awakenings


(photo courtesy Kay SusanneMC.  This post was 
inspired by Amy Krause Rosenberg and Herman Hesse.)

*

1899

Kate Chopin publishes The Awakening, an amazing, ahead-of-its-time novel about a woman trying to negotiate the incongruent parts of her personality and live a full, cohesive life. Kate began writing after a period of depression following the deaths of her husband and mother which left her to take care of six children single-handedly.
*
1966
Joanna  is born in San Francisco, California: Joanna the 4th after her great-grandmother Joanna, her grandmother Joan, and her aunt Johanna. They would call her “Annie.”
*
1967
Mother will always claim that Annie learned how to walk without falling.  That is, Annie waited until she was completely ready, then she walked across the entire room without falling.  
*
1968
Little brother Johnny is born. Annie tears out all the hair on the right side of her head.  She grips the bar of her crib, crying to an empty room. This is her first memory. 
*
1969
Annie really, really loves chocolate pudding. When her mother sees that the bowl is missing from the fridge, she goes upstairs and discovers Annie painting the walls of her bedroom with chocolate.
*
1970
Move to a big old haunted house in Mill Valley. Annie has the same nightmare almost every night.
*
1971
Father buys a fancy new camera and wants to take her picture. Annie keeps fooling around, pulling faces when he wants her to look pretty and nice. He puts down his camera in disgust. When the film is developed, she is thrilled with her contortions. She wonders if anyone else will ever appreciate those ugly photos of her.
*
1972
Parents divorce. She and her brother live with their mother.
*
1973
Annie is sitting on the floor of her father’s clam-shaped bachelor-pad houseboat closet in Sausalito, CA with a headlamp and a stack of psychedelic, pornographic comic books, white-knuckled, realizing that her childhood is over and that nothing and nobody can protect her from the scary things in life.
*
1974
Father and future stepmother become enamored with Werner Erhard, the self-help guru who founded the est training (later called The Forum) and bring or send her to many intense seminars and events. Annie is ambivalent about most of it but still, she’s happy to be included in her father’s life.  Later, she will open a biography of Werner Erhard’s life and find a picture of herself being embraced by the guru on page 174.  
*
1975
Likes to play a game called Running Away From Home. She packs her backpack with everything she could possibly need (blanket, map, food, book, flashlight, compass, duct tape, staple gun, letter opener, etc.), slams the door on her way out, and dawdles in front of the house, pretending to look at the map and wishing her mother would run after her. Finally, she picks a direction and walks until she can’t remember what she was angry about, at which point she turns around and walks home.
*
1976
First movie-star crush: King Kong. Played “Faye Wray” for hours and hours, always includes the line, “I’m Dwan. D-W-A-N, Dwan. That’s my name. You know, like Dawn, except that I switched two letters to make it more memorable.” Practices screaming—gets quite good.
*
1977
Spends an entire summer reading books. Siddhartha, Damien, The Portrait of Doran Grey, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, To Kill a Mockingbird, Asterix and Tintin comics, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Fountainhead. When school starts in the fall, she tries to change her name to Ayn after the author Ayn Rand. It doesn’t stick. No one knows how to pronounce it. (Later, when she becomes aware of the elitist undertone to Rand’s novels, she will feel embarrassed.)
*
1978
Twelfth birthday: a sleepover. The girls climbed up to the top of the box hedge and rolled out their sleeping bags. (This detail no longer seems believable, yet it really happened.  The cypress was covered in a thickly-woven mattress vine that stood up to its name.) They stayed up late singing “When the Lights Go Down in the City” by Journey. Remembers how San Francisco glowed in the south and how vast and magical the world seemed that night and she was infused with the sense that even  if she never went to the city, even if she were homeless, even if the sun never came up, she would always be alright.
*
1979
Gets a job at Baskin Robbins. At least twice a day, when she clocks in and after she returns from her break, she must demonstrate her ability to scoop three perfect 3 oz. servings in a row before she can begin serving customers. Fired for giving friend Kimberly an extra big scoop. Will never be able to enjoy ice cream again: it’s too cold and exact.
*
1980
In high school, she and friend Jess invent imaginary love lives. They go to the bleachers by the football field every lunch to tell romantic stories about Irene (Jess’s alter ego) and Nathalie (Annie’s) and their respective boyfriends, Thomas and Christopher. The boys dress preppy and drive a Fiat convertible. The stories become quite detailed and elaborate. One day, Annie will catch herself remembering Christopher as if he were a real boy she once dated.
*
1981
School takes a small group of students to Death Valley for a Rite of Passage adventure. Spends four days and three nights alone in the desert without food, walking around wearing nothing but shorts and a bra, talking to the desert plants. When it’s over, she doesn’t want to go back; she thinks with just a little food she could last much, much longer. Becomes a vegetarian.
*
1982
Loses virginity and kicks off a long series of spectacularly expiremental choices in the boyfriend department.
*
1983
Changes her name to Anna; this time it sticks.
*
1984
College Admissions all say “NO!” Attends the only college that lets her in: San Diego State University. Gets a job at Dunkin’ Donuts because it is the only place within walking distance that is hiring. Her apartment reeks of donut grease and she will never be able to eat a donut again. Gets another job as a hostess at a restaurant. The work schedules clash with her classes. Reads The Awakening by Kate Chopin; doesn’t get it, it just makes her feel angry at her mother. Writes many angry letters to parents and lousy poems to current boyfriend.
*
1985
Finally earns enough money to buy a car and experiences total and complete, blissful freedom for the first time. Now she can transfer to a community college where she discovers an interest in school, especially in Logic, Astronomy, Human Psychology, and Literature. She’s interested for the first time an, for the first time, her teachers seem to appreciate her contributions to class.
*
1986
Poses naked for a magazine. In the future, she will be puzzled by this decision, but the experience and the money make the next five years (the good and the bad) possible.

Goes on a trip around the world for a year, alone. Brings her dog-eared copy of Siddhartha. Highlights: Spends several days on the shore of the Ganges breathing the smoke of cremated bodies, sitting beside several old people waiting to die, and listening to a bell gong, gong. On safari in the Kenyan Masai Mara, she sleeps in the jeep with a machete just in case the hyenas (attracted to the box of food in back) try to bite their way through the canvas siding.
*
1987
Total aimless, fruitless confusion. Can’t seem to stop falling into dead-end relationships. Sleepwalking.

“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go.” Theodore Roethke.
*
1988
Re-applies and is finally accepted to UC Berkeley. Chooses English as a major and feels like a serious person for the first time. Falls in love with Chaucer, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, the Classics, Roland Barthes, Charles Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Raymond Carver, old movies, and develops a major, life-long Cindy Sherman obsession. Works as a house manager for the performance halls on campus. Drinks too much espresso, wears doc martins, and smokes clove cigarettes.
*
1989
Takes a semester off to go to Shanghai to work in the office of her mother’s factory where they make hand-painted silk clothing. Has to leave the country when students start protesting in the streets. Days later, hears the reports of Tiananman Square.
*
1990
Meets John. She thinks he’s almost disgustingly good looking and he talks too much. They’re both dating other people but there’s something about him that is different from all the other men she meets: he’s really, really nice. How intriguing.
*
1991
Graduates from Cal with a BA in English, with highest honors. Proudly touts her résumé to an employment agency where they ask her take a typing test; she types 44 words per minute and is told she will probably never be hired unless she can bring it up to 70. Begins a series of lousy jobs: accounts and receiving for two psychiatrists doing workers compensation evaluations, placing employees for a temp agency, running the personal ad section of a weekly newspaper.

Starts dating John. If they’re going to hang out together, she’ll have to eat bacon.
*
1992
Moves to a houseboat on an illegal dock in Sausalito, California. It’s the best place she’s ever lived. Falls in love with Vladimir Nabokov, Philip K Dick, the Sandman comics. Begins wondering if she’ll ever get serious with a real man or a real job. Toys with the idea of teaching and tries to write a novel but both ideas are brain-freezingly scary.
*
1993
Anna and John decide to apply for grad school. He follows through but she doesn’t, maybe because she’s lazy or because she likes the houseboat too much or perhaps she’s playing a game of chicken, forcing a decision about the future of the relationship. They break up.
*
1994
Move into graduate student housing in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where John will attend school. Anna applies to and is rejected by Harvard School of Ed. Work in sales at a weekly newspaper in downtown Boston where she has a long debate with her boss about the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its.’ He doesn’t believe her when she insists it is=it’s. Re-applies to Harvard.
*
1995
John graduates and goes back to California for a job; Anna moves into the Harvard graduate student dorm, the first dorm she’s ever been inside. Her room is 8’ by 10’. In a graduate seminar on Black Women Writers with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Anna is having her first panic attack. She looks around the large table, at her professor (one of the smartest and most interesting people she’ll ever meet) and those twenty other scarysmart people all performing verbal acrobatics to catch his eye, and she knows that if she opens her mouth, she’ll barf.
Asks John to marry her. He says maybe.
*
1996
Living in Santa Cruz, California with her fiancé John, teaching English at a local high school.
*
1997
Married. Drops her surname altogether. The name Fonté is very satisfying: A font of knowledge, a fountain of refreshment, overflowing with happiness. Rhymes with Saturday, enchanté, ricochet, pas de bourrée: “Ah, monsieur, no no no, I am not French, I am married to a Frenchified Italian.” Tickled by the idea she will never be able to name her kids Dante or Ella. Can never remember how to get the accent aigu over the e so she cheats by typing “cliché” (which always gets one automatically through spell check) and then just backs the é up to the font, erasing the cliché but keeping the flourish: voila!
*
1998
Gets dream job at Berkeley High School: Things Fall Apart, Sula, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Catcher In the Rye, The Canterbury Tales, Othello, Oedipus, Maus I and II, Beowulf, Candide, Blindness, The Sound and the Fury, A Clockwork Orange, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Great Gatsby, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Bluest Eye, The Metamorphosis, etcetera. Pure bliss.
*
1999
Happy.
*
2000
At a millennial New Year ’s Eve party on a giant yacht in the San Francisco bay wearing a sexy cocktail dress and drinking way too many martinis, oblivious to the two-week-old embryo inside her.

Begins writing first novel. Welcomes wondrous daughter Kenyon into the world.
*
2001
Returns to classroom.
*
2002
Toddler learns to talk without her. Novel waiting on the shelf. But her students are wonderful and that helps her forget.
*
2003

*
2004
Paranoid epiphany while sitting in a café before first period: If I keep this up, I’m going to get cancer. Quits job without discussing with John. He is very nice about it.
*
2005
Finishes novel and sends it off to the slushpiles. Withstands a chilly flood of rejection.
*
2006
Long-awaited second daughter born: Gwyneth, which means happiness. The name fits her perfectly.  So why is Anna depressed? On a friend’s advice, re-reads Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and gets it this time. Wakes up in the middle of the night with the idea for What Would Water Do, a novel about a woman who adapts The Awakening for the screen.
*
2007
Notices her feet have worn the finish off the floor where she stands doing dishes at the kitchen sink.
*
2008
*
Worn spot deepens and expands.
*
2009
Buys a rug to cover it.
*
2010
Finishes What Would Water Do, releases it into the universe, and endures a stinging spray of rejection. What should she do now: Prozac? Scream therapy? Frontal lobotomy? Remembers how, at the end of The Awakening, Kate Chopin’s protagonist drowns herself, then remembers a favorite poem by a favored poet, Dorothy Parker:

Résumé
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

On the advice of friend, starts a blog.
*
2011
This is Anna’s 27th post, in which she becomes aware of certain themes in her life:

With effort and time, even loud and emphatic rejection (in education, career, and romance) can sometimes be turned around. Think jaws of a pitbull. Think tsunami.

For her, babies and books seem to coincide. Maybe it was the same for Kate Chopin, who can be imagined writing amidst a tumbling throng of bickering, chattering kids, simultaneously annoyed and motivated by their need.
By writing, I attempt to explore and unify the incongruent and contradictory parts of my personality.
The world is a vast and magical place full of life thriving beneath a glowing horizon and things always seem to end up all right.
*
Thank you, dear reader, for seeing this thing through!

*
*
If you haven’t read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life you really should.
Additional inspiration:
Bruce Lee:

Her Morning Elegance by Oren Lavie:

88 lines about 44 Women by the Nails:

About girl in the hat

aka Anna Fonté, writer of novels, short stories, personal essays, and bits about the neighborhood crows. The things I write want you to look at them.

44 comments

  1. Mike

    This is so interesting and beautiful and fodder for much future conversation. For now I’ll just say,

    - 1977: quite a reading list for an 11 year old! The mold was already formed.
    - 1981: wtf? what kind of high school was this?
    - no donuts and ice cream? what pleasure is left in life? oh yeah, bacon. I will have to remember for any future dinners. Also that was pretty young to get a job in an ice cream store

  2. me

    i was happy in 99 too. I agree w/ Mike…was this HS in Mill valley? nothing like my hs trips.
    I’m glad it’s not ‘joannie’…although it could be. I like annie…or anna…..either way. you’re brilliant.
    Her morning elegance….i could watch it over and over. I think I will.
    so much I didn’t know.

    • Hi!! It was a private hs in San Rafael– still clinging to the last vestiges of hippie-hipness. There were (still are?) people who make a career out of taking groups out for rites of passage/vision quests. Our kids will only get that stuff if we do it ourselves. Isn’t that sad?

  3. This is so beautiful and strangely meditative, very much like “88 Lines for 44 Women.”

    • Thank you! Maybe it has to do with the short sentences and fast pace and lack of pronoun– like a slide show, sort of, or like a moving train. I recommend that everyone try this timeline exercise. It was really fun.

  4. I’ve just had a tiny marathon on your blog, in my continuing attempt to catch up with “What Would Water Do” but I was stopped cold by this post. I don’t have intelligent words to express how much I love how you wrote this or how much I admire your honesty. I agree with Lisa, that it was strangely meditative. I’m glad she had something intelligent to say that I agreed with, because what popped into my mind was, Oh my god! How cool! And that’s what I’m still thinking as I sign off for the night and put myself to bed with your words echoing in my mind.

  5. Anna, this is so witty, heartfelt, wry, smart, existential, wonderful on so many levels. i look forward to reading more…your name also rhymes with Bronte. continue…

  6. TP

    New here: taking courage and inspiration from bloggers like you, so I can write . . . anything. Looking forward to learning my way around this place. It’s lovely here.

  7. Fascinating timeline if a little worrying ;) .. it reads rather like a poem….which I like very much..

  8. Dienna

    I love the timeline format of your life. With each year I kept wondering what would happen next!

  9. Anna, I am still working my way through all the words that flow out from under the hat and it is a most enjoyable endeavour.
    Buying a rug for the worn out spots seems like a lovely cozy metaphor…

  10. Thank you, Karen. I have so enjoyed seeing your world, too. Your pictures are inspirations.

  11. The Awakening is one of my favorite books.

    Your writing is captivating. Don’t give up on publishing your novel.

  12. This is fantastic. You’re making me feel inspired for the first time in quite a while.

    Also, I love Her Morning Elegance, but can’t help being the slightest bit bothered by her dirty feet.

  13. This is so amazing. Thank you for presenting yourself to me on Twitter. I love this post for its honesty (notice the its?), humility, fabulous writing, and certain parallels to my own life. I’m eager to explore your blog more thoroughly, but alas, I have other tasks banging at the door. I will have to come back when I have more time. This is definately a place I would like to visit regularly.

    • Hello and welcome, Linda. It’s nice to meet you and have a happy Twitter story– I haven’t had much luck connecting with people there yet, although I’m still trying.

  14. Anne, you are a quirky bundle of mischievous atoms!

  15. Of course this piece is your real résumé – why is a prosaic CV required of a writer?…

    Though as we cannot have any gaps in our CV’s – (gaps being where we stretch our truths the most) – you would have to update this every year…

    • Oh Sam, you dear man. Yes, this is my real résumé. I should add some more stuff, huh? (I hope the fact that all I did one year was * is testament to my desire to tell the truth.) (Writers have to tell the truth, I think, or our writing suffers the consequences.)

  16. Hello, this reminded me of Sylvia Plath. I co-wrote a short play of her life story a few years ago, and it had the same rhythm, beauty, haunting nature – and mix of fact and poetry. Hope that’s where the similarities between you and Silvia end! I have had a similar argument about its and it’s with someone who should know better. It’s harder for me to distinguish as my apostrophe key is broken. I copy and paste it into place. Keep trying with your book, it sounds fascinating. Imi.

    • The play sounds fascinating. I don’t intend on pulling a Sylvia Plath. I mean suicide, not poetry, of course. Sad that for me, despite her fabulous poetry, she’ll always be a tragedy, a towel rolled up and tucked into the bottom of the door. Thank you for reading.

  17. Holy crap. Just stumbled here. This makes me want to shoot myself or stop writing entirely. (I won’t do either.) I’m trying to remember where I recently saw the title What Would Water Do? No time to look now, I have a schedule to keep, but I will return. I love your honesty.

  18. WordPress introduced me here – timeline was very interesting, held me (where blog pages I have to scroll usually don’t) – I recognised many events and wonderings although I don’t remember seeing anyone with a hat full of crows there …

  19. Why I read this from beginning to end, I have no idea. Perhaps I was looking for lessons, reprieve, silence or a kind of peace. perhaps I wasn’t looking for anything.

    But what I found (eventually) was a love of the words you chose to express what was/is/are . . . physically around you and in your head.

    Today, from where I am on the very floor of my box, I can glimpse salvation and the scorched edges of an even deeper sadness than even I thought probable.

    That’s what truth does.

  20. read it again; still interesting

  21. Not sure how I never found my way over here before, but this was fabulous!

  22. Anna, this is so strange. I don’t know how I came across your blog a little while ago (can’t remember the Internet hops, precaffeinated on a Sunday morning) … But looking at a picture, I remember you as Annie ***** from Tam. How truly, spectacularly bizarre and cool. Weird Internet world anyhow. Didn’t know you at Tam, actually, but I remember that a buddy had the tragic hots for you, and a close girlfriend had the tragic hots for HIM, and neither of them got what they wanted. Also, later, while working in NYC publishing, opened a query from an agent with offices on Miller Avenue who repped a book about growing up Marin in the 70s…by you and KS. I’m remembering that correctly, right?

    You have a wonderful blog. Cheers,

    • Lisa– How bizarre! What a funny little world we live in. I remember you (were we in the same English class senior year maybe?) although I was only at Tam one year. How delicious that we are both writers. I never wrote a book with KS, although we probably should have. I’m so glad to meet you again here and I’m looking forward to reading your blog. (Is that a book you wrote?! Very exciting! I’ll have to go nose around to find out more….)

      xooxanna

  23. Lisa– How bizarre! What a funny little world we live in. I remember you (were we in the same English class senior year maybe?) although I was only at Tam one year. How delicious that we are both writers. I never wrote a book with KS, although we probably should have. I’m so glad to meet you again here and I’m looking forward to reading your blog. (Is that a book you wrote?! Very exciting! I’ll have to go nose around to find out more….)

    xooxanna

    • Hi Anna, Advanced Comp with Mrs. Salem? She’s the only English teacher I remember. She was one of inspirations on the road to serious writing, actually. OK, I could have sworn the query letter we got from the literary agent listed both you and KS. (I don’t think the book was written, queried as a proposal). Memory is frickin’ funny, isn’t it? To me, that’s reality. But, apparently, it’s not.

      Yep, that’s my book you see on my website. My little book baby finally going to arrive in the world. :-)

      Have a great week, Lisa

  24. Thank you for sharing the story of your life. Please keep it up to date :-)

talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,350 other followers

%d bloggers like this: