Friday, July 13, 2012

The War between the Selves

There was a stage in your early years, your pre-double-digit years, to narrow the focus, when you drove your parents, in particular your mother, to distraction with questions.  The only reason you didn’t include your father had to do with him being out of the house, at work.  You did, however, hold some questions in reserve for him.

This was in many ways a splendid time in your life, frustrating because you wanted answers, but good frustrated because you could make up your own answers if the ones you got didn’t suit you.  You also had the benefit of an older sister, who marched you to the downtown library, then stood guard until you were issued a library card.  She told you in effect to find your own answers because, even if you didn’t like them, they’d be a good deal more satisfying than many of the answers you’d get from asking the wrong people or consulting the wrong sources.

A splendid example of her wisdom came into being when you, born in Santa Monica and raised until the point in question within that area known as The Greater Los Angeles Basin.  The arena of your example was Central Beach Elementary School, Miami Beach, Florida.  The topic at hand was a discussion about an event of great regional emotional significance.  You spoke of an event you’d heard referred to as “the Civil War,” a term that caused neither lifting of eyebrow nor rising of choler in the Greater Los Angeles Basin.  Central Beach Elementary had a different take on the matter.  “You mean the War of Northern Aggression,” the teacher said in notable counterpoint.

A thoughtful search of your memory banks cannot bring forth any subtext or hidden clues about Augusta Durance you might have missed.  To the contrary, she seemed remarkably unlike some of the Southerners you’d been exposed to at that time.  In fact, it was she who spent some time with you when you’d asked her one of your “why” questions, this one being about the thick black line at the mid-point of the interior of public busses plying the Miami and Miami Beach areas.

“Child,” she told you, “I will not lie. That black line is to segregate the races, and it is plain wrong.”  You’d asked because of an incident where a bus driver had brought his vehicle to a stop and refused to drive on until you arose from the seat you’d taken behind the black line and found another to the front of it.  In yet other ways, Augusta Durance spoke to you of such wrongs as you having to trouble yourself with determining which public drinking fountains you could drink or why there were no African-American students in your school and yet there were students in your classroom who were more than likely not American citizens, this referring to those of Cuban ancestry.

It was in fact from Augusta Durance that you learned the phrase “shadow people,” because of her answer to your question about the propriety of you entering certain apartment buildings to deliver the Miami Herald, when the signs added your cultural heritage to the list of those who should not enter.  Mrs. Durance believed such restrictions were inherently wrong.  To this day she remains apart from some of the things you saw in the South.

She also reminds you of the number of persons, places, and things where you were presented with answers before you had questions.  Not only that, you are reminded of the matter-of-fact way you took in such answers to questions, buying into any number of mischievous misadventures in your thinking. 

There have been times when you may well have given up the most important thing you needed in order to become a writer who could approach his craft with any sense at all of pride.  That thing is of course your sense of self.

Correctness or incorrectness are only stopping-off places along the journey of selfdom and writerness.  You need to be yourself before you can be a writer.  You need to continue asking questions, then supplying answers that offer you some sense of satisfaction.

You’ve observed with some frequency how often you’ve asked yourself the primal question, Who am I?  While it is comforting to have the equivalent of blurbs from others, it is important as well to have your own, satisfying answers.

Much of your writing is a form of investigation of the possible answers.  You are in many ways a civil war, a war between varying states of your self.  You are also in some senses a war of aggression.  For the moment, the answer that makes the most useful sense is the war between you and the conventional version of a writer.  Each new project defines a different and reliable sense of you.  The answer may come to you that you can only answer the question of who you are in a final retrospect, one answerable only after your death, in which case the works, such as they are, will be the answer you were best able to live with (pun intended).

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