Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 136

Here are two excerpts from a book I recently read, "The Woman Upstairs," by Claire Messaud:

I always understood that the great dilemma of my mother’s life had been to glimpse freedom too late, at too high a price. She was of the generation for which the rules changed halfway, born into a world of pressed linens and three-course dinners and hairsprayed updos, in which women were educated and then deployed for domestic purposes—rather like using an elaborately embroidered tablecloth on which to serve messy children their breakfast. Her University of Michigan degree was all but ornamental, and it always seemed significant that it stood in its frame under the eaves in the attic, festooned with dust bunnies, among a dozen disavowed minor artworks, behind boxes of discarded toys. The first woman in her family to go to college, she’d cared enough to frame her diploma, only then to be embarrassed about having cared, embarrassed because she felt she hadn’t done anything with it, had squandered her opportunity.

If I’d married Ben and moved to Westchester (you know, don’t you, that we would have moved to Westchester?), then, years later when my mother got ill, I wouldn’t have given myself over to her as I did, because there would already have been children (you know, don’t you, that there would have been children? Just as you know that eventually, inevitably, there would have been a divorce), and at least one of my life’s exam questions would have been properly answered. But there would have been no art, no oxygen; and there would have been those jobs, and all the things that went with them, and there would have been Ben, who, guileless as he was till the last, I came to despise for his very malleability, his likeness to myself, almost, and to look upon—quite wrongly, I now see—with contempt.

It was a riot. Like a third grader, I was in my life, in life. I was alive. I thought I’d been wakened, Sleeping Beauty–like, from a Long Sleep. In fact, I didn’t seem to need much sleep, as if all the years of struggling in a slumber had at least set me up to dispense, now, with rest. I sometimes left the studio at one, or even two, and I was in the shower by six thirty on a school day, bright and neat as a pin in my classroom by five to eight, with a surreptitious wink for Reza, who was often a mite tardy and easily anxious about it. For so long I had eaten my greens and here—at last!—was my ice-cream sundae.

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