Tillie Olsen — страница 4

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negotiated with Macmillan to get her released from that contract. She then signed with Random House, which offered her a monthly stipend in return for completing a chapter every month. In 1935 she sent two-year-old Karla to live with her parents and moved to Los Angeles to write. However, she felt uncomfortable in Hollywood Left circles, where as a bona-fide member of the working class, she was "considered a curiosity," although she was befriended by screenwriter Marian Ainslee and enjoyed literary discussions with Tess Slesinger (Duncan 212; Rosenfelt interview). Unhappy at being separated from "her own kind of people," she occasionally traveled to several California towns for three- or four-day periods to help organize farm workers (Martin 10). The

separation from Karla affected her most of all. In 1936, although she "felt like a terrible failure" for not leaving finished the novel, she forfeited her contract, moved back to San Francisco, and brought Karla home. Nearly 40 years later, examining Yonnondio’s 11 rough drafts and trying to figure out where she was when she wrote them," Olsen "realized that most of her best writing was done" after her reunion with her daughter (Duncan 212-213). In 1936 Tillie Lerner began to live with her YCL comrade, Jack Olsen (with whom she had been arrested in 1934); they married in 1944, just before Jack entered the military (Orr 38, n36). Tillie had three more daughters–Julie, Kathie, and Laurie. Between 1936 and 1959 she worked at a variety of jobs–waitress,

shaker in a laundry, transcriber in a dairy equipment company, capper of mayonnaise jars, secretary, and "Kelly Girl"–and, against tremendous odds, tried to keep her writing alive. She copied passages from books she could not afford to buy and tacked them on the wall by the kitchen sink for inspiration. She seized every moment she could: Time on the bus, even when I had to stand, was enough; the stolen moments at work, enough; the deep night hours for as long as I could stay awake, after the kids were in bed, after the household tasks were done, sometimes during. It is no accident that the first work I considered publishable began: "I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron." (Silences 19) When the demands of

Olsen’s life–which included wage-earning, mothering, political activism, housework, and writing–resulted in her "having to give primacy to one part of her being at the expense of another," the children came first (Rosenfelt, "Thirties" 380). Silences memorably records Olsen’s experience and that of many mothers: More than in any other human relationship, overwhelmingly more, motherhood means being instantly interruptable, responsive, responsible, Children need one now (and remember, in our society, the family must often try to be the center for love and health the outside world is not). The very fact that these are real needs, that one feels them as one’s own (love, not duty); that there is no one else responsible for these needs, gives them primacy.

It is distraction, not meditation, that becomes habitual; interruption, not continuity; spasmodic, not constant toil…. Work interrupted, deferred, relinquished, makes blockage–at best, lesser accomplishment. Unused capacities atrophy, cease to be. (Silences 18-19) When Olsen learned she was pregnant with her second child she made an appointment with an abortionist and then, at the last minute, walked out of his office. After Julie’s birth, Olsen reports, she gave up her thwarted attempts to complete Yonnondio; although she had "fragments for another 70 pages of the novel," she had to go to work "typing income tax forms" (interview). Only her last pregnancy was "voluntary" (Rosenfelt interview). Yet Olsen insists that the demands of mothering

four children did not fracture her selfhood. Being female and an artist are complementary, not contradictory, she believes. Certainly a woman’s experience is not antithetical to art, despite the view expressed by Le Sueur’s editor at Scribner’s who rejected "Annunciation" for its "ersatz" subject matter, and Olsen’s texts provide ample evidence that parenting richly fed her writing. However, since writing requires time and solitude, the practical question arises: Why did Olsen have as many as four children when she had the ambition and talent "to be a great writer" (Rosenfelt interview)? The answer lies partly in Olsen’s firm belief that motherhood is not only the "core of women’s oppression" but an extraordinary source of