“The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock. The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happeneds to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.”— Roald Dahl (via inkandlightarts)
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”—Leave it to George Orwell to provide somber insights into the process of writing.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”—Franz Kafka
(I thought this would be fitting considering her birthday)
I remember learning about Rosa Parks as a kid. They told me that by refusing to move from her seat, Parks was inadvertently drawn into the Civil Rights Movement and set off the Montgomery bus boycott. She was described as an elderly woman, physically feeble; they said she refused to stand up because she was too tired. I learned that Parks, by giving into her fatigue, had accidentally dealt a major blow to an unjust system.
In this version of the story, Parks’ physical exhaustion got quite a lot of credit. It seemed as if Parks’ stand was more a product of circumstance than resistance.
As I grew older, I was able to cut through this narrative and see that it had been constructed to downplay the courage of Parks. It portrayed her inaccurately, showing a meek victim rather than a stout fighter.
Even the basic facts were wrong. Parks was described as an old woman, but in reality she was only 42. She also was not unfamiliar with the Civil Rights Movement, having been actively involved with it since 1943. Parks was not some unconscious actor pulled along by the current. When she refused to give up her seat to a white man, she was aware of the repercussions and pushed forward despite knowing the danger.
In her autobiography, “My Story,” Parks challenged these flawed portrayals,
“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Despite growing recognition of her true character, some people still try to downplay her resistance. The chroniclers of American history have a tendency to diminish the legacy of powerful black women. Harriet Tubman, like Parks, has been a victim of their revisions. Tubman’s involvement in the Underground Railroad is explored by historians, but they only skim the surface of her fight against slavery. For years they have failed to mention the work she did as a scout and medic for the union army. They bury accounts of the pivotal part she played in the Combahee River Raid, and ignore her nickname, “General Tubman.”
Our history attempts to extract the fighter from these women. It presents them as kind and soft, placing them into a one dimensional frame that hides the true complexity of their personalities. Male figures, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are allowed to retain their strength. Something about a strong woman upsets the macho core of this country. Because we can’t accept women who exhibit “masculine” qualities, we praise and exaggerate their “feminine” aspects, in effect turning them into stereotypes.
These women deserve to be fleshed out. We deserve to see them from every angle, witness both their strengths and flaws. Hopefully, future historians will seek more rounded views of powerful women, and save us the trouble of digging them out from under years of misrepresentation.