While having a quick bite at Au Bon Pain with a good friend, Mary, who is also an accomplished playwright, she paid me a compliment about my writing. She said that she thought I was a good writer and that even when I got into deep issues, the writing always came back to a place of optimism and light. She also said she liked my humor. Her words meant a lot to me not only because of my admiration for her as a writer and a kind and lovely human being, but also because she got what I try to do with my work and how I try to walk in the world.
I sort for the good.
On the way home from visiting my friend and a subsequent errand and meeting, I read a brief interview in the Boston Globe’s G Section, with Benoit Denizet-Lewis, author of American Voyeur. His writing seems to be the antithesis of sorting for the good. He seems to sort for the fringe, the twisted, and the suppressed. The more fringe the better.
“Denizet-Lewis says that when he can keep his own judgments from surfacing, he can depict his subjects more accurately.”
One of the groups he writes about has practices that are so despicable that I won’t even name it here. They should be judged and eliminated. If you lay down with dogs you will probably end up with fleas, the old saying goes (or some such approximation) like There’s a difference between writing about dirt or writing about soil. Denizet-Lewis has penned several cover stories for the New York Times magazine, much of it celebrating the sordid.
I do censor some of the images and ideas that I imagine. When I’ve let myself go in creating images or recording negative things I’ve witnessed or endured, I carefully excise some of it that serves no useful purpose in being shared.. I just don’t want to be responsible for putting more slop into the world!
For every tidbit of gossip I share, there are dozens more I swallow.
I try hard not to put a lot of negativity into the air. Given air, negativity seems to blossom especially when in the hands of the media who will hop over 20 positive stories to get to one negative or who will pick out and magnify a negative thread in an otherwise positive event.
I’ve often heard that if you can name it you can heal it, however, I’ve come, at this point in my life, to feel that some stuff needs to remain unnamed and private What’s the point in putting more junk into the consciousness of a world already saturated with negativity?
It’s not that I’m merely a “best foot forward” woman. (Although I do try to be my best self as much as I can be.) It’s just that staying down in the muck and the mire isn’t helpful for me. Reliving and remembering negativity leaves me exhausted and weakened. Once having survived certain experiences, I don’t feel a need to replay them or explore them ad nauseam. (That’s why I only lasted four sessions in therapy.) Rehashing the past didn’t help me getting over the situation and move on. (I’m lucky that my mind will often close off and forget specifics of negative events. It does this with some positive one as well – and I can live with that.)
I’ve learned to selectively call friends and family members who bear doom and gloom. I take them in small doses and will end a conversation when it’s gotten stuck on sorrow or woe is me, yet again.
I picked up Say You’re One of Them by Ukem Akpan – one of Oprah’s Book Club Selections with great anticipation. Sister, brother, was I let down.. I found this collection of short stories overwhelmingly depressing. There is virtually no light in the book. That it was written by a Jesuit priest is stunning to me. Told from the perspective of children, the writing and circumstances draw you in but I kept looking for the redemption in these stories and it wasn’t there. There were tiny flickers of possible escape in some of the stories but what would be escaped to seemed as bad as the circumstances being escaped. I know that children all over the world are going through violence, slavery, prostitution, war and other acts of betrayal by adults. But come-on, couldn’t Mr. Akpan, a priest, give us some positive stories in between the tragedies? Save the bonds between the children, there is little positive here. And I found this disturbing.
I also haven’t jumped on the Precious bandwagon. Having read the novel it is based on, Push, by Sapphire years ago when it came out, I felt no need to rush and see the movie. I will watch it but it will be in the privacy of my home where I can absorb the shocks at my own pace, remote at the ready if it is overwhelming. Precious is this generation’s The Color Purple by Alice Walker although not as well written and definitely more graphic.. 9I understand the director of Precious put in some fantasy and hope that wasn’t in the novel.
(For a better exploration of illiteracy and its impact on a young person’s life I highly recommend is A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, an incredibly gifted novelist. Despite the fact that the protagonist is on death row, there is redemption, growth, healing among him and the teacher his grandmother hires to educate him so that he will die like a man. It is exquisite.)
I could cite other examples on both sides of the coin, books and movies that drag and those that are buoyant, but I believe I’ve made my point. Writers and other artists have the right to tell their own stories in their own ways, but I also think artists should think carefully about what they put in the world, what messages their work is sending, and what images they are leaving behind.
Meanwhile, I sort, write, listen out for, notice, and share the good. I’d love to hear what y’all think.