Advisor(s) - Committee Chair
Nancy Roberts, John Hagaman, David Lenoir
Department of English
Master of Arts
Women are wives, care givers, child bearers, mothers, cooks, cleaners, tutors, buyers, supporters and so much more. In meeting the responsibilities society and family expect, woman can be separated from the discovery of self. Some live a lie, hidden behind the everyday tasks. Adrienne Rich recalls motherhood after her third child as a separation from her former life. The selfish girlhood and college years belonged to someone different when she was a 29-year-old mother and wife in the 1950s. “. . . I seemed to be losing touch with whoever I had been, with the girl who had experienced her own will and energy almost ecstatically at times . . . “ (173). Women provide meals, encouragement, with the attractive body and manners that are pleasing, but they feel an emptiness. Falling in love, getting married and building a career are activities in which man finds support more often than woman; the support he receives is her confinement as she must ignore her own longings sometimes, live a lie. She hasn’t the time to be a dreamer and keeps this side of herself shut.
I want to explore female characters caught in this lie but beginning to stumble upon their real selves. In my novella Anna and Guffy, Anna is a woman in her seventies who cares for her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease. In his constant need for care, her life has been put on hold, but flashbacks reveal that the loss of self started much earlier. She was always assistant or helper while her husband Guffy was navigator in their marriage. Anna never demanded his attention to her personal needs: romance, support and communication.
A younger woman I write about, Jeannie, in Introducing Myself, struggled from girlhood through college and career to keep the male’s acceptance through an attractive body. She lived for the father, the brother, the boyfriend. She fought her own body image because she is afraid of losing those men in her life. She compares her body to other women’s. Jeannie is ashamed of it and forgets its beauty, hiding it. Now, this female character has taken up running and is discovering strength and pleasure in her body, the beginnings of genuine happiness and self love.
In Worldly Triumphant, Jeri is a 19-year-old who defines her existence in the computer skills she possesses and in the boyfriend she hopes to possess as husband. She is surrounded by a cult’s belief system and lives within a linear world of page design, columns and measurement. Her live is ruled by the service she provides others. She’s the giver, and Jeri’s life is unrewarding because she cannot depend upon those persons and things which she identifies with. She realizes she doesn’t need to define herself by boyfriend, husband, job, body image or religion.
Sometimes women cannot see past the men or careers or tasks; some women feel needy for these relationships. They find in themselves, both young and old, that something is missing in their role as supporter. This realization often happens after a life change or sudden difference in a relationship or job. I want to show this conflict, the reason it arises and the beauty brought into their lives by such a personal confrontation. Alice Walker’s poem “On Stripping Bark from Myself” is an inspiration.
Because women are expected to keep silent about
their close escapes I will not keep silent
and if I am destroyed (naked tree!) someone will
mark the spot
where I fall and know I could not live
silent in my own lies
hearing their “how nice she is!”
whose adoration of the retouched image
I so despise
No. I am finished with living
for what my mother believes
for what my brother and father defend
for what my lover elevates
for what my sister, blushing, denies or rushes
I find my own small person
a standing self
against the world
an equality of wills
I finally understand
My struggle was always against
an inner darkness: I carry within myself
the only known keys
to my death – to unlock life, or close it shut
forever. A woman who loves wood grains, the color
and the sun, I am happy to fight
all outside murderers
as I see I must (270-271).
My novella Anna and Guffy and the two short stories Introducing Myself and Worldly Triumphant are intended to stand alone and work as a thematically unified collection. The fiction I produce is filled with colors, smells, facial expressions, touches, vulgar acts and beautiful ones. I write visually and use my senses for interpretation. I keep notebooks on characters’ lives: their residences, clothes, cars, conversations and favorite cereals. I read in high school that Ernest Hemingway kept notebooks on interesting things he observed. Ever since, I’ve been taking notes and keeping my eyes open. My rural Kentucky upbringing and the literature I sneaked to read while instructors insisted on a particular canon of authors are my greatest influences. I recall falling in love in high school with Edna Ferber’s Cimarron and Nevel Shute’s On the Beach. I have read Alice Walker throughout my college years. I would abandon everything for time with Toni Morrison, Joseph Conrad, Kay Boyle, Raymond Carver, Jesse Stuart and John Steinbeck. These authors use description beautifully. Some of my other favorite authors, like Hemingway, make the simplest use of describing gravel roads and lust, but others, like Thomas Wolfe in Look Homeward, Angel, and E. Annie Proulx in The Shipping News weave and jerk the senses until the food on the plate and temperature in the air become real to the reader. This talent is what I admire most and strive for in my own writing.
This collection of fiction is a construct of the women in my life and the woman I am. Sometimes pieces of us are lost, denied as we perform women’s duties and dare to sacrifice for love and affection. Our bodies are the providers, demanding to be shared as community with children, husbands, boyfriends. These loved ones have come to our bodies for homes. We are entered, and we house life. It is beautiful but sometimes confining if appreciation is not given. After a few years or sometimes decades, self pursuit and exploration often come rushing into women’s lives. We welcome it with a thirst for understanding and inner peace.
Arts and Humanities | Creative Writing | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Fiction | Women's Studies
Wilson, Sherry, "Much of Organic Matter on Earth Comes from Comets" (1997). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 3459.