Meditation on Woman, Aline Soules
from the Understanders Issue of American Athenaeum, Dec. 20, 2012
My memoir, Meditation on Woman, was published in 2011, but the conception of the story began one day in my childhood when I realized that I had been brainwashed. Not in any intentional or cruel or unusual way—just in the way I thought most women were taught to put men first, that a woman’s job was to please her father, then her husband. I was taught that women fit into a limited variety of categories—daughter, wife, mother, traditional female worker (teacher, social worker, nurse, you pick).
Growing up as a young child in Scotland, during the 1950s, I fought against this stereotyping, and tried to learn to put myself first. But it wasn’t easy. After moving to Canada, where I began high school, I faced gender-related difficulties and challenges. “Lose your accent,” I was told. “No one’s going to hire you to be a secretary and have you answer the phones with that accent.” I made two decisions—one was not to listen to the critics, and the other was never to be a secretary.
In college, I continued to rage—against the war in Vietnam, in favor of feminism (a dirty word), against the glass ceiling, in favor of female independence. In fact, I did all of the “traditional” things in the end as well. I moved to the U.S. (I married an American),
took my husband’s name, gave birth to a child, cooked, cleaned, ran a home, but I did them because I fell in love, married, and eventually saw my beloved die of a brain aneurysm in front of me thirty years later. By then, after decades of fighting against the sides of the boxes constructed for me by others, I concluded that women could be and were all of the things I both despised and championed—both at the same time.
As for my writing life, I can’t remember not writing. One of my earliest memories was writing thank you notes for gifts received at the holidays. I loved doing that. To pick up a pen and play with words amused me for hours and still does. In the 1960s, I majored in English language and literature at a time when there were very few creative writing programs. I ended up earning a degree in library science to make a living. (Yes, I do wear spectacles, but I
don’t have a “bun”). Writing was only something I did on the side.
It wasn’t until after my husband died that I put myself first and returned to school to complete an MFA in Creative Writing. It was something I’d always wanted, but couldn’t fit into my busy life of home, husband, child, dying parents, and full-time job. At that point, the two parts came together. I had begun writing vignettes about a woman some years earlier, but really didn’t have a full sense of where I was going. One of my MFA advisors, Jim Krusoe, said to me “you have a book.” I think I had about half a dozen vignettes of similar structure at that point. “Just write fifty more,” he said. So I did.
My elevator pitch for this book is this: “These prose poems and flash fiction pieces work together to create a universal woman—complex, multi-faceted, and fascinating.” But it took me a lifetime to be able to write it and five years to put it down on paper. Each piece begins “A woman [verb]…” and carries on from there. I wrote it to create “über woman,” the woman who doesn’t fit in a box and is traditional, is radical, is part of the world and is the world. I wrote it to explore all the facets I could conceive. I stopped because, in theory, I could have gone on forever, but, in reality, I needed to pick and choose among many options and opt
for the best vignettes I could write and the best combination I could construct. Not only did it take years to write, it took weeks to decide on the order. Now that it’s published, people just dip into them at random. Such is the irony of a writing life.
I also chose a format that lies in the intersection between prose and poetry. Some pieces lean more towards prose; some are more poetic. I wanted these pieces to straddle form as much as they straddle the various facets of woman. I was just lucky to find a publisher who understood what I was trying to do and supported it.
My Amazon listing includes a number of reviews. The one I’m most proud of is the one that was written by Alfred J. Garrotto. He wrote: “Every man who cares about a woman at any level of
relationship will come away enriched and grateful.” He also told me in person that there wasn’t a wasted word—what greater compliment could a writer receive?
I am sure that this book will appeal to women first and foremost, but I believe it will resonate with male readers, especially those wanting to understand, explore, and celebrate the complexity of women—who we are and are always becoming. Our journey never ends.
To purchase, please visit amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Meditation-Woman-Aline-Soules/dp/1937536130
Meditation on Woman, Aline Soules