December 4, 2014
I don’t know what to say. I was planning to blog about turkey pot pie this week, but my God, who the fuck cares about turkey pot pie when we are living inside of, as my friend Mark put it, some kind of midnight? How can I write about re-purposing Thanksgiving leftovers when I am so unspeakably angry that I don’t know how to think about anything else besides Eric Garner, gasping for breath on that New York sidewalk? About how I live inside of and am implicit within a system that makes it possible for the man who killed him to walk free, without having to face trial? About how mind-boggling it is that so many people I know don’t seem to give a shit? About how profoundly grateful I am that my son cannot yet read the news? About how Jill turned to me last night in bed and said “I would say we should move, but I don’t know where to.” And I said, “No, we have to stay. We have to stay and fight.”
For many years, I was accused of being a Pollyanna: optimistic to a fault. I grew up inside a lot of privilege, protected for many years from most of life’s truly awful things. Those things existed for me in a mainly theoretical way, in the way of a kid who read a lot, and empathized a lot, and cried a lot, but who didn’t have much more than feelings at stake. I cared and despaired and I went about my life.
Much as I liked to think I wasn’t naïve, I certainly was. And I’m probably not alone in saying that it was grad school that disabused me of my self-conception as a worldly and sophisticated person. I went straight from undergrad to an MFA program and quickly became aware—was made aware, by some brutally honest workshop critiques—of my tendency to wrap things up into nice, neat little bows: pat endings & pretty morals, easy answers and “everything’s going to be okay.”
I was also, no surprise, someone who avoided conflict like the plague; I liked being liked, even (especially) on the page. Unconsciously, I suppose, I didn’t want to upset anyone—I didn’t want to tell unpleasant tales. Or if I did, I wanted them to have hopeful endings.
Except now, looking back, I think that I have been guilty of confusing hope with wishful thinking, a distinction beautifully meditated on in this post by Debra Dean Murphy. I am learning, in these heavy days, that my desire to focus on the positive comes with a price. When I tidy up endings, I do violence by sawing off and discarding the pieces that do not fit. When we prefer to post the heart-warming photo of the tearful young, black protestor embracing the white police officer, we draw our attention away from the deeper issues and fool ourselves into thinking they can be solved with a bunch of hugs and fuzzy feelings.
“We must acknowledge—with eyes and minds wide open—the world as it is if we want to change it,” Charles Blow wrote in his column this morning. “Reality doesn’t bend under the weight of wishes. Truth doesn’t grow dim because we squint.”
I feel like a woman with new sight, and that sight comes with a heavy burden, a burden I know many others have carried long before me, and long before that. I do not yet know what to do with this sight except for to keep looking, and listening, and asking questions, and resisting the easy answers. For once, I am not seeking succor or balm. I believe these wounds need to fester, need to be made visible and brought into the light for a while yet, before they can heal.
all images in this post courtesy Amanda Raney