I’m reading Kate Bolick’s Spinster again. She describes working alongside an older and stylish widow whose self possession somewhat intimidates Bolick. Around the same time, she encounters a photograph of Maeve Brennan, and she finds herself drawn to the woman in the photo.
The widow is “stylish and athletic, and makes all her own clothes”. She comes to work, writes her column [Bolick is working at The Atlantic], dresses in what sounds like an Audrey Hepburn wardrobe, and holds herself somewhat aloof. She is a woman living on her own terms, by her own rules. Her style and chic says she knows who she is and how she is. What’s not to emulate?
At this point, Bolick confesses to not knowing how to dress herself for work, opting for ‘inconspicuous’. Oh, how I relate.
The image of Brennan that Bolick spotted in the magazine is reproduced in the book. It shows a(nother) stylishly dressed woman sitting on a sofa looking over her shoulder towards the camera. She doesn’t appear to be particularly interested in the camera and it may be this that generates Bolick’s reaction. This woman is not here to please you or me: she’s busy living her own life. I too feel a pull looking at that photo, an inner voice saying “THAT is how I want to be.”
And then the other voice kicks in saying “you’ll never be all that.” I’ll never be stylish like that, and I’m not a writer (or, more generically, I don’t control the means of my production). How could I have that life?
Neither of these are the point of course. But they point to the bigger issue, namely that it takes courage to choose to be single. It’s easy enough to be single, but choosing it is a deliberate act that goes against deeply embedded cultural, familial and personal expectations, and these are hard to shed even when you feel strongly drawn to a single life.
To make the decision to be true to one’s inner yearnings, in spite of the internal and external voices that urge conformity with social norms, and in spite of fear-driven disparagement of the self’s desire to change, takes great courage. It takes the courage of one’s convictions – that somewhat hackneyed phrase.
I admire Bolick’s women even without knowing them, because they had the courage to declare their choice for a single life and then to live it fully and without apology. Actually, I don’t know this — I’m projecting onto them what I want them to be, because I need role models to give me courage.
I’m still creeping around the edges peeking through my hands at my would-be life, still aiming for inconspicuous and making excuses for my lack of commitment.
This is no way to live. I’m brave enough to live alone but I’m not yet brave enough to live alone.
By way of a postscript: Wikipedia’s entry on Brennan makes for rather sad reading. She started out well and ended up badly. So as a role model, perhaps not the best choice, but her courage is still admirable.