Doris Lessing passed away at her home in London on Sunday, November 17, 2013. She was 94.
I really can’t remember exactly when I started reading Doris Lessing or which book it was, but once I started, I never stopped. Lessing seemed to have already gone through experiences I thought were unique to my generation. Yeah, I was young.
Not only was I young and my generation had Pluto in Leo, so we were just a bit full of ourselves, the history that Lessing had lived through had been repressed. Growing up in the 1950s, I didn’t know about feminist history, the bumps of activity in the late 18th, late 19th and early 20th. It was well tucked away under Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver.
Communism was the big red menace and we were well into the Cold War by the time I discovered her, so I was raised to believe socialists=communists=evil. The civil rights movement and anti-war movement soon informed me otherwise. Socialism sounded like a decent idea to me; communism wasn’t so bad in theory. Stalin seemed to be the problem. Then us girls got started and feminism took center stage.
I attended a former women’s college, UNC-G, which had been in its time a haven for feminists. The library had a collection of turn-of –the-(20th)-century women’s writings in a locked cage. For a paper once, I needed to read an article in one of the journals. The librarian let me in, muttering about how she usually only allowed graduate students in and to be careful, these were old. I was shocked by the radical stance of these late 19th century authors. They were advocating the same ideas we thought we’d made up—daring thoughts about not marrying, about independence, etc.
I shared more than left-wing politics with Doris Lessing. In 1971, I attended a lecture about Vedic meditation. I started TM and liked it. After I graduated, I became a TM teacher, attending hours of lectures from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi about eastern philosophy, meditating for hours as well. Lessing’s characters explored expanded consciousness through psychedelics and meditation. Lessing turned from her knee-jerk rejection of spirituality to a serious search, during which she read all the world’s major religious texts—she never did anything halfway—and became a practicing Sufi.
I loved science fiction. She started writing it, ignoring the literary folks who looked down their noses at this form of literature. Lessing said “space fiction” as it was known in England was the site of the most exciting discussions about the nature of humans and the world.
I have read Lessing all my life, always loving her deep honesty about herself and the world, always learning about history and current affairs, always amazed at her spiritual insights. She was brave. In her last novel, she even erased herself and gave her parents the life they would have had if the WWI had not damaged them as it did. In so doing, they never met and she was never born. That takes guts to enter compassionately and imaginatively into those who formed your psyche and inflicted some deep wounds.
I dreamt about Lessing all night about a month ago. I sat around with her, listened to her talk, and watched her with her family, even slept in her house. Yeah, she had dementia then, but in my dream she was her old irascible self, slightly annoyed and somewhat concerned that I’d be OK without her.
I’ve never met her. I almost got to at the Doris Lessing conference in Leeds in 2007, but she didn’t come. She said she didn’t have the energy. I think she just didn’t like academics. I cut out early and drove down to Glastonbury. I don’t know what she would have thought about that. Nor do I care. She’s a mentor, a wonderful writer, not some guru.
Goodbye, Doris. Thanks for dropping by and giving us so much.