What do White supremacists and anti-White radical Leftists (total racists themselves) have in common? They both believe that Whiteness is not a result of tremendous human cultural diversity. They both wrongly believe that Whiteness is a pure and unblemished ancestry of only one perfectly unified group of people with no true cultural blending or deeply complex human heritage. The difference is that where White supremacists idealize the fantasy of unchanging Whiteness and endanger other peoples while they’re at it, the racist Radical Leftists scapegoat and demonize that same racial fantasy, which they, too, have bought into, aggressively applying their imaginary ideas of racial sins committed to all living White people. We begin by untangling this mess with the love and pride which acknowledges that Whiteness is valid and worthy of ancestral celebration precisely because it is but one of so many complex human ancestries. Whiteness is valid and worthy because I am not only French, only Scottish, only English, only Danish, only German, or only Swedish. I am ALL OF THESE, and my life as the living descendant of this diversity, especially as an American, cannot and should not be parsed into ancestral pieces. Whiteness is itself but one of the living proofs of cultural diversity. Any who fail to recognize this ought to be challenged passionately. As for me and my living Whiteness, I will decide who I am.
I wonder in my mind how I can engage with these political and cultural movements in a way that is both respectful for others but also protective of my own boundaries. At the end of the long day, after the energy of the shouting and marching crowd has dissipated, there are individual people, friends I have loved, who pass through inward turmoil and suffering which are inextricably tied into the fervor of these movements and their commitment thereto. And I see my frustration and weakness in the face of the human-animal suffering of every person who feels they are marginalized or under the boot-heels of tyrants, because they carry rare magic and silence in the face of what angers them is impossible, and I know I am one of them, and in their suffering I face my ineptitude.
I know my Whiteness is something I can never shed. It is this literal animal hide I carry upon me, as evident to my fellow humans as their ancestral hide is to me. I have to have some self-protective limits around it: my ancestors live in it and my own blue rivers run under it. I cannot take onto it all the pains of those who have suffered because of some parts of its history. But this white hide of mine is already as uncolonizedly animal as yours and convictedly no less wild or softly permeable to the heart beating beneath it than that of my darkest brethren. It did not come into the world begging anyone’s pardon, nor does it demand answer from others. My Whiteness can adapt and breathe and blend and expand its identity and self-understanding, but it doesn’t want to apologize for its existence.
A little while ago, I was speaking with a friend about the racial tension issues surrounding the 2016 election in my country, the United States of America. He reacted strongly to the national tension by veering further “left” politically than me, whereas I have become more cautiously moderate. In this conversation I expressed my anguish about becoming separated from beloved friends over these divided politics, especially friends like him. We were talking about the issue of perceived “whiteness” in America, and he felt strongly that White people might be historically redeemed by wiping away this stain of self-identified “whiteness” by no longer identifying as “white”, but instead by reclaiming their roots as ethnically Dutch, Irish, Norwegian, French, Russian, Italian, and so forth. I told him why I take issue with this: “Tell me,” I said, “which am I? Am I French or German or Danish? Am I Scottish or Swedish or English? I do not know which section of my DNA is more worthy of my recognition, in order to be pardoned from a cultural guilt which I have no responsibility in creating.” By trying to uplift the cultural experiences of non-white Americans, he was ignoring and devaluing his own simultaneous reality that White people in America tend to identity as White for a very good reason. They do not belong to only one of these disparate ethnic European groups, but an ancestral admixture of many of them. The story of gradually becoming White in America was not some sinisterly ordained plot worked out in advance from the Mayflower. It was a multi-century, organically evolving experience of blending into a new cultural group of pan-European American people, which eventually resulted in us having only one box to check on the census: “White/ Caucasian”. This blending of ancestries was not some malicious conspiracy to make all ancestrally European people immediately the top of the social hierarchy, though this happened for a multi-generational period due to being the majority population with its own set of complicated values and age-old human problems. This is a story of a people’s multi-generational diaspora, and it isn’t very remarkably different from every other migration story in the history of humanity.
I want to participate in my own ethnic European-American “tribe” the same way other tribes are openly permitted to do so in my country without all the shame and blame to follow. At the same time, I do not accept any supremacist attitudes from anyone, regardless of their “race”. I put the word “race” in scare quotes because I follow the scientific conclusion that there is no biological evidence for the distinct categories we call “races”. There are varying genetics, haplogroups, phenotypes, and distinctive cultures, all of which result in the many ethnic groups of the world, but there is no evidence in reality for such a thing as “race”. Looking at this desire to wholly belong to and participate in the communal life of a human tribe, I view my own need for this cultural identity and cohesion through the same evolutionary and anthropological lens that applies to all in our Human species. I place my own pan-European and American ancestry within that global, million-year-old Hominid story.
Part of the ongoing problem of colonialism’s legacy is that the “privileged” groups tend to unconsciously feel that they will only ever have their privilege to identity with, or else their utter shame and self-hatred in response to it. They forget their own normal humanity that holds the same needs for a semblance of peaceful cohesion as does any other ethnic group. A healthy ancestrally European identity could begin as one which does not assume the blank slate of normalcy for all that is culturally “white”, while marginalizing all non-white people as the Other. Instead, it would claim the beauty and humanity of its Western ancestry, influenced by many peoples over many centuries, while acknowledging the parallel normalcy of everyone else’s accomplishments and subsequent centrism in their own ancestry.
One of the ironies of the politically “progressive” White-guilt complex is the blindness to it’s own ability to be so deeply self-critical as a group of self-identified White people. If White people were so hopelessly irredeemable for the sins of history, we wouldn’t be repenting on our knees through the desert in sackcloth and ashes like we are. The alarming part of this is not a peoples’ willingness to be self-critical, but rather a peoples’ willingness to eagerly self-destruct their own culture in hopes of redeeming itself through a sacrificial offering. The sick religious connotations I draw are intentional. The proclamations on the part of white people who wish to culturally beat themselves and their progeny into submission in reparations to people with more melanin in their skin is sadistic, unacceptably emotionally self-mutilating and will never change the past. It will only put a stain on the wellness and relationships of the generations of the future, whatever their skin colors.
Some contemporary people of European ancestry are trying to creatively re-envision an ethnic identity not automatically tied up in the colonial slaughter of the past five hundred years as their founding mythology. It is appropriate to acknowledge the pain of the victims of colonial history without relegating our own European ethnic heritage to the two worst options: either crippling, self-hating ancestral guilt or inexcusable White supremacist ideology. Neither of these can ever be healthy and I look forward to the future demise of each.
We do damage to upcoming generations when we give them only the consistently despairing accounts of history, without pairing them with the equally true and powerful stories of inter-ethnic friendship, cooperation and acculturation to each other. To only speak exclusively of historical despair –hoping to heal the wounds of history by emotionally flogging the children of the future– only perpetuates conflicts that do not belong to the future. Each of us are born to be the living recipients of history, and so we are the ones qualified to talk back to it. The greatest wisdom of the elders should be to let their warfare die with them.
This letter written in response to two friends, on the topic of two social-justice-themed workshops they teach.
I enjoyed reading your thoughtful, compassionate letter. It means a lot to me that you took the time to write it. I especially feel moved that you are grateful for my friendship. Likewise. It’s an honor to know you both, and witness your work in the world, and I really mean that.
I started to write yesterday, when I was happy to receive your response, but then, fear came to visit me. It feels really, really risky talking openly about some of these things with you. Know that I am pushing myself to be transparent and vulnerable in sharing this with you. I do so to be an honorable ancestor, and ultimately, to do the long work of peace and reconciliation.
Yes, I did sign up for the course [on Queer people in the natural world] to explore my own natural queerness in community, in nature on our familiar and beloved land. I appreciate our shared understanding that queerness is holistic and you honor people self-defining that. And I signed up to enthusiastically support the return of my friends to the land.
But, with tangled mixed feelings, I’ve withdrawn from the course.
This is hard. I really care about you both and I’m really afraid of hurting or offending you. I know that you walk a hard road sometimes and I don’t want to add to that.
Look. There’s a lot in the social justice movement that feels really, really seriously alarmingly hostile right now. Like, I’m really scared to be around some folks. I’m afraid to speak up and share my dissenting opinion if I don’t totally hate Trump enough or whatever. I’m wary of what honestly feels like a ton of animosity toward my being “white” (can we be done with racialism and insistence on categories, yet? I miss my humanity. Or am I irrevocably assigned “white” at birth? So it’s okay to assign race at birth, but not biological sex?), or attracted to men (I actually prefer “androphilic” over “straight” because I identify more with the joy of who I love, not how hetero-or-homosexual I am.) I’m not Queer enough, not brown enough, not whatever-enough to be oppressed enough to be worthy of inclusion in the club. And it’s really bad, friends: I’m actually proud –grateful– to be American, both in the sense of citizenship in this great nation, and also as an inhabitant of this continent, my first and only home.
You know, “cisgender” isn’t a label I ever chose for myself. Someone made that up to differentiate themselves from me, or how they perceive that I am. Then they went around sticking it on everyone who they thought wasn’t like them.
To me, I am normal. And everyone who is “Queer” is also normal. Maybe that’s my privilege of being raised in one of the most unprecedentedly tolerant and humane times and places humanity has ever known. Apparently, it’s your privilege, too. Granted, people who are Queer aren’t the numerical majority, and so there is something of a need to find one’s own in community, and there is some natural differentiating in there, and I actually respect that a lot. In fact, I not only respect it, but empathize with it. Might there be a part of myself that, the less it becomes the unquestioned blank slate of society, and subsumes not everyone into it (hint: my own ethnic identity, assigned at birth!) it may strangely, then, emerge to be just as instinctually human, just as in need of tribe and differentiated identity as any other? Might this be a problem?
I am not writing this to you as a “white” or a “cisgender” person. I am writing this to you as myself. With a bit of upstart humor, I tell you, sweet friends, don’t you go assigning your labels to me at the birth of this conversation! Nobody’s skin color has any damn politics, any inherent meaning. We humans put this on us, we put this burden on each other. But we are never made who we are by insisting upon what we are not. This only leads to more and more enmity, terrible enmity, more struggle and more war. But we all want to come home to the heart of the world. And our pain is the world’s pain, and we cannot seem to unbind ourselves from it.
I remember someone once said that words may further divide us. If I speak of a “wolf”, an image comes to mind. But if I speak of “an old grey wolf in the wintertime”, an even more specific image comes to mind, and the images that each of us hold will vary even more from the former, from union with the others. Naturally, this is an effect of our interior landscapes, our individual dreaming. But it is also the course of humanity to be too drawn into these diverging labels.
I also remember one our teachers once saying that when we feel anger, it is a response to a damaged relationship. This is one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard. It has come to my mind constantly lately. Even strangers feel this: if somebody roughly bumps into us on the sidewalk and they run off swearing at us, it might make us angry because at the very least we expect the relationship to be one of common sidewalk decency. How much more does the reality apply when enmity grows among friends, among families, among entire nations? Oh, that we were the descendants of peaceful bonobos, and not hostile chimps.
In all seriousness, I get that a lot of “people of color” and Queer people have felt really oppressed. It’s not in me to argue with someone’s lived experience. But, by that same metric, I expect the same respect just because I’m human, and it feels like that whole mutual respect thing really isn’t happening from a lot of the social justice crowd. Not that the far right-wing is terribly better, either, to be sure. That crap is real, too. I’d probably be a lot more on edge about it right now if I lived in Ruralsville, DeepSouthia. But in these overwhelmingly leftist urban places, my partner and I are sometimes seriously afraid for our jobs, our reputation, even our safety if we question the claims of social justice or the political Left in the work place or among friends. Right now, I’m fucking scared I’m going to lose my whole beloved community, the dearest tribe I’ve ever known, if I dissent, if I say I don’t buy this power-and-privilege stuff. Did you know that?
Whether or not social justice is correct about all things, it’s the principle: a system of thought isn’t liberating people in good faith when people aren’t free to question and challenge it without the threat of social ostracization. It feels like there’s a ton of anger and blame and demonizing of our fellow countrypeople who don’t hold the same views as the political Left. It’s not OK when the right wing does it, and it’s not OK when the left wing does it. Like, now anyone barely to the Right of the far Left political spectrum is being called a Nazi or a white supremacist. And it’s ridiculous. In short, I don’t feel safe, and I feel the least trustful of my surroundings in a long time. What’s more, I know some women and people of color and Queer people are tired of being told that they are being oppressed when they keep telling us they don’t feel oppressed. Are their lived experiences not also to be trusted? What does social justice have to say to them?
And I don’t see how a few more groups of people feeling scared to speak up makes society any better off when more people feel anxious like historically marginalized people have felt. If one group has privileges, then it’s something we should all have –the privilege of being free. It’s the only privilege that really matters, and at root, all privileges are this. The privilege of being free and confident and loved in who we are should be celebrated and given to all. I am concerned that when people teach about “power and privilege”, they end up communicating a lot of guilt that ends up driving curious would-be allies further away.
In fact, this word, allies, feels like a real red flag of warning. Ally is explicitly a word of war. It suggests that there is our side, versus the other side. “Us” and “them”, the presence of an enemy. If the evidence of history shows us anything, if the warring instincts of our species have taught us anything, it should seriously raise an alarm. And now I hear they are speaking of accomplices, the next step in the big fight. Apparently, being an ally isn’t good enough, now. Did I mention the red flag?
This conversation comes at the right time, at least on my end. Today I decided to challenge my conservative friends. I told them that if they’re frustrated with some things in society, they first-of-all need to not think of their fellow Americans as the enemy. They need to get out there and challenge themselves to listen compassionately, but also to speak bravely with confidence about their own lived experiences. A lot of the resent they are feeling comes from their own sense of voicelessness. They started by complaining about what they didn’t like, but I kept at it; “No, don’t tell me what you hate. Tell me what you love. Tell me about how you do the brave work of peace,” –and they finally came around to sharing stories of what is already working to make peace with their perceived adversaries. Their mindset finally shifted, and they told me, I kid you not, the exact same kinds of human stories of relationship as I hear from my liberal friends. They were telling me about how mentoring youths is so powerful. They told me that if we just listen to the kids for once, they’ll know they’re heard, and we care about them, and they’re not alone, and what a difference this makes for the generations of the future –so that we may all be honorable ancestors.
Maybe you will think that my resolve to pick up the cross of the peacemaker is an extension of my white privilege, evidence of my relative ethnic comfort in this society. And maybe you’re right! But I’d rather use this privilege to make friends, not enemies. To live as a peacemaker, I am finding, is to solemnly resolve to have no enemies, even when there are those, from all sides, who would willingly make themselves my enemies. To be a peacemaker is to be, paradoxically, lonely. Critical thinking is a lonely place –I know you know what this is like, to stand in the fire. I must insist that any who would make themselves my enemy is but a lost friend, and I will not hate or abandon them. For any human creature, that’s struggle enough.
So, you say I should come to the Power & Privilege workshop. Maybe I should. But originally, I decided to put forth my own queerness and go try the Queer Nature weekend instead, because, truthfully, the intent as described felt a lot more constructive, more positive and generative of relationship. I am all down for Queer people coming home to nature. But I am wary of the divisiveness and blame and stacking of the oppression hierarchy that may be present in the Power & Privilege weekend. But if I would trust anyone to teach it, I would trust you. Maybe I’m exactly the student you need….
But I have another admission. [Our mutual acquaintance] sent out an email a few weeks back saying there’s a class on becoming an “ally” going to happen at the public library. I admit I had just about had-it-up-to-here with the grief of these divided times when I got that invitation in our local mailing list. I frankly gave her a straight-up-what-for, albeit constructively enough and with the absence of swearing, and reminded her that we aren’t a political mono-crop here, and she might think again about assuming such when she sends it out to our entire local mailing list. How would the lot of us feel were a “God, Family and Country Prayer Rally” announced in our community? We’re American, right? Aren’t we proud of this land? Don’t we also pray? So we should be just totally fine with it, right?
Though I’m not sorry I told her how I felt about it, I’m sorry for my exhaustion and surrender to grief. I’m sorry that there is the felt need for such a class, why ever that is. I’m sorry for the sins of people hundreds of years ago who I am permitted little heartfelt relationship to without the accusation of racial supremacy on my part, though I am readily called one-of-them in my “structural” whiteness. That night, I gave up. I surrendered to the grief of a broken America.
But then it passed. And we know we have been here before. Greater people than us have put their lives on the line for the freedom we all enjoy now, in this America that is ours. And I love what you say about being honorable ancestors –yes, how it does resonate. The ancestors of this continent –all of them, their blood and sweat and semen and eggs mixing together– didn’t fight and die with each other and our relentless inner demons so that we could just sit around not getting along with each other from the comfort of our separate computers. The responsibility is mine, and it is yours, and all the ancestors yet to come are watching our choices. How shall we find each other again?
Here’s a quote from James Baldwin, an African American writer and social critic. It’s absolutely spot-on, and how I greatly love it. It is from a letter Baldwin wrote to his nephew in 1962.
“But these [white] men are your brothers, your lost younger brothers, and if the word ‘integration’ means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it, for this is your home, my friend. Do not be driven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become.”
But I know you will say that it isn’t your responsibility to comfort my anxieties –and again, you are right. But I have to wonder. When one enemy is vanquished, who next will there be? What will we do when, finally, social justice figures it all out and there’s not a shred of bias left in our mortal hearts? Who then is the enemy? Will social justice then depart the now-perfect world? What then is the enemy? I will tell you what I think the only enemy is.
Our only enemy is the line between love and hate that cuts sharply through the heart of every human creature. The ancient human instinct for the making of enemies of one another, enemies made of those who would be our friends, this instinct for bloodshed, lies sleeping in us all. Neither skin color nor gender nor privilege has any persuasion over it. This is equality: to recognize that we are not so essentially different after all, despite wishing to be. The same instincts for great love and for terrible conflict are within every one of us.
I was talking with [our friend and teacher] about this today. I said to him that whatever engenders affections between groups of people, I am in support of. Whatever engenders enmity between groups of people, I stand in opposition to.
And thus, the Power & Privilege workshop. I greatly trust you as a friend. But in reflection, now, I ask myself –would I have you as my teacher? Shall I pay you to tell me …what will it be? I would rather you tell me your dreams. I would rather you tell me plainly of this pain you have known, and then I will tell you mine, and we will be people, just people, together.
I think of you as my friend. If you were leading a class, especially on such a sensitive topic, the heaviness of which I may not trust would (or could) be delivered in a spirit of affection, much less affirmation, how strange that would feel for me. I think of you as my equal, someone with which to loaf among the tangled grass alongside, talking of our converging lives in unhurried affinity. You speak of the bright eyes of the animal-people, I tell stories of the lord of the forest; we knit with wool. The names of plants, good medicine; mutual curiosity of the other, our strangeness. We size each other up a bit, laughing askance, you smile and take your leave of my weird enthusiasm. I smile and nod in satisfaction that so creaturely a friend I have known. We keep in touch over the years; a shared love of the Beautiful, a commitment to the Divine. This is how I remember you.
Much more could be unpacked, but it is late now. In trepidation I began my writing of this, but I am less afraid now. Bravery, transparency, living “soulcentrically” –I still love that one–: these things you have presented to me. And I don’t know how you will respond. You might really feel angry. If you do, I understand. And I am sorry in my heart for it. But I think it is better to choose this bravery and transparency. I have never been one to hide my heart for too long.
And so my heart gives you thanks, the same much love in return. And with hope, I will not lose you, my friends. Now, setting off: if you feel you are losing me, I implore you, come find me where, like a goat, I have gone wandering. Do not give up on me, tracking me, for something has called me out here to search beyond the boundaries of the village, into the darkness of the worthy opponent, a good way off where no more the light of the campfire reaches.
May we all be honorable ancestors,
Gentle J. Pine
I haven’t wanted to call myself a “writer”. It sounds like another big-deal identity label with all sorts of implications. The sound of it brings to mind people way more disciplined than myself, who are way more at peace than I am with sitting in a chair for long hours on end. They’re more organized than I am, and more determined to advertise themselves, and they use desks (I prefer the floor). Writing is just one thing I do as an act of devotion to remembering God.
I can be meditatively content indoors, like a writer, especially on a stormy or smoggy, hot day. It is delightful to be in a beautiful monastic place, like my house or a church or the library. But sitting in a chair? Feet down on the floor, my butt falling asleep? No. I need to sit criss-cross, then lay on my stomach, then my back, then stretch, then squat, then sit back in the chair with my feet up on the table like I don’t have no manners, all while getting up to walk around every 30 minutes or so. There’s a reason most of my pieces are brief. I agree with the sentiment of Thomas Mann: “I would rather live life than write a hundred stories.”
I’ve felt leery about the pantsuit of “writer” as an identity because I sense an attitudinal trend of self-absorption, cynicism and lack of heart-centered joy among the current writing scene, dating back a solid three-quarters of a century or so. People get stuck in their heads, something I’ve certainly been prone to but which I’m getting further away from, and happily.
Back in college, in one of my writing classes, I was engaged in a discussion about the responsibility writers have to real people on whom fictional characters are based. To what extent must we care to disguise their identity and protect their privacy? What gratitude do we owe this great source material that is reality? We covered the moral and legal implications to this, but a number of my classmates insisted they have no obligation to tread carefully with characters who are nearly synonymous with real, identifiable people.
It’s been said that writers don’t participate fully in the magic of imminent life, because they’re too busy writing about it from a distance. I think there’s some disturbing truth in this. The temptation is there for writers to long for the experiential magic of the beautiful world, then find it but not know what to do with it except take notes from the sidelines, where it is lonely. Then they become embittered that they feel shy and self-conscious and depressed and why aren’t they happy being stuck in their head all day? This has become the case of the modern writer.
Again, I say this because I’ve certainly had my own moments like these, but then I figured out it was ridiculous and not good for the human heart. The page is not the world. The vitality of the lifeworld comes first because that is where the sensual life of the world breathes and moves and it is where God is found looking out through the eyes of all creatures. That is the image of God I most love, the Beautiful One who looks out through the eyes of all creatures, feeling as we creatures feel, but larger than our individualism, our stupid notion of segregation from each other. How can life be worth the energy spent on anything else? To be a good writer and a worshipful human is to remember God always and play affectionately with the rambunctious Creator in the off-leash dog park, to look for the mysterious Lord, the Beloved, in all creatures and places, unto the shadows of moments. To worship is to stand in the presence of this deep and powerful Beauty, for you get the privilege to live in the Beloved’s breathing world of natural and ancient enchantment that hasn’t ceased to be in search of us even in modern, cranky cities. (How’s that for a paradigm shift?)
To get into the practice of this state of mind as a writer, it may require not writing for a time, if the result is to come out of self-absorption in your head to live more immediately in the lifeworld. You will finally not think so much about what you are pissed off about, but will revel more in the great Beauty that includes you but is more than you and outlives all our petty problems. Yes, then to write about it, to catch those images with words that strike the heart tenderly –that is to be a good writer. To practice, as devotion, the act of worship in writing. To do anything else with the gift of writing is to waste precious mortal time.
I don’t get the sense that the current “writer” identity has much awareness of any of this. There is not the act of standing in the presence of great Beauty: there is a sour attitude of nihilism. That isn’t to say that the occasional heated bit of written constructive criticism of injustice isn’t good medicine sometimes (the prophets of old knew this well). But now our words are sold for anger, for clicks, for the divisive poisoning of my beloved species.
Back in that classroom discussion, I said we have a responsibility to respect the lives of the real people who inspire fictional characters –and the lands that inspire fictional places–, for this marvelous reality is the world upon which all others are based. We can give praise from our hearts for that gem of inspiration, grateful that we get to live in such an enchanted world as this. We are not to abuse the source of the inspiration itself. This same principle should apply to all who would call themselves “writers” but use words of anger not for healing real and serious injustice, not for shining truth unto evil, but for instigating squalid fights over trivial political pickings that cause not healing for the people. Such poison words you sew are an infestation of resent among your countrypeople, among your own humankind, ye mobbing horseshoe extremists of any and every party.
“Words have consequences; writing is a moral act,” writes Philip Zaleski, editor of The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. “To recognize this pays a triple dividend, for it inoculates us against the three daily literary devices of pandering to popular taste, creative laziness, and didacticism. The last item may surprise those who fear that any talk of moral writing will unleash an army of bluenoses ready to censor at will or of apparatchiks who will demand a political subtext to every sentence. But such worries stem from misunderstanding the obligations placed upon us by the nature of the craft. To write ugly prose, or to cripple one’s language to meet the standards of the day, or to warp one’s creation into a political placard –all this is to write immorally. The task of the spiritual writer is to uphold truth and beauty at whatever cost, in whatever way his art demands.”
To be a good writer is to accept that writing is limited. It is not a living body, it is not the indescribably glimmering image about which a thousand words must be called upon to cumbersomely begin to describe it. It is not eternal, for language changes constantly and may persist in one intelligible form only a few hundred years, then be lost to the winds of change or forgetting. A thousand thousand languages have already gone this way, for as long as our ancestors had the vocal chords and brains to speak. Writing is not sound or light or touch, but a hopeful second-hand account of these. Writing is young in the age of the earth, and it is brash. Writing thinks itself to be authoritative and know a whole lot, like a teenager.
To be a good writer is to form words with loving joy and reverence, to stand in the presence of great Beauty. The human duty to live with such a heart is more important than getting a book deal or social media followers. Social media shall all someday be ground into dust by the shifting of continents. So, too, may the human heart, but its affect has more serious consequences, and underpins any value our media technologies may lay claim to. This temporality puts our priorities into perspective. Now, when I think about my own self in writing, I worry the most about choosing the right words with the right heart, because life is short, and I have the strange and rare privilege of being born a Homo sapiens with a species-specific power so rare among the eons. That is my identity, Homo sapiens, inheritor of the Phylum Chordata, called to know and love God. The call of the good writer is exuberantly subservient to this.
I don’t want to put anything into the world that I wouldn’t want to eat with my own heart’s hunger in another lifetime to come. I may be a Blue Whale someday, and I may find myself hungry for good krill and the love of my pod and a deep black motherly ocean, so may my words be as good as these. I may be a little worm hungry for comforting good soil to build a little house in the ground; so may my words be as good, as whole and right as these. I may be a cheerful speck of dust or a beam of golden sunlight who rides the space between the sun and sweet Earth; so may my words be as good as these. For God saw fit to make these friends of hers, and to put voices into our hominid throats, but it is we who sculpt our own words. May they remember her, these brief words of humanity. If I am to be remembered myself, I want to be remembered as the one who remembered God amidst my contented, hilarious, peaceful insignificance. Don’t write words that don’t matter, that you wouldn’t want a future intelligent alien civilization to discover five billion years from now and the words you wrote, providing their ability to decrypt your long dead language, are the only account of life on earth they find. There are so many words that don’t matter. Choose the ones that do.
Zaleski, Philip. “Introduction by Philip Zaleski.” Introduction. The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.
“I didn’t really feel like I could talk to my counselors about [gender-]detransitioning in the way that I wanted,” she said, “because they have specific political views, and I felt like if I said I had these criticisms of the whole concept of transitioning, they would have thought I was being brainwashed by transphobic bigots or whatever.”
From The Stranger
(a leftist Seattle newspaper)
article: “The Detransitioners: They Were Transgender, Until They Weren’t”
June 28th 2017
author Katie Herzog