Thursday, September 17, 2009


I remember when there were shelves full of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (Mary Pipher). The title caught my eye, with its suggested image of a different story for Shakespeare's tragic character. The subtitle spoke to me, as well, and I am sure that at some point I read the blurb on the book’s cover. I was twenty-five, not drinking for a time, newly diagnosed with (and medicated for) chronic clinical depression.

I did not buy the book. I was spending carefully on books of poetry and fiction that I enjoyed. Now I recognize that I felt a desperate determination that I would not need to read it. It’s okay, I got it, I was telling myself. I’m not quite Ophelia, not quite dead, not quite beaten yet. I can figure out the paradoxical requirements that our society has for young women, and I can do it own my own. The work also smacked of feminism, that label that makes most of us cringe, whether we admit to it or not.

People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a prostitute or a door mat. – Rebecca West
Last week, I requested Reviving Ophelia through my bookswap ( In the discoveries and the rebuilding in my life now, I hoped that the book would take me a little further in identifying and correcting inaccurate judgements about my life.

The book arrived yesterday, and I’ve begun to read. It is, of course, my story, as much as it is the story of so many women today. Confronted with impossible demands to meet in being acceptable in our culture (don't obsess about looks, but look good; be smart but not too smart; be sexy but not a slut...), we grew confused and angry or confused and depressed, or all the above. Choices were invariably made that compounded the confusion.

The key for me at the moment is the space to forgive myself. I was intelligent enough and intuitive enough to recognize that it was impossible to be all the things I felt were required, but I did not know how to sort out the options and to choose for myself. I am still just doing that now, at thirty-nine. So many of us are, though, and tragically, so many more are still just deadened to feeling anything, in trying to be everything.

Regrouping after divorce involves slowly sifting backward, reclaiming my true self from years of trying to be someone else. That goes back much further than the time when I got married because I was already confused then. Reviving Ophelia provides a context in which I can process the confusion, then continue to move forward but this time as the subject of my own life, as Pipher writes, not the object of someone else's.
The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think. -- Edwin Schlossberg

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