vendredi 29 mai 2009

Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it

The New Dawn roses

I have perhaps been wrong. I have been told that I have been, and I am prepared to acknowledge that there is a greater likelihood that I was than that I was not. I checked a reference for my conscience, and it leans toward my being wrong more than right. It concerns a couple of my entries here, a place that is very important to me and which I will protect for whatever reasons are behind this importance.

I have always written. Many blank page books have traveled in my bags and had their pages filled, until it started to seem pointless. Whiny. I started to write here because there was the chance that someone else would read what I wrote, be it about my labors in our garden or my political thoughts, or my life. Writing here taught me to concentrate on what is important and treat the page like I have an audience that might get bored with the level of irrelevant detail and self-absorption a journal takes without complaint. It requires me to edit, just a little bit.

Recently, I have treated the most central issue of why I suffer. I did it because it matters so much to me, and there is so much I want to know and to understand so that I can live with greater peace and showing more kindness, so that I can let go of the anger and the resentment that prevent me from offering what others deserve, and what I am required to give.

Below is a part of, and perhaps it will be all of, if I cannot restrain myself, the last chapter of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life. It pertains directly, and I will use it as best as I can as the measuring stick for my own writing because Anne is the sort of person I wish to be, and her writing is the sort of writing I could wish to produce.

If a lawyer out there feels that I may be infringing copywrite, in addition to having written out of vengeance, but not done it nicely enough, please let me know.

Part Five: The Last Class

There are so many things I want to tell my students in our last class, so many things I want to remind them of. Write about your childhoods, I tell them for the umpteenth time. Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring and understanding your childhood will give you the ability to empathize, and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence and insight and compassion.

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don't be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.

If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don't worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act -- truth is always subversive.

Ethan Canin insists that you should never write out of vengeance, while I tell my students that they should always [italics hers] write out of vengeance, as long as they do so nicely. If someone has crossed them, if someone has treated them too roughly, I urge them to write about it. Two of my students, in different sessions, decided to write about the switches their parents selected from backyard trees and with which their parents used to beat them. Use these memories, I told them. They are yours. This should not have happened to you. Personally, I would write about this partly out of a longing to make sense of it all and partly out of vengeance. And this, I tell my students, may be as good a time as any to discuss libel.

Libel, she writes, is "defamation by written or printed word. It is knowingly, maliciously saying things about people that cast them in a false or damaging light."

I knowingly, but not maliciously, cast some people in a damaging light. I wrote about my truth, and I tried to do it nicely, and I did it because I am trying to make sense of something that happened to me that never should have. I have gone back and removed names. I have edited and erased details that have been corrected by the concerned parties or caused anger and a sense of betrayal in those who were not central to my story.

If one day I should write my story and it should appear outside of these journals, I will think long and carefully about how it should be done.

I apologize if I cannot accept the version of events or the interpretations of the actions and the motivations of the actors of my life that you choose. It is not, it was not, intended to harm you. It is that I do not agree with you.

I will let Anne continue:

Maybe this is not only vengeance; maybe it is just wanting to tell the truth as it really happened. Maybe it is also about trying to find some meaning in the suffering. Well. Whatever. Here is a poem by Sharon Olds, called "I Go Back to May 1937," that I pass out to every class:

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it -- she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like ships of flint as if to
strike sparks of fire from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

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