When you’ve twice tried to use your library card instead of the bank card in your purse, it’s probably a sign. Of what, I’m not yet sure. Perhaps, advancing senility?
We are writing about race whether or not we consciously choose to address it. We can’t help ourselves—as we write, we disseminate our own views, our own attitudes, our own ideas of what it means to be a person in the world. We choose who populates that world: who is present, who is absent, who’s forgotten.
And so we have to, as we grow, reconcile our initial geography of social structure with the larger context of the world we’re entering into. Sometimes, as we enter this larger world, we have no kind of reliable map. We have to create our own.
Sometimes, the things I read hit me in the middle of the forehead. Today’s Rumpus original by Delaney Nolan makes my head reverberate.
We talk a lot, in my writing group, about privilege and ignorance, about classism, ethnicity, diversity, whose stories we can write, and why, or how. Nolan writes, “The purpose of good literature, as far as I can tell, is to find a common human ground that we can all relate to.” That sounds remarkably like my own discussion on the “commonality of the human experience.” In writing this good literature, we try not to pretend we can possess a thing or a culture or a people we cannot, but instead, make accessible what little we know, by bearing witness. In this way we can authentically hold open a door for someone else to catch a glimpse of something they may be interested enough to discover, outside the pages of a book, for themselves.
And doesn’t that just give whole new meaning to the word, “doorkeepers.”
“Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see …each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition— all such distortions within our own egos— condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. That’s how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts.”
― Tennessee Williams
Lately I’ve really thought about this quote, and about who and what we see each other to be, and how much we see through projections. Someone told me the other day, in essence, that I judged them through the lenses of being a writer; that my desire to know how people tick made me pull them apart, and stuff them in little boxes, in essence like some horrifying little bully who pulls the wings off of flies, or who nets butterflies only to drive a pin through them on a display board.
No, that didn’t make me happy to hear, but neither did it frustrate me, not really. Not when I had already begun to understand that, although we have shared a close acquaintanceship, that perhaps we neither one of us yet truly understood what it took to ascend the step to truly be “friend.” Befriend. Friending, a verb, and yet it still eludes us… Though this idea of me viewing the world through the medium of words shook me, it also let me see how blind we are, as a species, and how quick we are to hold up the alleged cruelty or inattentiveness of another because we are blinded by ourselves.
Don’t we all see each other through a series of mirrors or windows? Depending on the angle of the light – or which way we hold ourselves – we either see what we want to – which, all too often is only ourselves – or we look enough beyond what we see reflected back at us that we catch a glimpse of the unknown. I don’t believe that just because I’m a writer, the sum total of my ability is used to define people. I don’t know what it does mean, but so far, my answer to that accusation is simply rejection; a “No,” and not “No, but.” I’m still waiting for my head to catch up with my heart on this one, and tell me what it all means…
That’s a big, true hope for any piece of work.