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Going Too Far
The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist
By Robin Morgan
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1977 Robin Morgan
All rights reserved.
The first letter in this series is both naîve and prophetic; it was written to myself one week before I married Kenneth Pitchford. He and I had met almost four years earlier, when I was seventeen; we met through a poetry anthology in which we each were represented by some poems. The relationship deepened and intensified during the following years, when we formed a poetry workshop together. There are references in this letter to various friends' and relatives' opposition to our marriage; indeed, my mother was greatly upset, as were most close family friends. Surprisingly, most of K.'s friends—a supposedly less conventionally minded circle of artists—were also opposed. Hardly anyone saw much of a future for such a couple: the man a poet and an unashamed homosexual (this, years before Gay Liberation), the woman a virginal former child actress ten years his junior who claimed she wanted to be a writer. Such a marriage, buzzed the consensus, in traditional, or Freudian, or even bohemian terms, was going too far.
12 September 1962
So I am, after all, going to marry K. And for my own benefit, I want to put into words below what that—and the very living of my life entirely, which only really begins now—will entail:
I will learn to love him even as he loves me, from knowledge and not abstraction. I will use him to find more of myself, and be at his hand for the same purpose. I will not lie to him, or deceive him, no matter what the cost. I will insist on mutual honesty between us, whatever it discloses. I will not be subject to his life or work, be beset upon by him or any other; neither will I ask that of him. I will assert my selfness, my work, my desires and hours, not at the cost of his but to bring about between us a separate wholeness, threatening neither, reinforcing both. I will not play the girl-child to his father, nor will I patronize him, emphasizing his impracticalities or awkwardness in technicalities of this world. I will work toward becoming a woman rather than a wife, knowing that the latter need not include the former, but rather the former can with ease and a whole graciousness bring about the latter. I will remain me. I will fight all images that sprout between us of unconscious making. I will find the strength to be with him, or without him, as the case may be. I will try never to hurt him, within the bonds of loving or awareness. I will try to make him love me more each day, surprising his own limitations. I will not be overly dependent upon him, his potential as an artist, or his opinions—nor allow him to be tricked into leaning overly much on me. I will respect his actions all, his motives all, his ideas all, reserving that individual right of persons to differ.
I will survive my mother's hurt and horror, until such time as she can know me—and him—again. I will never stop a barrage of love toward her that must someday break her hatred and despair, and bring her to me. I will watch her always and be there when she needs me. I will find the strength and humor to cope with friends and acquaintances and their shock or disapproval. I will not let them touch me deeply, where I dwell, but will retain a compassion, with action, toward those I care for. I will not be ashamed of what I am doing, but will compel acceptance on my own terms. I will not justify, excuse, explain, or plead. I am what I am, in pride and excitement.
I will follow him into any paths he chooses, however alien or dark, or blinding, and at the same time seek my own paths. I will respect myself and my work, alone and to his face. I will strive to enjoy his bed truthfully, his work critically, and our life, with all the endurance, passion, and honesty I, as a separate me, can bring to them.
And I will love him enough, and more. And that will make everything possible.
At the time of this letter's writing I had given up hope of reconciling my mother to my marriage, and had not spoken to her for over a year (it would be two more years before we resumed knowing one another). During the middle sixties, K. was working at a publishing house as a lexicographer, and I was doing free-lance editing and proof-reading, as referred to in this letter. The reference to my father stems from my not having met him until I was eighteen years old—and then infrequently, and disappointingly; my parents had been divorced when I was born. My maternal aunt, who had lived with my mother and me until I was twelve years old, was dying of cancer in Florida when this letter was written.
13 July 1965, Midnight
This will be the first in a series of letters I've been wanting to write you for a long time. I shrink somehow from keeping a diary; it seems solipsistic or self-conscious, at least the way I would go about it, I know. And so many times I want to say things to you that I don't. Not because I can't—I really think we have an extremely rare ability and will to communicate with one another—but because the time isn't right, or the mood, or simply because the thought doesn't actually form itself until flowing out on paper. It's absurd to begin a one-sided correspondence to the person with whom one is living, I know, seeing every day, lying beside every night. Especially absurd since we so often sit and talk, long and animatedly, about everything important or unimportant, talking just as we did before we lived together, with the same earnest desperation as if one of us had to leave in a few hours. But whatever the real reason, which may only become clear to me later on, I write to you instead of to a diary or journal. Perhaps it's just the pompous thought that this medium will be more interesting to posterity. I wouldn't put it past me.
Tonight, you are sleeping, and since we're on slightly different schedules, I'm wide awake, not quite alert or detached enough to really write or read; not lazy enough to watch television or goof off. But my mind is teeming with ghosts and realizations and ideas, unbidden and not quite welcome. That's why I write this, instead of the first draft of a poem.
I've finished proof-reading the Jo Mielziner memoir for Atheneum, which was filled with recollections of his having done the set for Death of a Salesman. This sent me back to the play, of course, which I've just now reread for about the fifth time, weeping again like a fool. The terrible love between Biff and Willy makes me realize how desperately I want to work with that subject matter I so fear and so desire: the awful love and struggle and noncommunication, and that same hopeless belief in one another—despite all the awareness of the heavy embroidery of lies that makes it possible—between my mother and myself. I think, too, of my Aunt Sally, dying slowly in Florida between her pitiable letters to me, trying to love me in some compromise between the way she knows how to love (possessiveness, gifts, guilt, harangues) and the way she somehow glimpses I want to be loved and to love (honestly, communicatively, with respect and some honor—oh, impossibly, I guess, with everyone in my life until you). I love and pity her in her little dying, and can do nothing. Nothing but go down and live with her and wait on her and love on her terms, be possessed and give up all that I have fought to learn and be. And even that would be nothing, because I couldn't give it up or hide it successfully, so that she would soon be disillusioned about the person she thinks she loves but could never understand.
Why is there still this interminable ache in me, in all of us, cut the bonds as we may, to try to love and know those of our own blood? I mourn my living mother tonight, for the more than a year we have lost of each other. I mourn my living father for the twenty years we never had of each other. I mourn myself as a torn child and adolescent, still trying feverishly to act upon that love and understanding and forgiveness that I am now wise enough to put only in a letter which may never be seen, or a poem which will. How many years do we go on using against ourselves the same knives our parents have bequeathed to us, still red with our own blood that they drew early in our lives?
You've just awakened and trotted out past my desk, naked, in that sleep-potty summery way of yours that is so foggy and bewildered at being awake, and so endearing. And for the thousandth time, your presence in the room, simply as that, all unaware, drives old ghosts back to their graves, your love for me wrapping me round in itself as protection against all their haunting cries, all my failed loves.
So I will speak of another realization I had tonight, which has rocked me somewhat. I don't know yet whether it's good or bad, but it's frightening. That same silly Mielziner book (such petty things can set off such thought processes) rambled on about the theatah, and actors and rehearsals and the comradliness of it all and the nervousness before openings, etc., all so familiar to me, both from the cliché of it and the actual knowledge of having done these things for so long, that I was deeply shocked to find it all totally foreign to me. I mean, simply, that although I could remember those experiences and even recall those very feelings, I suddenly knew as an absolute fact that I could never know them again. I don't believe I can act any more. I don't mean this as a rehash of all the old disillusionment I went through when I first left acting, which I've since coped with by looking at it simply as a job. I mean I know I can never really act again. Nor does having been away a long time explain it. I don't think I can perform a character before an audience any more. That schizophrenic temperament—the weirdness of being onstage or before a camera, speaking, and meaning, mind you, lines—and still knowing that you are yourself, at least partly, aware of both in the same instant, is now ... not incomprehensible quite, but foreign, alien, impossible to me. I'm too much myself, too integrated, to exorcise myself from my own body successfully. The thought terrifies me, as if I were a schoolgirl afraid of standing in front of people to say my piece. And all the techniques and tricks that I can still call up to aid me don't help if, in that moment, a real and a fictional character strive for existence in the same body. The real one wins, the performance is false, the tricks are just tricks. I really don't think I can ever act again. This has nothing to do with wanting or not wanting to, it's quite beyond both. Does this mean I've become realer as a human being, more vivid in my own personality, more introspective as a person or a better poet? I think not, but don't know. I've lost one thing, and don't know if I've gained another in its place or, to be more exact, don't know what has thrust the first thing out. Perhaps I've indeed lost the world, but gained my own soul.
This letter—or entry—has served its purpose and comforted me. Sometimes I think that all writing is just an expression of frustrated love, but at least I've learned to turn (most of the time) that frustration on thinking of the past into something constructive in the present, or at least something self- revealing, or even merely sedating, to the pain. Strange that I should write this first letter tonight. So many times I've been about to start it, either in a mood of great mushy Schubertian love and yearning, or simply to number in writing the one hundred reasons why you should go to hell. Neither, tonight, but calmly, confidentially, as to a friend. My dear, my dear, you're still the only friend I have.
On rereading this, I feel I should add that I don't intend to polish these letters (if I ever write another one), but just let the thoughts come as they will in what language they will. Hence the striking lack of immortal prose. With all my secret hopes that you, or posterity, will read this, for the sake of truth—and my own sanity—I had better assume nobody ever will.CHAPTER 3
This letter refers to the writing of the first draft of K.'s novel, The Beholding, which was ultimately completed in 1976. "Killing off Leonard Porterfield" is a reference to his writing the death scene of one of the major characters in the novel. Hektor, the cat mentioned throughout this letter, was born on the day we were married. One of a circle of cats all named for Homeric characters, he is at present alive and well, thirteen years old, and extremely dignified at such a venerable age.
27 July 1965, 1:00 a.m. (actually 28 July)
Tonight you are killing off Leonard Porterfield at last, and before I set to work myself I thought I would put down the "Leech Dream" we've so often discussed—probably the most beautiful and terrifying dream I've had.
It's been almost a year since the dream, but I still can recall it quite vividly, partly from our many talks about it, and partly from the clarity of its symbolism.
I was in a small stone cottage in a tiny clearing, in the midst of dense, almost jungle-like woods. You, already my husband, were away, on a space mission actually, although it was not so much for the government as a private, personal expedition to some planet—Venus, I believe. I was confident of your safe return, and I lived quietly, without fear, despite my solitude. My only companion was Hektor, our orange tiger cat, still young and lean and affectionate. He didn't live in the tiny cottage, but in the woods just beyond. He visited me daily. It was summer, the sun was warm, and I took a mat outside (just beyond the house, in the little clearing) to lie on and enjoy the sun. Hektor came up as I was doing this, and after I had taken off my shoes (which, for some reason, were brown loafers—the kind kids put pennies in) and set them a little away, at the edge of the woods, he lay down beside me to sleep. Somehow he was much larger stretched out beside me, reaching from my breasts, where he nestled his head, to below my knees.
As he lay there, a strange snake-like creature, part lizard, with a head like a snake but with squat legs and claws, and a long tail, appeared from out of the surrounding growth. (I somehow knew, in the dream, that he was a leech, although an actual leech looks much different.) He hissed out a warning to us, saying that he hated us and would destroy us.
In the passage of time in the dream, this scene seemed to have occurred a number of times. Then, one day, as Hektor and I lay in the sun, both thinking of you with confidence and love, we began to shift positions. He now lay on top of me, long, silky, luxuriant, and quite without hurting or clawing, he entered me. As we made love, it was somehow an offering, a tribute to you away on your planet or star. But the leech appeared, more malevolent than ever, and sidled over to one of my shoes, hissing that whatever he touched became poisoned, and that he would destroy us now. He said that the instant one of us moved off the protective mat, he would sting or even just touch us, and we would die. He said that he would avenge you for our unfaithfulness.
I asked Hektor if the leech didn't know, didn't understand what this scene meant, that our love was part of you, that you would have approved, that in some way you were even participating in our love-making yourself. I began to move toward the shoes to explain, to make the leech see this. But Hektor would not let me. He said, in a terrible voice, that others will see evil where they will, through their own distorted view of good; that one can never assume any act, no matter how pure, will not be misunderstood—nor should one then, knowing that, cease to act.
Overhearing this, the leech expanded in anger to half again his size, left my shoes, and approached us. He said he would touch us even on our protective mat, killing us and freezing us in our sexual position so that the proof of our infidelity would be there for you to see when you returned.
"But he will not care!" I cried. "He would not feel betrayed, don't you understand? He would not see evil in this, he would understand the love we have for him, expressed in the love we have for each other!" The leech still approached, and then Hektor sprang at him. I fled to the safety of the cottage, but looked out the window to see their battle. It was over almost instantly, the leech dead, and Hektor alive but frozen in a horrible, crouched position: mouth open, fangs bared, claws spread, muscles straining in rage, terror, agony. I knew now I could not touch him either, so infused was he with the poison. His paralyzed eyes looked back into mine through the window, as if to warn me away.
Excerpted from Going Too Far by Robin Morgan. Copyright © 1977 Robin Morgan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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