Writing: Finding “The Limit”

My writing friend Jeremy Paden shared this essay with me today, and now I share it with you.

This writing cracked something open inside of me, and that is a good thing. It needed to happen, and it needed to happen in this moment.

Maybe you are writing an essay about your childhood, about your past. Perhaps you are stuck, not knowing why it’s not moving forward. It may also be that your essay is complete, but you wonder about your feelings in writing it.

Should I have told that? It’s all factual but somehow seems less true now that I wrote it down. Are other families fraught with this kind of pain, will I be standing out there alone, or maybe I’ll wish I’d never found out who I’m standing next to.

Christian Wiman graduated from Washington & Lee University, one year before my husband did the same. I’ve never been to West Texas, never loaded and fired a gun, never been the child of a family ripped by divorce and betrayal. And yet this man’s writing tells something so familiar to me….some of it is because of my intimate relationship with someone who knows violence in childhood. A large part of it is my connection to avoiding writing something, not because it’s difficult so much as because it can never be on the page what it is in my life. No matter how well written, something falls away in translation.

Make time for this essay. It may require some pauses and walking away to return later, it is not easy reading. It is overwhelmingly beautiful writing.

Christian Wiman

To be a writer is to betray the facts. It’s one of the more ruthless things about being a writer, finally, in that to cast an experience into words is in some way to lose the reality of the experience itself, to sacrifice the fact of it to whatever imaginative pattern one’s wound requires. A great deal is gained, I suppose, a kind of control, the sort of factitious understanding that Ivan Karamazov renounces in my epigraph. When I began to spiral into myself and into my family’s history, it was just this sort of willful understanding that I needed. I knew the facts well enough.

But I don’t understand, not really. Not my family’s history and not my childhood, neither my father’s actions nor his absence. I don’t understand how John could kill someone, or by what logic or luck the courses of our lives, which had such similar origins, could be so different. I don’t understand, when there is so much I love about my life, how I could have such a strong impulse to end it, nor by what dispensation or accident of chemistry that impulse could go away, recede so far into my consciousness that I could almost believe it never happened.

It did happen, though. It marked me. I don’t believe in “laying to rest” the past. There are wounds we won’t get over. There are things that happen to us that, no matter how hard we try to forget, no matter with what fortitude we face them, what mix of religion and therapy we swallow, what finished and durable forms of art we turn them into, are going to go on happening inside of us for as long as our brains are alive.

— Christian Wiman,  his essay “The Limit” in Threepenney Review

Image credit: Washington and Lee University

On This Day for Women, Look at Yourself

Today is celebrated as International Women’s Day.

I really wanted to pull out of myself something relevant and meaningful connected to one sit-com star’s notorious public meltdown, because I believe our collective reaction to him is telling.  The bad news is it’s not telling about him — he’s pretty clearly an open and shut case.  It’s telling about the rest of us.

He’s hilarious.  He’s sad.  He’s an addict.  He needs help.  He needs understanding.  Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to live that guy’s life?  He’s like, he’s like, he’s like a rock star from Mars!

Actually, no.  He’s a drug addict.  He may be depressed.  He’s a man with an extensive history of violence towards women.  He shows not one shred of respect for anyone, not even himself.  And we have made him the god he believes himself to be.

Anna Holmes does an excellent job in her op-ed from March 3, 2011, The Disposable Woman – NYTimes.com, of holding up the mirror to our co-conspiracy with the warlock against women.  Who has said he’s not funny?  Who has said to the women who find themselves on the wrong end of a gun or a knife in his presence that they are deserving of compassion, of understanding, of help?

As Jennifer Pozner points out in her recent book “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty-Pleasure TV,” misogyny is embedded within the DNA of the reality genre. One of the very first millennial shows, in fact, “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire,” was notable in that it auctioned off what producers called the “biggest prize of all”: a supposedly wealthy B-movie writer named Rick Rockwell — who was later revealed to have had a restraining order filed against him by a woman he’d threatened to kill. According to Ms. Pozner, the reaction of one of the producers of “Multimillionaire” was, “Great! More publicity!”

On reality television, gratuitous violence and explicit sexuality are not only entertainment but a means to an end. These enthusiastically documented humiliations are positioned as necessities in the service of some final prize or larger benefit — a marriage proposal, a modeling contract, $1 million. But they also make assault and abasement seem commonplace, acceptable behavior, tolerated by women and encouraged in men.

What are we watching on television?  Who are we paying to reinforce these ideas?  When did it become entertaining for good people to watch others cry, and hurt, and be embarrassed, and degraded?  Perhaps as long as we’ve bought into the idea that certain classes of women are disposable garbage.

The warlock is crafty, that is hard to deny.  He has an attraction, probably not accidental, to women who are unsympathetic and who some consider not quite fully human.  He likes marginal actresses and models, prostitutes and porn stars.  He gathers up women who possess a fragile sense of self and then proceeds to play nice until the next bender.  Then, if we are to believe one of his ex-wives, it’s literally off with her head.  Get involved with this guy?  You get what you deserve.  Plus, he’s hilarious.  If you can honestly say you haven’t colluded in this in any way, you’re a better person than I.

On International Women’s Day, I’m looking at myself and doing the hard work of addressing how much I play into all this.  It’s more than I care to admit.

“You’re entitled to behave however the hell you like as long as you don’t scare the horses and the children,” Mr. Morgan said at one point. Scaring women, it seems, was just fine.

During the interview, a series of images played on a continuous loop. One of them was a defiant and confident-looking Charlie Sheen, in a mug shot taken after his 2009 domestic violence arrest.

Image credit: Deviant Art