Okay, National Poetry Month is over, so we’re back to Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures. Here is the next excerpt:
“The first really hot day since I’ve been here. The cicadas have been stitching up the air on their invisible sewing machines. One begins, rapidly works up speed, and then as his energy fizzles out, another one starts up.
The heat brought a family – father, mother, four children and Airedale – to the beach for a Sunday picnic. (As I watched the children gleefully splashing in the waves, I wondered if I’d ever get up m courage to swim again n this cold Maine water, so much colder than the ocean off Cape Cod.) The thing that struck me about the family was what a good time they were all having. I felt certain their happiness wasn’t confined to special outings. I imagined them at home, the father returning after a moderately successful day’s work to an enthusiastic welcome. He’d play with the children and dog. He’d compliment his wife on the dinner…and eat too much. He was already beginning to develop a paunch in spite of the fact he was probably a good all-rough athlete in school. I’m sure he playfully blames his wife’s cooking, which excuses him and pleases her. He is not troubled by self-questionings and doubt about his way of life. He has ‘found himself.’
His wife, I felt certain, was equally content. She had a lovely, serene face and must have been very pretty indeed ten or fifteen years ago. Like her husband, she had begun to put on weight but she gave the impression of accepting her bulges philosophically. She undoubtedly loves to cook. I could imagine her just taking a batch of cookies out of the oven as the children and their friends came trooping in from school. I could also visualize her happily polishing furniture, mending torn shirts, whipping up everything from dresses to slipcovers on her sewing machine, kissing hurt fingers, putting just the amount of starch in her husband’s collars that he likes, loving him tenderly for his little foibles, and always patient, relaxed and gay with her children – her only aspiration being to keep her family happy and healthy. In short, the kind of woman who is completely fulfilled in the domestic milieu. She, too, has ‘found herself.’
I felt envious of her self-consistency. I recalled ruefully how, when I was first married, I naively thought I could be that kind of woman. We don’t hear as much as we used to about the ‘search for identity,’ as if there were jut one clear-cut identity for any one person, and the only problem is to find it. It seems to me more likely that a lot of people have two or three or more selves coexisting in an armed truce if not in open struggle. The conflict for many women between career and devotion to husband and children is an obvious example. Or, for a man, the need to support a family and wish, perhaps, to fail. The problem is not how to find the unique self but to integrate or relate the various ones. If we rotated our collection of selves at intervals, it might make for quite an interesting and colorful life. Hardly feasible, alas. So we more or less settle for one primary identity but don’t live up to it very effectively or graciously because we’re constantly stumbling over the identities we failed to bury completely.”