It’s the day when I’m to read from A Life in Motion at Hunter College’s Roosevelt House, the “campus” of my college years back in the mid- to late-nineteen-forties. And I’m incredibly nervous. I am taking deep breaths, and I am remembering the first time I spoke as a feminist back in 1969, from a manuscript called “Should Women Read Fiction?” when the venue was a Michigan university classroom filled with about 50 faculty members and graduate students. Those were the days when I had hives before I spoke, red rings around my wrists. This is more than 40 years later and at least I have no hives, only breathlessness.
As for today: shall I go over the script, which provides some glue as well as cues to the pages I’m to read from? Or shall I do something entirely different—go for a walk, file papers piling up as usual on my desk, pay bills (it’s the second day of the month)? I don’t know. But I’m able to make one decision: this is a journal and a blog. I’m willing to let those friends who look at my blog know that old habits die very hard or not at all. Perhaps I should be kinder to people who can’t kick “habits,” for even though I will be 82 this month, I have not been able to free myself from this particular youthful anxiety—that my speaking won’t be acceptable.
So here is my lecture to myself: Remember that through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, you spoke on campuses and at conferences at least 50 times a year. Remember all those folders called “dead speaking” that you packed away each year, crammed with the manuscripts you read from, as well as the correspondence and receipts for costs and fees. Remember, you supported the Feminist Press on such speaking and also bought a beach house. Remember, you had to write original papers each time, since you never could trust yourself to wing it.
So take heart, all of you similarly afflicted. . . .