So strong is the illusion of cohesive selfhood in the voice of a writer we admire.
- Phillip Lopate
“THIS,” I scream, “THIS IS MY CHILDHOOD.”
I am staring at a box of breakfast sandwiches.
“You don’t understand,” I explain to Mark, “my mother would make these sandwiches every morning. Sausage. Cheese. Egg.”
He is smiling nervously.
“BUT THEN MY PARENTS GOT DIVORCED. AND THEN WE COULDN’T AFFORD THE EGG AND CHEESE ANYMORE. AND TO THIS DAY MY MOM BUYS JUST SAUSAGE. A DOLLAR CHEAPER. A DOLLAR FOR MY CHILDHOOD!”
He interrupts: “Babe, Please. Not now.”
“Do you even understand what this means to me?”
Arthur Rackam’s “Fair Helena”
All the life of Miriam’s body was in her eyes, which were usually dark as a dark church, but could flame with light like a conflagration. Her face scarcely ever altered from its look of brooding. She might have been one of the women who went with Mary when Jesus was dead. Her body was not flexible and living. She walked with a swing, rather heavily, her head bowed forward, pondering. She was not clumsy, and yet none of her movements seemed quite the movement…It was as if, in her fear and mistrust, she put too much strength into the effort. There was no looseness or abandon about her. Everything was gripped stiff with intensity, and her effort, overcharged, closed in on itself.
—From D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers.
She did not fit in with the others; she could very rarely get into human relations with anyone: so her friend, her companion, her lover was nature. She saw the sun declining wanly. In the dusky, cold hedgerows were some red leaves. She lingered to gather them, tenderly, passionately. The love in her finger tips caressed the leaves, the passion in her heart came to a glow upon the leaves.
A description of Mariam from D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers
I love this character so much.
Women don’t work that way. We’re a—a toothless word." She looks around as if she wanted to stop talking. "What women do is survive. We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world-machine.
—"The Women Men Don’t See," James Tiptree Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon)
I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words. … I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.
Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal
God speaks to me subtly. When I speak of God, I am not speaking of that suited, lawyer of guilt and privilege they worship in the baptist temples all around College Station. I think, perhaps, the transcendentalists were closest—I mean, the seed of transcendentalism. I tried to go to a Unitarian church but it was awful. Every Sunday a new culture was chosen to exploit some new liberal guilt. I imagined some Native American spirit looking down and laughing at all of the white people butchering his chant, ‘feeling’ his spirit by sticking our hands in some dirt offered in a porcelain china bowl.
No, I do not think there is any movement upwards by quilting all cultures together. It is a mockery, almost. We need some sense of authenticity. Oh, everything I say has to sound vague. Because I cannot find authenticity here either, with this God of social pageantry and colorful powerpoints. The Orthodox are close, I think, in their refusal to define the Divine in any concrete, personal adaptation. Much more personal to leave it to symbol. Truly transcendent—a room full of incense, chanting, and no where to look but inward.
Why, I wonder, do Westerners feel that they must find spirituality in new, novel ways. Why must they look, constantly, outward. I love Eastern religions, I think there is much to be gained from their study, but I would not be so vein as to adapt them after a month’s interest. Buddha was not made to be a neon plastic light covering, Krishna should not be submerged into a fish tank. That is why the Unitarian church scared me so much. I respect religion far too much to wear it as some sort of ornament of my identity.
I think there can be a sense of authenticity if it is gone about right, but too many people are simply trying to escape their own culture. They hide in places that they do not recognize, graffiti them and call them their own. They turn monasteries into tourist retreats. They have no way of truly interpreting the divine, because the different paths require specific languages—specific filters of culture and experience that allow illumination.
It is so hard to find spirituality within the Western world that we can feel is speaking to us, so we look for one that we can’t understand and project our own desires onto it. But I understand. I fear labeling myself a Christian too, in this land. Especially in the midst of the grand Bible Belt of Texas. I want, so badly, to label myself as opposite of what surrounds me, but I refuse to define myself purely for contradiction.
Christianity has its own set of mystics, of poets, of contemplation. I am not sure what happened—I am not sure how it has changed into something so commercial, so disgusting, so uncomfortable. It was once the inspiration of intellectuals—now it is left to mass agenda. But I believe there is no hope of finding any authenticity within our own culture unless we start reviving those fragments that we have left. Must we, in searching for our own identity, spoil others? We have exploited the world around us for far too long in our search for advancement, for fulfillment, for security. Why can’t we find the resources within ourselves, on our own soil, in our own hearts? Or is it that we know, on some level, that every thing we have is, itself, stolen?
From Youtube—Sir Nicholas Winton who organised the rescue and passage to Britain of about 669 mostly Jewish Czechoslovakian children destined for the Nazi death camps before World War II in an operation known as the Czech Kindertransport. This video is the BBC Programme “That’s Life” aired in 1988. The most touching video ever.
Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to “make a difference” trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.
Eye opening; I think most of us can admit we partake in this. It’s something disturbing I’ve noticed in myself—the desire to make the self greater, forgetting about the reality of the worlds that exists around me. Perhaps after the fall of religion in America, we needed a new way to relieve our guilt besides Hail Marys and time spent in a confession booth. How many times, I wonder, have I participated in something that is supposedly for the greater good only to relieve my own guilt, to make myself feel better, to find a relatively easy and often exciting way to express my uniqueness through personal choice. No wonder so many of these humanitarian efforts have only reduced dialogue and become nothing more than fads—markers of identity.
Our rhetoric has been reduced to different plastic bands that we wear around our wrists. Even morality is left to the consumer, to the individual.