Saturday, July 29, 2006

Must Toni Morrison Crusade

Dear Toni Morrison,

Somewhere near the end of three hours of interview with Toni Morrison on C-Span's In Depth, I identified your answer to the question I have been asking authors. Must the author crusade?



Ok. That is not exactly how Sam Saleem asked his question, but it was close and followed some other interesting discussion on morality and the necessity of negotiating rather than dictating a moral position.

Sam asked, "How have you been able to balance the role of spokesperson on racial issues on the one hand and an artist on the other."

You said, "Those two go together for me. I don't find them different at all. I think that art should be political, representative, and absolutely and irrevocably beautiful at the same time."

There it is, I said in my mind. Meanwhile, I tucked away my own personal 15 minutes of fame in my file box. My 15 took place today as I basked in the limelight of being on the cover of the Knoxville Voice, along with my Women in Black cohorts under a headline that, well, didn't make any sense at all. This time, though, I wasn't the editor so it wasn't my fault, I was, instead, one of the cover girls (and guys).



We may not be absolutely and irrevocably beautiful, but we are political, representative and speaking for a just peace.

Thanks for your thoughts. I will write to you later about your comments on morality. The discussion was fascinating.

Betsy

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

Dear Shepherd types,

It was when my friend began to describe to me how she expressed the bladder of her paraplegic dog when I actually realized that I do not love my animals. And, on top of that, I am glad.

Perhaps you jump to the conclusion that I am squemish, but I'm not, (well, maybe a little.) Or perhaps you think I draw the line at expressing bladders, but I don't. Baa-aa-aab, our pet lamb needed some "expression" once when he got a ureter infection. We did that, or I should say my husband did, under cover of evening lest the neighbors come to believe that those old tales about sheep herders were being acted out right next door. (By the way, why did they choose sheep herding rather than cattle rounding as the occupation for Enis and Jack?)

But honestly I've gotten hardened to these things since having male horses. The responsibility of grabbing a horse penis and cleaning it's sheath has got to be the farmlife equivalent of taking a good stiff drink, (no pun intended.) And I do know that caring for animals simply demands the gross at times. It comes with the territory.

I've had dogs that I liked lots. Annie was particularly sweet. She was cooperative and gentle. She was dog-loyal, that spirit of the domesticated dog that communicates something akin to love.


I am enjoying my horses enormously. Nebuchadnezzar has a wonderful personality and a great look. When he runs back and forth impatiently in the field he looks like something out of a movie, his head high and curious. And to ride him is an adventure. I say that I ride for the "rush" and he is guaranteed enjoyment. Partly, that is because I can never wholely anticipate his anxieties. The last time he surprised me with his antics was over a butterfly, and a small one at that. There are moments when Neb appears to prefer my company. That is nice. I prefer his often.


Then there is Solomon. Ah, what a nice ride he can give, effortlessly. He isn't pretty. In fact he has lately been accused of being grass fat. But he is a wonderful guy. He has even proven himself to be dependable in a trailer. I can ask for nothing more.


I entitled this picture llama madness. And llamas are indeed a mad bunch. They are not cuddly, unlike some sheep (see references above). My most unusual llama experience took place in the middle of a rain storm. One of the llama's had just given birth and I was worried about the little critter, covered with all the gross stuff that newborns get covered with. Mama was busy delivering the placenta and I decided that I needed to pick baby up and carry her to the relative dryness of the barn. The rest of the female herd was in the vicinity, but as they are not an aggressive lot, I picked up baby and began walking down the hill toward the herd and the barn. Mama followed. As I passed each of the other llamas, one by one, they spit at the baby. It felt like a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and ranks for me as one of the four or five most incredible natural events of my life.


Then the kittens. Oh, my they are cute. The Pink One, The Black One, The Orange One, The Grey One (a.k.a. Graham), and The Black One with the Stubby Tail.


But I do not love them. Thank goodness for that. I love people and my heart dies enough times over them. Suppose I had to include heartbreak for animals. No thank you. I'll stick with people for that.

Betsy

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ode to a Well Tempered Clavier

Dear Myers Briggs,

Oh, Myers, I think it started when I looked at the Keirsey temperament sorter. I didn't mean to take it, but then they said I would be finished in a mere 12 minutes, and. . . that I would have a whole new vision of me, ready to face myself and the world with renewed confidence, knowing that I am I and that, well, I'm perfectly normal, just like 1.8877 percent of the population with a B average.

So, I fell in, and came out an Idealist. Now I'm stuck searching for the ideal way to live. If I could just achieve some baroque kind of order to my life that would balance out the notes I hear in the right side of my brain with the ones I hear in the left. Frankly I think that's what Bach was trying to do when he started messing around with the tunings of his harpsicord. Those old church scales, just weren't ideal, and when he heard that Phrygian mode, he knew it had to go.

With a well-tuned harpsichord, the harmonies began to soar. It was like an invention! And even when the church started shooting their canons at him, he just increased the volume on his basso continuo and turned the other fugue.

I've been working a bit with my clavier, checking the frequencies, doing the math. I think I've just about got it right. I'm preparing for the show, because one of these days my key is going to shift, the tension's going to rise, and bingo, an ideal resolution.

That, my dear Myers, will be the day.

B

Tags: Music

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Back to Survey I (subtitled, "Well, at least I tried," with regards to the authors of the original In-laws movie and the Bay of Pigs)

Dear Cate,

"A willingness to be uncertain or to allow for uncertainty. To suspend your own perspective or "bracket". To differentiate between good and evil in what you act on."

A while ago we talked and I imposed my ongoing survey upon you. Your answer (above) was, characteristic of your intellect and consistent depth of thought, one of the most provocative of all the answers I have received to date.

{Note to Readers: Please add your thoughts.}

It seems that you actually packed three or four answers into one. First, a willingness to be uncertain. Well, I'm uncertain, ergo, I'm good?!?! Well, maybe not. My uncertainties, as you well know, don't sustain themselves during the course of my interactions with others. I'm sure my uncertain little heart presents itself as a know-it-all one more often than I would like to believe.

And to allow for uncertainty, ah, how difficult that is. To be patient with that loved one who is simply and perhaps quietly unsure, yes, that does take a good person indeed. I know that it has been beyond my grasp at times when my dear children are seemingly floundering. "I will set you straight. I will point out the right path for you. All will be well if you believe what I say." Dear friend, can you just hear the inflection of my voice. And I am even well intentioned. In one of my favorite movies, (the original In-Laws) Peter Falk explains the presence of a photo of JFK hanging on his office walls inscribed with the words, "Well, at least we tried." "The Bay of Pigs," he says, "That was my idea." Sometimes I feel like my ideas are just about that good.

As you may recall you tried to explain to me the psychological concept of bracketing, which I am not sure I could define here if you gave me a quiz, but that I appreciated and will continue to think about. To suspend my own perspective. I have been working on this one. My perspective has been such a narrow one all of these many years. Barry Goldwater once wrote a book entitled, "The Conscience of a Conservative." The conservative conscience is a narrow one and prescribed. So the outline of the content of my conscience is short. Betsy's shorter catechism. I have tried to trash this in hopes of developing a better catechism of life. I don't mean that I won't rescue the good points from the old cathechism, but it all needs such a review in the light of my survey.

Finally, you are not one to leave out the practical application, are you? "So then, in light of what we have learned here today, go do it." I will try, I will try.

See you soon, my beloved friend. I look forward to it.

Betsy

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Horses in West Virginia

Dear AnneGG,

Remember our first horse, Sugarfoot. He wasn’t truly ours, but we owned him with our hearts and sense of adventure. You and Carrie and Stevie owned him the way three, then four (Diane), small children own anything, carelessly and carefully. You owned him carelessly in the abandon of your pleasure with doses of dirt and energy and daily questing. You owned him carefully with the intensity of the first experience of holding the life and welfare of another being in your own sphere of responsibility.

Remember your great fall. The icy ride and the buck, the toss, and tumble has, I fear, ruined your love of riding forever. I regret that, especially now that I find such moment in my time on horses.

Your father tells the story, proudly, (you have heard this many times) of the dark winter evening when we sat at the dinner table with your grandparents in that ample kitchen of an otherwise very small house on ten acres in the coal hills of West Virginia. We loved that place, with its magical evergreen forest where you played on piles of fallen red needles, it’s giant rock where you occasionally camped out, and it’s grand canyon carved by some miscreant coal company that cut but never reclaimed, leaving for us a wondrous geologic playground, complete with a mine portal and exquisite danger. You were such a little person that night at the dinner table and the night was so dark and the air was so cold, but it was your turn, so when your father said, “Did anyone feed Sugarfoot?” you wordlessly rose and went for your coat. Grandma was horrified. How could we let this tiny child brave the elements to feed and water a horse all by herself?

And that perhaps is still a good question. How could we do that? Why? Did you wonder? Well, here are some reasons. I was very pregnant with your sister Diane. I remember days during that pregnancy when I was forced to stretch the hose to the furthest length and fill 5 gallons buckets, half full each, and carry them the rest of the distance to the horse. I did it slowly, step by step and with some weariness, like a scene out of “Little House on the Prairie.” But your father was injured. His back was “blown,” and that injury had blown some of his other psychological cover, too (another story for another day). So it was up to you children. And you were brave and helpful. Did you know? And a lot of it fell to you and Carrie because you were oldest. You can see from the picture what oldest means!

Thank you my dear AnneGG for the character you displayed then and that you have carried with you far beyond your loss of love for the equine.

Love, always,

MOM
XOX

Tags: Horses Family

Thursday, July 13, 2006

bell hooks and Foundational Love

Dear bell,

Thanks again for your presentations at the Writing for Reconciliation Conference. We all wish that we had seen more you. I am hoping that you are feeling better and that your year of engaging with difficult things goes well. I certainly understand the challenges, for my mom and dad are 84 and. . .


So, I am reading the article from the Shambala Sun. This after having read enough of your work to feel like I have begun to taste what you are saying. I have focused on two quotes that you have used. They were helpful to me. Almost “aha!” On page 60, you quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saying “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace. . . If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Later you quote Thich Nhat Hanh who, “thought it was quite plain that if you have to choose between Buddhism and peace, then you must choose peace.”

These quote crystallize for me the themes you are communicating in your books on love.
Love as foundational to political action. Love as foundational to relationship whether in our households or on our globe. You don’t have to do much convincing with me to get me to embrace the concept superficially. But if I accept it down deep in myself, what changes does it demand, socially, politically, even in my family. And it is hard. Here is why I think it is hard. For me, part of the definition of love includes relationship. You don’t love someone and then walk away and remain distant and inaccessible. So if love becomes foundational, all escape routes are blocked.

Is love the cornerstone on which we could actually build a society capable of existing peacefully and productively in the world? Is this a practical, a doable, an achievable thing? It sounds like a dream. How could you build, for instance, a political party founded on love? How do you deal with an attack similar to that of 9/11/01 based on love? I have thought about these things and the answers I come up with are a little filmy.

But I want it to be true, bell, I really do.

Betsy DeGeorge

Monday, July 10, 2006

Must Richard Wright Crusade

Dear Richard Wright,

I have written Eudora Welty about her position expressed in the essay, Must the Novelist Crusade. I contradicted her, for though she doesn’t wear a banner across her gingham, I believe her to be a crusader for truth as she sees it. I guess I see all artists as crusaders for meaning, and though Eudora doesn’t like the word crusade, for it smacks of something blatant and lacking in the artistry of the subtle, I think she crusades too.

On the other hand, you, Richard, talk about the underpinnings of truth in Blueprint for Negro Writing, “Here are those vital beginnings of a recognition of value in life as it is lived, a recognition that marks the emergence of a new culture in the shell of the old. And at the moment this process starts, at the moment when a people begin to realize a meaning in their suffering, the civilization that engenders that suffering is doomed.” The operative word here is “meaning.” Truth, whatever it is actually, is approached through the shadow of meaning. Writing artists live in that shadow whether they admit it or not. They do not own truth any more than painters own beauty, but they live in its shadow.

In the section of your essay called The Problem of Perspective, you say, “they feel with some measure of justification that another commitment means only another disillusionment. But anyone destitute of a theory about the meaning, structure and direction of modern society is a lost victim in a world he cannot understand or control.” In embracing the strength that is found in each of our unique and powerful perspectives, we can engage existentially in the “crusade” for the cultural emergence of something new, something that seeks to achieve a life that is more just, more true, more beautiful.

If Welty doesn’t like the word “crusade,” you don’t like the word “preach.” You don’t want to be a “salesman” or a “prostitute.” These concerns are quite similar. It seems that you don’t deny the danger and the fearful nature of what the writer is doing. You embrace it. “This is the moment,” you say, “. . . When Negro writers think they have arrived at something which smacks of truth. . .”

I have finished reading Native Son. It is one of those books of which I wouldn’t say, “I like that,” but I would say, “I’m glad I read that.” It is a book that reveals a perspective, and one that I need. I am neither black nor poor. I have been poor, but I have never been black. I have been poor, but I have never lived in poverty. There is such a difference. Being poor certainly gives one an appreciation for poverty that is less available to the wealthy, but poverty is so much broader than just being poor, that saying you understand poverty because you’ve been poor would be like saying you understand the problems of Africa because you went on a safari in Kenya.

I feel like I am more ready for your work than I ever have been. I know that if I am to understand the world and culture of the United States, I must try to come to an understanding of the cultures that make it up, especially the black culture. I guess I am ready to some degree because I’ve made an effort to at least desensitize myself to the elements present in your novels that my na├»ve self, which is still very present in me, revolts against.

Yet, as much as I agree with you and the need for the crusade, I was put off, as I read the last third of Native Son, for it seemed that it became a sermon. The lawyer for the Bigger’s defense, Boris Max, climbed upon the soapbox and preached. He preached about important things, but it was preaching and that, I would think, is a prostitution of the craft. In my reaction to the book, I come to understand Welty’s concern that we not become mere clerics presenting the doctrines of whatever isms we ascribe to.

Perhaps you can tell me where you think the artist must draw his/her lines? Perhaps I draw mine somewhere between yours and Eudora’s.

Hoping to learn more.

Betsy