It Doesn't Matter but...

November 22, 2013

Doris Lessing (1919 - 2013)

It Doesn't Matter but...

Why Doris Lessing mattered to me---

If you don't know who she is, then you're probably not a writer, though you may have heard of her because of her culture changing 1960's novel The Golden Notebook, or because her response to winning the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature was "Christ! I couldn't care less." 

I laughed when the news reporters were shocked and offended by that comment--they didn't understand that Doris Lessing lived by different rules than the average person---fame didn't interest her, though I read she was happy to have the money because it made her final years easier.

The day I interviewed her was one of the most sublime, proudest days of my life. Imagine the person you admire more than anyone and then imagine you have the opportunity to sit and talk to them for hours. It was in the early 90's and she was on her book tour for African Laughter, so we met in a hotel room in San Francisco. We talked all afternoon and connected in a profound and eternal way. I was not just a 'fan' of Doris Lessing---(yes, I read all 50+ of her books,) but from my first exposure to her when I was a high school student, something about her words reached into my soul and touched me---it was as if she saw what I saw and used just the right words to show me what I felt and tell me about the way people really interact. 

We shared a few letters over the years; hers were from a typewriter where the 'e' was a little off center, and I treasured every word, not because they were letters from a Nobel prize winning novelist. but because they were letters from a woman I admired and respected like no one else. When people ask random questions like, if you could be anyone else on earth who would you be? There was only one person other than myself I ever thought I could wholeheartedly trade lives with, only one person I wanted to be, and that was Doris, because she was honest, original, brilliantly perceptive, and a great storyteller with a huge imagination and a dry, sarcastic humor I loved.

She lived a long full life of 94 years and saw her two sons die before her, Peter, her youngest, only 3 weeks ago, which has to be the hardest thing to cope with. I hope she was ready to go and that her passing was painless.

During our interview she kept starting stories with the phrase, "It doesn't matter, but..." and that was the key---none of the stories, observations, incidents 'mattered' in the grand scheme, and they weren't what we ultimately might call 'important', but they added up and in fact, hours of anecdotes that began "It doesn't matter but..." became life-changing for me because they showed me who she was, and as a result how to be myself.

In The Golden Notebook she wrote; “Do you know what people really want? Everyone, I mean. Everybody in the world is thinking: I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to, who could really understand me, who'd be kind to me. That's what people really want, if they're telling the truth.”

I miss her already.

Melissa Sanders-Self

Watch the video documentary

Writing Women's Lives to see Doris interviewed.

Available at McHenry Library and through

Films for the Humanities and Sciences