compassion for others than self-pity and torturous blaming for other people. There are more in this story that I believe I fail to grasp but you can read this eloquent analysis of the story that focuses on social class aspect.
From her autobiography, let’s just say I’m tremendously impressed with her experiences as a teacher and a mother (I did consider an adoption in the future…). One of her stories of giving drawing lessons to students who claimed they couldn’t draw is just powerfully inspiring for I believe it is the nature of a teacher to let his/her students discover the triumphant sense of power, of achievement, that they can do something! Even better, when the discovery is especially relevant to the lesson they are learning. However, unlike Mrs Gilman, my own experience brings me disappointment and sorrow after I failed to teach a Form 4 students to read. The first lesson, ABC… was simple since he wasn’t illiterate but somehow, when it came to spelling out words like ‘cawan’, ‘ciku’, ’emak’, etc. etc. I nearly lost my temper with him. So now after ‘cawan’, I spelled out the word ‘ciku’ for him and asked him to repeat after me which he did successfully and I asked him if he loved to eat one which he did. But when we went back to ‘cawan’… I said, “C.A…” and waited for his response, he answered, “CI… Ciku.” And then, to control the anger that slowly rising inside me, I did the most stupendously stupid mistake. I laughed.
From then on, he never felt like chatting with me anymore during our lessons and I left the school with him still doodling something on a paper at the back of the classroom. I don’t even know what happens to him anymore after my teaching practicum. How can you ever forgive yourself? How can you ever pretend that everything is in the past?
I leave this simple sentences for you–in case you ever consider to buy her book. Except that, maybe, you don’t have to. Run to the nearest bookstore. Now!
- “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.” –The Yellow Wallpaper
- “A stalwart man once sharply contested my claim to this freedom to go alone. ‘Any true man,’ he said with fervor, ‘is always ready to go with a woman at night. He is her natural protector.’ ‘Against what?’ I inquired. As a matter of fact, the thing a woman is most afraid to meet on a dark street is her natural protector. Singular.”
- “But I refused to worry. ‘There is little to steal and I am quite willing to be killed,’ was my attitude.”
Yes, there is little for others to steal from me and I, too, am quite willing to be killed. If that’s what it takes to live. Doesn’t anyone? Don’t we all?
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After reading Mary Schneider’s column But Then Again about the hullabaloo she faced with the two elderly plumbers who fixed her toilet, I couldn’t help but thinking of Makcik Bebe. She is 51 years old today (May 2nd, 2011) and she works as a cleaner at the place where my parents work as contractors for cleaning the buildings and its surroundings. Makcik Bebe’s sole responsibility is to clean the toilets (there are twelve toilets to be cleaned) but somehow, she even willing to help her colleagues to sweep the corridors before moving on to the toilets. Sometimes, when my mother and I met her carrying the pail, brushes, and the basket she uses to put all the cleaning solutions and plastic bags, we would ask her if she had had her lunch or not to which she replied she would after she had finished with her works first. That is one of the reasons why I really admire her, the way she treats her work with earnestness and seriousness that automatically demands respect from other people. The toilets! My! They smelled so nice and sparklingly clean! Um, aren’t toilets that have cleaners clean them supposed to be like that? I beg to differ. The first few weeks saw my parents were short of workers that my sister and I offered to help around with the cleaning process, which means, we got to clean the toilets! It wasn’t easy and after we were done, the toilets left some unpleasant smell of the cleaning solutions and urine that left me and my sister dumbfounded. But after Makcik Bebe came, the toilets transformed and that’s why I am so surprised at how she does it. My sister told me that it’s the heart. I’d say, it’s the smile because Makcik Bebe always working with a smile on her face. And she cleaned them 12 toilets twice a day! Age? I think I solely agree with Mary Schneider that age has nothing to do with how you do your work. Happy birthday, Makcik Bebe!
By the way, I strongly recommend this music blog. There, you can download a few samples that I’m sure will help you a lot in your decision to purchase some CDs that you want to buy. Moreover, the reviews are so persuasive and never fail to make me smile at the wonder of endless songs to listen to before I die. I love music but with this kind of pathetic review such as, “OMG! I looooove this song!” or “What a beautiful song!” I don’t think we’ll go anywhere. Enjoy your listening experience and I hope you’ll always find something meaningful and worthwhile to share with your loved ones.
Download the song here.