remember in my late teens feeling that other people’s efforts to be
were silly. I tended to be sad, even grim, and by my twenties I felt
inside—it was an effort to talk, do things, move. At the same time, I
a shadow and that other people wouldn’t remember me. I’m very
grateful to say that I learned from Aesthetic Realism
why I was a painful relation of these opposites—and I have a
lightheartedness and also a feeling of solidity now that I once thought
A Woman Be Both Serious and Lighthearted?
1. When I Began Losing My Sense of Fun
I did many lively things as a girl in the village of Glendale,
Ohio—coasting my bike down Gunny Hill, dancing and singing with my friends to rock
music, turning cartwheels on our front lawn, running with Chippy, our
mid-teens I was already losing my sense of fun. I preferred novels that
tragic. I avoided reading Dickens because I’d gotten the impression he
family was economically fortunate, a
fact which enabled me to be much more carefree than many children. But
enjoyed my parents praising me and giving me things I wanted, and I saw
them fight, I used what I viewed as their foolishness to think I was
At 15, my three best friends and I all had a
crush on a senior, Taylor Smith*, captain of the swimming team. Our
school didn’t have a girls’
we began one in order to work out with the boys. We didn’t dare to speak to Taylor Smith, but we giggled and whispered in the halls, and
wrote “Taylor” on the soles of our sneakers with a magic marker.
What was the relation between my
“lighthearted” fun about Taylor and the achingly painful Saturday a few
later when I cried alone the whole day because my boyfriend, Johnny
broke up with me? I’d had daydreams, imagining ways Johnny might show
me—such as following me and appearing at unexpected moments; having a
rendevous with me instead of going to his classes; suddenly arriving in
car to take me somewhere. These thoughts about Johnny, like the games
Taylor, were void of any actual interest in who the person was or what
strengthen him. My idea of love, I later saw, was that a man should
please me in a world that didn’t deserve my serious
I didn’t know that a man's
affecting me stood for the world affecting me—and that
I couldn't truly love and feel loved because I disdained the
world. At 26, what I considered my consuming
passion for the multitalented Pete
Tomkins* became despair: as I saw it, he was so energetic and busy
and I was left waiting, lethargic, and desperate for his company.
In Aesthetic Realism
consultations, which I began to have at age 27, I learned a way of
world that is beautifully serious, and that enabled me to be
how I saw people, including men. I learned that my largest desire was
the world—get pleasure from knowing and seeing meaning in things.
lightheartedness arises from this purpose. But another self in us wants
easier victories through having contempt. We’re seemingly
the most important thing in the world, but it’s a fake self, at odds
with reality, and makes us deeply heavy and stuck.
My consultants asked me, for instance: “Would you say there
a disposition in you,
even as you have to do with people, to be removed and just by
Nancy Huntting: Yes.
Consultants: So even when you devote
yourself to a person, the
other self is working?
surprised me, but I began to see it was true. When I told
consultants that my father, Donald Huntting’s, manner was more
my mother’s, and when she got very angry he just didn’t respond, one
they asked was: “Did your father tease your mother?”
I did. As I reconsidered that opinion, a certain heaviness
and lethargy ended.
Consultants: And have you
teased the world? Do you think you are
too good for the world?
Aesthetic Realism I saw
something thrilling: both I, and the men I’d had to do with, were
put reality’s opposites together. Being energetic didn’t have to
person out, seriousness was not depression! Energy
and repose, lightness
and heaviness were meant to be in a beautiful relation as they are
or a good sentence in a novel.
Then in an Aesthetic
Realism class, Mr. Siegel asked as to my relation with Pete Tomkins:
"Did you have a problem
of being taken too
seriously and too lightly? Was there a shrine for the both of you? Did
you make each other too heavy?"
just what I felt! I had made Pete the most weighty, most important
thing in the
world: I felt if he worshipped me as I worshipped him, we could put
aside the rest of the human race! I was also making light of who he
not being interested in his past, his relations to other people,
they had to do with me.
explained: "You and Mr. Tomkins felt that love and
respect are two different things. They are
color and outline in art, where respect corresponds to outline,
corresponds to color. To be interested in who a person really is, is
Were you able to be yourself
wasn’t, and I felt relieved to be finding out why! I didn’t like the
was with him—acting weak, waiting to be doted on. The thrill of being
triumphant dismissal of things and people.
Fanny Forester: A Woman Heavy & Light
speak now about a short story by Fanny Forester, (1817 to 1854), whose
name was Emily Chubbuck Judson. "She was noted for the gaiety of her
writing,” Eli Siegel said of her in a lecture he gave in 1966, and her stories published in the eminent magazines of
the Columbian, the Knickerbocker.
The lecture was titled, “What Is the Light?,” which consultants and
via tape-recording in a class. " I
[Emily Judson] presented the best example I know of a woman heavy and
burdened and glad," Mr. Siegel explained. "This question goes on today…it has tormented
be so sorrowful while they want to be so [cheerful] and joyous."
At the height of Fanny
Forester’s literary success in her 20’s, she married the most famous missionary
in American history, Adoniram Judson, for whom Judson Memorial Church
(NYC) is named,
and went with him to Burma. Tragically, within 5 years, Judson died of
contracted there; she returned to her home in Madison County, New York,
died herself only a few years later at 37. I’m immensely grateful for
Siegel’s justice to a woman who would otherwise be so little known now,
through her he’s enabling us to better understand these crucial
short story which Mr. Siegel said was her “best as art” is “The
He said it dealt with what well-known writers of the 20th century
like Mary McCarthy and Katherine Ann Porter would deal with, which he
What makes a woman,
even when things seems to
be going well with a man, be displeased, moody, dissatisfied, or mean,
melancholy? It's one thing that relates women of the 1850s, 1866, and
“Have you seen Miss
Follansbe, the elegant Miss Catharine Follansbe, belle and beauty?,” the story begins, its narrator speaking to
the reader in an ever-so lighthearted manner:
A genuine star is
she, not of the first magnitude, perhaps, though requiring but the reputation
of being an heiress, and a little less personal dignity and haughty
rank above the most brilliant.
So she has a little
too much “dignity and haughty reserve to rank above the most
has shone at Washington, too”—it’s whispered that several powerful men
courting her. “How that may be I know not,” the narrator continues,
“but I do
know all about Miss Follansbe's first lover.” Ms. Forester
is playing on the often cruel way that women can talk about other women.
we are about to learn, through a prose style both sparkling and
the beautiful Catherine Follansbe changed from a light-hearted girl to
and haughty woman of society.
years earlier, Forester writes, she was very different, she was “only
Katy Follansbe, or ‘Lily Katy,’ as she was generally called,” and her
was having a hard time providing for his family. At 15, Lily Katy
help her father by becoming a school teacher—something Emily Judson
at a similar age, for the same reason. Katy’s so lovely and good with
pupils that the whole community is smitten with her—including a young
Arthur Truesdail, home from college. But it is Arthur’s brother that
Katy’s “sunny eyes.” The story
I think Katy
somehow feels she is too light, and is drawn to Philip’s seriousness,
feels she can make him happier. The two start taking walks and reading
together; Philip, a farmer, has studied agriculture and also read many
philosophic books, but it was “seldom that he mingled with human
there was something in their rude tones that jarred upon the refined
his spirit.” And Forester
had only time to hear, "My brother Philip," and to smile and shake
her curls toward a very serious-looking face, before she was…led away
group awaiting her…."I wonder what makes him so melancholy-like this
morning," thought Katy, as her eye turned for a moment on Philip
Truesdail…It was strange; and Katy, being too young to believe
quite compatible with happiness, began to feel very kindly toward him….
and gentle as Katy was, there was a single vein of coquetry (innocent,
coquetry to anybody but Philip Truesdail) about her, which originated
Is the author describing,
delicately, contempt in both Philip and Katy—making for a
heaviness and lightness in each of them?
Mr. Siegel explained:
“Light” has two
meanings in English: not
heavy physically—as a cloud is not heavy, or thistledown; also, giving
or radiance. The opposites are dark, and heavy…. Sunlight and shadow
through the work of Miss Forester.
He gave this
important description of
something that Lily Katy and women now sincerely want—and is necessary
Every person is
trying to be good-natured,
and every person hasn’t succeeded. Good nature is the courage to feel
being pleased fully with something, we’re taking care of ourselves.
feeling, that being pleased is prudent, is the essential element.
As Philip and Katy
please each other,
things happen which women in 2007 will recognize. A man shows he’s
us, and we have a “flirtatious” response—that’s actually mean:
He had platted a
wreath, and she stood
smilingly… while he adjusted it among her light, silken curls; but when
picked…a rose-bud, and, touching it to his lips, was about adding it to
fragrant tiara, she shook it gayly from her head and placed her foot
"Nay, nay, cousin Phil," (Katy
always used the
prefix,) "you will spoil my head-dress with these heavy additions; and
dare say you have made me look like a fright now—haven't you?"
Katy did not note the
expression—half of chagrin, half of
involuntary pain—with which her companion turned to another
topic; and neither did he note her hand soon after creeping
down among the grass, to recover the rejected symbol of what had never
As summer is ending,
Philip expresses his
worry that she will go back to her work and other friends and forget
she’ll “perhaps laugh at the rude farmer that has dared to—to call you
Katy." He presses her to say she
will love him always; she says she’s too young, and puts him off. Then,
his disappointment, she relents, and they kiss for the first time. The
and “against” of man and woman for centuries is here. Forester
writes: “[T]hey sat down on the mossed bank together,
and spent two golden hours as hours were never spent by them before.”
The next morning, when Katy awakes, she has
That she was
happy could not be denied; but with her sense of happiness came the
suspicion that she had been won too easily….
is exactly the trouble that goes on now. ‘What happened to me
body did that?’ Me and body are still
not the same…. This question
of—‘What made us happy? How did we get to be happy?’
in her 19th century way, is like women now, feeling: “I had
pleasure, but did I lessen myself?”—and getting angry with the man. She
determines that Philip “ought to be punished for leading her into such
How dignified she would be when she next met him!” And, when they do
is bright and cool. Forester writes quite keenly—observing they are not
with each other, and showing how a woman can go for a false lightness
she’s deeply affected, and how much injury is done by it:
minutes of entire confidence on both sides would have set all right; but a
word unspoken often causes a life-estrangement.
And so, is it strange that Philip Truesdail
and Lily Katy parted that night forever? "Forever — forever!" sobbed
the poor girl, as she flung herself on the sofa, even before the echo
light, merry laugh had died on the air.
It was years before that mocking laugh died
in the ears of Philip Truesdail.
they talk in this way, things are over,” Mr.
commented, “Affection and mockery went on in the 1840s in America.”
The Fight Is Serious—& the Education
don’t know they have this very serious fight going on inside: How much
the outside world affect us? Do we want to be changed, deeply stirred,
criticized, shaken up by the world in the form of a man—or do we want
superior, protect ourselves, conquer the world, get away from it?
Makes for Real Lightness of Heart!
Toni Whittaker* is a kindergarten teacher who
has telephone consultations from Massachusetts. She had a sunny energy
voice and told us she loved the out of doors—tennis, biking, boating.
consultation she said that a relationship of more than seven
years with a man, Seth Brady, was breaking
years ago she’d discovered that Professor Brady, distinguished in
seeing another woman. Seth told her it was because he was lonely—she
enough time for him. She was devastated, and then got consolation,
by being with another man.
and Seth had gotten back together for almost a
year. She told us he was too possessive, and now he’d broken up with
must be doing something wrong,” she admitted. But she had another
recognized: why doesn’t he appreciate how wonderful I am and shape up?
We asked, “Does
he have suspicion of you?
“He’s very suspicious of me,” she said.
told her what Mr. Siegel once said to a woman in a
class: “The greatest suspicion men have is that, in some way they don’t
woman is making them weaker.” And we asked: “Have you wanted Seth Brady
stronger, in a better relation to the world? Has that been your
he feel, “This woman wants my adoration, but
does she want to know me and want me stronger? She wants me to be
does she want me to like the world?”
TW. Yes, he could.
Consultants. Are you in
a terrific fight about whether you want to possess a man or have good
TW. I think so.
Men, of course, can have ill
will, and we
were not justifying Seth Brady. But as a means of having Ms.
understand him and herself, we asked what specific criticism of her he
was there, I didn’t give him enough attention.
Eli Siegel defined
seriousness as “the
taking by a mind of what a thing wholly is, and what that thing means.”
said, “We’re asking you to be serious. If you’re serious, you’ll
possessive, and he may be. Meanwhile, do you think you are capable
dismissing a person?
TW. He definitely
Consultants. Do you
like it’s a minor matter?
TW. Right. I don’t
We suggested Toni Whittaker
read the novel on which Mr. Siegel gave his
lecture titled “Jane Eyre; or,
This Girl Had Good Will.” In her next
consultation she told us she loved the Charlotte Brontė novel, and
she had some
important observations about Jane:
TW. She didn’t take
opportunities to flirt with Mr. Rochester, like I would have. She’s so
too, in a good way.
heaviness and pain will end when
men and women can study the real purpose of love: for two people, with
seriousness, to encourage each other’s deepest desire—to
wonder and form in the world; to like it!
Is she also
Oh, yes! I’ve been
asking myself, “What would Jane Eyre do?” I’ve spent my time in a