In preparing to keep a journal he was giving himself a task, and his temperament and training meant he was going to take the task seriously . . . even if he had no idea what he might achieve, he appears to have seen himself as a man who might do something in the world. Without his enthusiasm for himself, the Diary would hardly have begun to take shape as it did.
He was a passionate reader and cared for good writing. He had already tried his hand as a novelist and discovered a flair for reporting history in the making. Like many others, Pepys started off wanting to write something without quite knowing what it was, and the Diary could be a way of finding out. He may have seen it as a source book for something grander to be undertaken later. The high drama of the world in which he had grown up, the still continuing conflict between republic and monarchy, the heroic figures set against one another, paralleled the conflicts of the ancient world he had studied in classical texts. And principally, there was his curiosity about himself, which made him see his own mental and physical nature as not merely a legitimate but a valuable and glorious subject for exploration.— Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin, p. 79
Claire Tomalin, wow. Just wow.
This is a re-read. The first time she read it, she was on her way to Berlin to give a reading. She had it on her lap the whole flight, but it turned out her seatmate was a young Finnish architect who was going home after making a bid on behalf of his architectural firm for a building in Beijing. He ended up explaining Berlin to her, making little drawings on her notebook: here’s the Brandenburg gate, here’s Oranienstrasse, this street has the best Turkish food, etc.
She remembered being amazed, not just by Berlin, but by the book. Who knows why she decided to re-read it now (motives will be examined, later, in her journal, lol). She didn’t expect her re-read to evoke the same spark of excitement that it did on first read, 15 years (!) ago, but for some reason the above passage read really fresh.
(To be continued)
There’s still almost an hour before the game begins, so self can squeeze in a few more things. Self’s quote of the day is from Rebecca Thomas, Editor of ms. aligned 3: women writing about men. (Published by El Leon Literary Arts of Berkeley and Manoa Books)
For the past nine years, I have been teaching composition at West Virginia University. I primarily teach freshmen, and one of their first papers is a narrative. In so many of the narratives, students — of all genders — explore issues connected to masculinity, in particular the effects of toxic masculinity. I receive papers about abusive relationships in high school, peer pressure to act a certain way, loneliness in emotionally connecting with peers, and the very real risk and fallout from coming out. My students are young, so it’s natural that they write about their childhood, the childhood moments where they begin to construct their identity. In our class discussions and in their reflections, I see so many grappling with the concept of masculinity. How did it shape their life? How will it shape their life as they journey into adulthood?
In this Me Too era, it’s hard not to think about masculinity and how it can be toxic. Working on a college campus, I know that many of my students have been assaulted. I know that many of them are trying to find the space to talk about it, and I know that many of them are starting to test the waters of self-acceptance, to see if it’s safe to be who they are. Since I am the mother of two young boys, toxic masculinity is something that I have to consider constantly: how do we raise our children in this environment? What conversations do I need to have with my kids?
Contributors to ms. aligned 3, and series editor Pat Matsueda, will be on-hand at an online event hosted by Redwood City Library. Register here.