The course of Lou Salomé’s life was one of ceaseless determination to be true to the image of herself and to reject all influences that might have limited her.” - translator Stanley A. Leavy in the introduction to Freud Journal
Lou Andreas Salomé.
(If you don’t know this Russian born essayist, psychoanalyst and ‘”intellectual conquistador’” – she is also known as the muse to Nietzsche & Freud, the love of Rainer Maria Rilke.)
She both inspired and took to heart Nietzsche’s advice, ‘Become who you are!’
I stumbled across her existence not in any history or feminist theory classes, but in an old used bookstore in Ohio. Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas Salomé: the Correspondence.
As a 20-something, reading their letters was a front row seat to relationships, philosophy, writing, and what it is to be a strong woman in extraordinary circumstances. Of course I gave up my marked up copy to some guy I thought would be as moved as I was - or maybe I was hoping it would be an instruction manual for him – regardless, that copy is in the wind... fortunately I found another.
The way she articulated her point of view in the world, almost everything she envisioned and chose, went against social currency – and now she’s thought to have been forward thinking.
I wish I’d had Salomé’s intellect and quick wit for a conversation I had once with my father. He was doing his best to understand what I do in the world (at the time, I was heading up a BFA Acting program). He said: How can you justify educating so many students for a career they’ll never find work in? A theatre degree is a degree in unemployment.
His words hung in the space between us. It was personal. When I lived in NYC, newly married and just out of grad school, I had agent but not a job, and there was a period of time I went on unemployment. My dad was mortified and to this day he does not understand how someone with an education can end up in “those circumstances.” I didn’t tell him how long I went without health insurance because we couldn’t afford it and my husband’s job didn’t offer it – even though he had a doctorate.
But rather than get angry or defensive, I allowed his words to have weight and meaning. Through the years, it became a challenge I leaned into. When I would write grants or give talks or speak with administrators and board members, I’d put my dad in every audience and it would influence what I spoke and how.
When you expand yourself to include another’s point of view, your story has to change. The old one won’t work because it’s too small.
Resistance can inspire clarity and grit and empathy. It can result in honing something to its essence. This inclusion didn't compromise my voice, it made it more effective because I got at the heart of what mattered.
With everything going on in the world, I think of Salomé and what it means to see something that others may not, and to do something about it in a way that encourages not only your voice in the world, but others to use theirs.
Become who you are...
always in motion,