Saturday, July 30, 2011

Volume 1 dutifully and enjoyably read and dispatched, Emily, in the first paragraph of Volume II has now been born, and I read - and instantly related to - an account of her family's circumstances in her infancy. Starting in about April 1830, and for the first few years of Emily's life (she was born December 1830), her family along with extended family members, in total numbering thirteen ("although with goings and comings... the number varied") shared a two-family house.
The circumstances of Emily's childhood seem to have been about normal for Amherst at the time, at least for the professional and academic group. No one in Amherst, with its many farms, a few light industries, and fledgling college, was rich. But one does not often think of Emily, the Queen Recluse, as spending the first ten years of her life in a situation that, if not exactly deprived, involved a good deal of close living among fellow members of the human race. Such must have been the case in a house that, for all its fine exterior, had only four good-sized bedrooms, with only two of those available to the Dickinsons. The little children were apparently bundled together; Emily's first letter to [her brother] Austin when she was eleven complains of missing "My bedfellow very much." (In her mid-thirties she still spoke of [her sister] Vinnie as sleeping "by my side.") Such circumstances indicate limitations other than merely financial. Two-family living is seldom carefree for parents of small children, and at least one reason Edward early acquired a reputation for sternness is not far to seek... We know that Edward, for one, chafed under the restrictions...
By 1840 Edward Dickinson's finances had improved to the point where he could move his family to their own house.

I can relate to how stressful it might have been for such intelligent, strongwilled individuals - child and adult - to coexist in circumstances that did not provide for enough private space for each of its members.

I grew up in circumstances reminiscent of that, most of my childhood (and that of my siblings) spent in a very cramped two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. I don't really feel like revisiting those times at the moment -- as I type the sunlight is mellowing, my freshly washed hair is drying, I'm dressed in my usual summer uniform (one of two skirt outfits) of pink leotard, so happy that I've been working out so diligently - walk & workout today - that while 'shapely', to put it generously - I look quite nice. So much to be grateful for, and yet my mind - despite what goes on in the surface of rooms - as I lie back in bed, for example, absently regarding the brown wood blades of the ceiling fan whirl counterclockwise - there's always this whole other interior monologue going on in my head that often harkens back, broodily so, quite a lot, to the past.

I guess I'm idly wondering - what if the family I'd been born into had had different physical circumstances - would I be different? But this idea falls away very quickly for me. There were severe factors afoot other than reduced financial circumstances that caused my parents to purchase a house that was too small for ultimately (with the birth of my sister) six. My father was severely troubled, alcoholic and violent, traumatized from his war experience - I'm sure he had, to say the least, what today is referred to as post-traumatic stress syndrome. To put it mildly. It was all messed up. My mother was a very troubled, unhappy person also, and my father and she were unhappily married. And there we came, the four of us in fairly rapid succession. I'm the eldest, my first brother was born only 15 months after me. Honestly, not to engage too much in past childhood navel-gazing, but I do wonder how much I could possibly have been held as an infant, particularly when my brother came along, and then my second brother, two (I think?) years after that. Very soon - too soon - I was expected to be the 'big girl now.' Which of course I wasn't. I tried to run away, several times, starting before kindergarten.

Anyway, I seem to have turned into Queen Recluse myself, though it doesn't feel entirely voluntary. Then again, it's not entirely involuntary either. I think I've just had a very hard time achieving a tenable balance.

So if we'd each had rooms of our own, in a slightly bumped-out bigger house, and let's say my father hadn't been an alcoholic - would I have come out differently? Would I have a sunny disposition? I don't have an unsunny disposition, it's just that I tend to find myself, whenever I'm with a group of people, no matter how congenial, mentally off to the side, not quite a part of the circle. It's not wariness, or anything like that. It doesn't feel conscious. Honestly, it feels hardwired, though I don't know.

I don't feel that way one-on-one in intimate company with someone, a mutual love interest - then I feel sublimely connected, not alone at all.

Most of my family doesn't get along. That is, I've been the one cast out, though at this point I've been doing the casting out myself. It's as though I don't exist. It's my two brothers, and my younger sister. I have been X'ed out. So I do wonder, idly - so if my sister hadn't been born - would I, today, all these years later, have brothers, some semblance of sibling relationship with them?

That's one thing I've always admired about the other branch of the family. Our politics differ, and I feel cynical about uses & misuses of the slogan 'family values,' but in fact, they have acted over the years and decades and generations as a closeknit, supportive family, each among its members, a nice sense of camaraderie. My mother, a pricked prickly isolated soul dismissed some of it as tribalism, and it's true, I do see hints of that sometimes, that I do find offputting. But maybe I don't look too closely at that. Mostly what I see - having lacked it all my life - is a bunch of people who generally speaking seem to genuinely get along & enjoy one another's company. They even vacation together sometimes! Which is amazing to me - a warm, casual relation like that in my family is virtually unimaginable.

I'm not blameless in all of this, I don't wish to cast myself as victim. My family was so hopeless that even as a girl I tried to sort it out. I loved them desperately, in a way, and yet in other ways I really didn't like them, they seemed almost random to me. No, not random - they were my dear siblings - but I didn't feel very connected to them, they were so much their own selves divorced from other connection. (I've just remembered a not untypical conversation I'd have with my own mother - who was capable of saying to me 'I love you - but I don't like you.')

So I read that about E.D., that uniquely prickly & gifted beings were in overly close proximity at formative times - and I can relate to, as in my own family, that forces went centrifugal. In E.D.'s case the family members remained close, finding their own private orbits - yes there were estrangements, and yet - I don't know - how estranged can you be when you're next door neighbors? Theirs is an endlessly fascinating and enigmatic story, and the sorting out of all the complex family dynamics.

And I guess we've got a note of unexpected family dynamics ourselves, which has brought me and I think you a great deal of pleasure, but I hope hasn't caused any --

won't even finish that thought -

but I like the sense of a new connection
not estrangement after estrangement after estrangement
no - rather - discovery, and love

Anyway! Peach tart cooling on the stove

and by the way yet another sparrow somehow got into the house today (how are they getting in?) and I managed to get it out
and if I was nervous with the first one the other day
with this one I was fascinated and had this sense of completely enjoying being so close to its presence

it didn't enjoy being stuck with me, in the master bedroom while I closed one door (to the rest of the house) and opened up other windows & door to the juliet balcony so that it could get out

but I was fascinated by this little creature who by happenstance we found ourselves in interspecies communication - and lucky for it, I wasn't a predator (where were my cats, for example!)

have a wonderful evening, dearest, hope all is well with you

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