Mary Karr, Memoir and the South Node
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Ooph.I was relishing Mary Karr’s delicious language, but didn’t realize that this line I so admired - “Maybe it's wrong to blame the arrival of Grandma Moore for much of the worst hurt in my family, but she was such a ring-tailed bitch that I do." - was actually a turning point in the narrative, a cliff’s edge over which we were about to plummet.
In short order, I started worrying how I was going to make it through the book, flipping ahead to see how many pages were left. But I reminded myself that Karr is unlikely to write what she criticized in The Art of Memoir as “duller-than-a-rubber-knife misery memoir.”
Ursula K. Le Guin also writes about how unsatisfying a tale of relentless woe can be: “The imagination can transfigure the dark matter of life. And in many personal essays and autobiographies, that’s what I begin to crave: transfiguration. To recognize our shared familiar misery is not enough. I want to recognize something I never saw before.”
Having taken a sneak peek at the last page of The Liar’s Club, I think we’re headed toward transfiguration.
But you’ve got to face the darkness before you can transfigure it. This is the power of memoir, as Mary Karr argues in the introduction to The Liar's Club: “... memoir - with its single, intensely personal voice - wrestles with family issues in a way readers of late find compelling...[Memoirs] feed us the way the bread of communion does, with a nourishment that seems to form new flesh."
This is the shadow-transfiguring potential of art in general. Penelope Fitzgerald writes that haunting images left unexpressed can destroy the artist. “Art … is a form of exorcism.”
It may be handy to keep this in mind over the next 18 months. On December 22, 2021, the Nodes of the Moon enter Scorpio and Taurus. Collectively, with the South Node entering Scorpio, we’re about to be confronted with some fierce truths. Scorpio is the Pandora’s box holding our wounds, our shame, the wrongs done to us and the wrongs we’ve committed. Facing these shadows is rarely pleasant, but pretending they don’t exist means they pull our strings without us knowing it. Or they can explode out from the shadow where we’ve tried to contain them.
As Steven Forrest puts it: "Reduced to its bones, this upcoming nodal passage will bring us some truly heroic healing breakthroughs, along with some monumentally bad 'acting out' behavior."
We can tilt the scales toward healing breakthroughs by our willingness to face the things that scare us - the things that threaten what Mary Karr calls “the shiny aspect of the self” that we want to keep polished and bright.
“The place for family skeletons is in the open, where they can rattle themselves to pieces,” says a character in Somewhere in the House. And this is what we're invited to do with the South Node entering Scorpio: air out the closets.
Once they’ve been aired out, the North Node invites us to reach way across to Taurus, on the opposite side of the zodiac. Here, we can soothe ourselves with simple naturalness. After Scorpio’s psychological intensity, we go for a walk in the woods, take a nap, hug a friend, and indulge in the simple, soothing pleasures of Taurus.