All the interesting characters I’ve ever worked with–including myself–have had at their center a feeling of otherness, of homesickness. And it’s wonderful to watch someone finally open that forbidden door that has kept him or her away. What gets exposed is not people’s baseness but their humanity. It turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home.
But you can’t get to any truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to enter. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in–then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.--Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I am still upstate and spent last Saturday with music pouring out of my car speakers while I wound through great green and gold roads, indigo hills rising in the foreground, wildflowers waving hello. Ostensibly I was tag-saling (tag-sailing!), and in fact scored better than I usually do. Mostly, though, I was seeking a small adventure in the netherland between Columbia County, New York, and the Berkshires–between my chosen state and home state, respectively. I experienced my usual thrill when I saw the “Welcome to Massachusetts” sign, and my usual frustration when confronted with the parsimony of people from my native state. “One dollar, twenty five cents,” announced the older white man with shark eyes and shaking hands as I showed him the wares I wished to purchase at a church rummage sale. “So much?” I said, and flashed the lipsticky grin that opens all kinds of doors on the island of Nueva Berserk. “Now, where are you from,” he said slowly, and I could just tell he was wishing he’d charged me one hundred dollars and twenty five cents. Continue Reading →
I’ve been rereading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for a week now–I need to revisit it for the majorly druggy section of my bildungsRosman–and it’s so intense and so intensely racistsexisthomophobic that I have to put it down periodically and read something cooling and smart like this 90s interview with Toni Morrison. The biggest conclusion I have drawn (and it’s a fucking embarrassing one) is that next to Edmund White and Eve Babitz Tom Wolfe most influenced my writing style and methodology. I forgot how many times as a teen I read this book and all of his other books to boot. I even called myself the girl with the brown lipstick after a minor character in Bonfire. Oy, they say people don’t really change but the woman I am now can barely stand Wolfe’s status-quo-reinforcing jive. But his in-the-flow, in-the-glow, hyper-italicized, hyper-hyphenated, hyper-dimensional stream-of-consciousness self-possession? I guess it’s in my blood for good. Notice what you notice, he bellows in 24-point type, and I always have.
I heard the news that our forever Nobel Laureate died today and stopped what I was doing and just cried. Not because I knew Toni Morrison or even loved her the way I have loved some authors in my life–as if they were my godparents, as if they were my hand-holding guides. But because she was our literary leader. Our temporal foremother.
Through her voice coursed reason and righteousness and great great rage and always a syncopated stylish rhythm. Also joy and the bluest birds. She was the most American writer the 20th century ever birthed: Starting with the ancients (all of them, not just the blue-eyed devils), she wrangled with every bard and bastard in her deep sea of a gaze (her dap see). Then she scanned our whole desperate diaspora and showed us how we could tell, who we could tell. Who we could tell on. This she did with the grave and greatly earned presumption that US history was hers for the raking.
Today as I weep the tears someone else may have wept when Kennedy was shot, I think of Jazz. Maybe some view it as her lesser work, if she had one. But it’s the one that most terribly and terrifically invades my innards. In it she wrote:
Pain. I seem to have an affection, a kind of sweet tooth for it. Bolts of lightning, little rivulets of thunder. And I the eye of the storm. What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?…. Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it. I saw you and made up my mind. My mind.
Her mind is the one we still need in this desperate moment in America. But she has earned her rest so let her mind become all of ours. The timing of a great public figure’s death is never a coincidence—usually, it’s when we most need their light to shine through all of us. Throughout her career, Chloe Ardelia Wofford compelled us with lightning-and-thundering to reckon with the truest legacy of America—its rusty rusty bloodshed, its tarnished tarnished hope. More than that, she reminded us we always have a choice even if we don’t dig slim pickings. So let’s not just mourn her. Let’s make Her Mind.