This Is Not Just Surprise And Pleasure

This is not just surprise and pleasure.
This is not just beauty sometimes
too hot to touch.
This is not a blessing with a beginning
and an end.
This is not just a wild summer.
This is not conditional.

–Mary Oliver, “What This Is Not,” from Felicity

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Sometimes my awareness of my own competence alarmed me. How would I remain attached to the world if not by need? I didn’t appear to need anyone: I could do it all myself. I was both halves: did that mean I was whole? In a sense I was living at the high point of feminist possibility: there was no blueprint beyond “having it all.” The richness of that phrase, its suggestion of an unabashed splendour, was apposite. To have both motherhood and work was to have two lives instead of one, was a stunning refinement of historical female experience, and to the people who have complained that having it all means doing it all I would have said, yes, of course it does. You don’t get “all” for nothing. “Having it all,” like any form of success, requires hard work. But the hero is solitary, forever searching out the holy grail, her belief that she is exceptional perhaps only a disguise for the fact that she  is essentially alone.

–Rachel Cusk, from Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation (p. 23)