When, however, one reads of a witch being dunked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.
If you can channel the best part of you that is bigger than yourself, where it’s not about your ego and not about getting ahead, then you can have fun and you aren’t jealous of others. You see other people’s talent as another branch of your own. You can keep it rooted in joy. Life is long and there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. The point of it all is to learn.
The word I love is Arete.
It has a simple meaning and a complicated meaning. The simple one is: excellence. But if that were all, we’d just use Excellence and I wouldn’t bring it up until we got to E. Arete means your own excellence. Your very own. A personal excellence that belongs to no one else, one that comes out of all the things that make you special and different. Arete means whatever you are best at, no matter what that is. You might think the Greeks only meant things like fighting with bronze swords or debating philosophy, but they didn’t. They meant whatever you’re best at. What makes you feel like you’re doing the rightest thing in the world.
Some people have been unkind. If I say I want to grow as an actress, they look at my figure. If I say I want to develop, to learn my craft, they laugh. Somehow they don’t expect me to be serious about my work.
My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress, I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn, to change, to improve!
A man once asked me… how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves. Was I, by any chance, a member of a large, mixed family with a lot of male friends? I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any men of my own age till I was about twenty-five. “Well,” said the man, “I shouldn’t have expected a woman (meaning me) to have been able to make it so convincing.” I replied that I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings. This aspect of the matter seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over. One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also.
Jean Stapleton may be remembered as the dingy but long-suffering Edith Bunker, possessing a voice that could scratch glass in the rendition of Those Were the Days that opened the Archie Bunker Show. She embodied the character so perfectly that she became Edith in our minds, but she was much more. A brilliant woman who had her day in musical theater, she was good enough to fool all of us and stay true to herself. This is a very special tribute from Ninjanurse at Emancipation Conversation which deals not only with loss of Jean Stapleton, but the loss of Edith Bunker so many years ago. It makes me smile.