Sunday, April 25, 2010

Letting the story go

An alignment of three things:

1. A comment on Facebook on stories. The original poster was commenting on how hard it was for her to talk with a creationist. Someone linked to the XKCD comic here. My response to a few more comments on stubborn ignorance was:

Methinks, as the comic points out, the issue is really an issue when it comes to power. Which it always does come down to one way or another when dealing with parents. But I don't care what my postal delivery worker or the guy at Mr Tire believe about creationism; or if I do care, its in the sense that Ingrid talked about: because it makes a good story.

It's kind of how I've come around to being able to (mostly) deal with Christian religious stories: I was raised by my agnostic/atheist parents to hear Biblical narration as part of an effort to push me to an orthodoxy—to exert power over me, in the same way that jingoism, pursed-lipped grandparents, and social conformity are. And so it's been great to be able to (for example) hear Ingrid tell our son the Easter story "from the inside," where it can live as a big powerful story, not part of some attempt to make me or Roo or anyone else into what the speaker wants us to be.
2. in Meeting this morning, a Friend rose to talk about her experience with other people's stories, with other people's baggage they bring to hearing your story. Her husband had come out quite publicly as bisexual, and she was recalling the pain that other people's assumptions and baggage brought her in that experience. There is a sense that when you speak Truth, that Truth is released from you—it is no longer yours. I think most people don't get this; certainly the idea of intellectual property works against this. But really, to release an idea is much more powerful than holding it. To try and hang on to it is mostly a salve for the ego. Or an attempt to control income—not that the experience of "colonized" musicians, who sold their songs for pennies to producers who then made fortunes on them, is a good thing. No one should starve when someone else is feeding themselves from one's work. But the idea itself benefits from truly being free to roam.

3. Christa Tippet in this week's Speaking of Faith, talked with Alan Dienstag, who wrote this companion commentary about his work getting early-stage Alzheimer's patients to write memories as part of their comign to terms with their illness. Part of what he talked and wrote about is writing not as hanging on to memories, but as giving them away.

As she neared the end of her life, my grandmother seemed to understand that if you can give something away, you don't lose it. This, as it turns out, is as true of memories as it is of objects and is yet another aspect of memory that is often overlooked. Memories are, in a sense, fungible. Writing is a form of memory, and unlike the spoken word, leaves a mark in the physical world. As a form of memory, writing creates possibilities for remembering, for the sharing and safeguarding of memories not provided by talking. The writing group gave memory back to its members. They were transformed in the experience of writing from people who forget to people who remember. A member of the writing group once said that when the group was together "— we forget that we don't remember." This is a statement of cure, not of biological and cellular disorder, but of the human disorder, the disorder of loss of personhood brought about by Alzheimer's disease.


There is a scary power in letting go an idea, a teaching, a word, a picture...anything that comes out of oneself. To put your name on it keeps it somehow tied to you. It is a radical idea, to create anonymously and remain anonymous so as to be able to let the idea truly go free. It's almost a painful idea. But I feel myself drawn to it. It is an act of submission, an act of saying "these things are not mine."

I have no idea if I could do it.

1 comment:

Joe Banks said...

For about 6 years, I participated in a collective whose sole point of group will was that we all made sigils once a month at the same time, and then sent them off to be collected (by people we didn't know). These sigils generally consisted of intensely personal things, sometimes including body fluids. Usually, there was no response at all from those collecting the sigils, although they would let you know that they'd received them, if you asked.

At some point, the 4 filing cabinets worth of other people's sigils came around to the city where I lived, and I chipped in on the monthly filing, reading, writing, and sometimes responding to what strangers were sending in. A year or so later, the filing cabinets moved elsewhere.

Although the actual sigils themselves, and the subjects they addressed couldn't really be categorized, the experience that many people wrote about often seemed to revolve around the Release involved when you let go of something so intimate and powerful, without profit or any power to take it back.

My experience was that those intimate and powerful things became profoundly powerful when released. Things became truer when the hand opened, when something made it past the snarls of ego; confidence and trust grew the more vulnerable one became in releasing.

There's a passage that seems relevant from Steppenwolf, spoken by Mozart, about a radio:

"Observe how this crazy funnel apparently does the most stupid, the most useless and the most damnable thing in the world. It takes hold of some music played where you please, without distinction, stupid and coarse, lamentably distorted, to boot, and chucks it into space to land where it has no business to be; and yet after all this it cannot destroy the original spirit of the music ..."