Saturday, October 05, 2013

Seeing ourselves in others

So much going on...so where to begin?

One of the weekend k-dramas I'm watching is Wang Family. I'm really liking it. Because there are no chaebol princes, because it has working class folks. But the main reason I like it is because there's a character in it who is very very very like me.

Seeing a character in a fictional piece --or seeing a real life person in an interview-- who reminds us of ourselves is rare. I suppose because (for the real life person) being transparent and honestly yourself involves so much risk. And we all as Americans and as humans know what is desirable, and what we should appear to be if we want to be liked or at least to seem normal. I suspect that's the same thing that happens in fiction. So many characters are given a kind of broad-swath of "recognizable" traits that is supposed to make us identify with them. But somehow the "girl who gives up her safe job to pursue her job of writing" in the Wang drama is not doing anything for me. Because she is so typical in movies and dramas and because she is so "everywoman."

The character I like in Wang Family is Hobak. She is a character whose default is giving. She has to help everyone she sees. She thinks of herself last. She really has to fight against her tendency to give to her hard-earned money to her sister. She is a kind of Cinderella (before things get well) because she is so giving, and because she has a feeling that her life is an intrusion, that she was perhaps adopted. Nearly every good heroine shares her trait of generosity and selflessness. But she is so truly and deeply rendered when we see her fighting to hold on to her own money that she seems just on the verge of being not quite typical. And it's her atypicality that I like in addition to her goodness. Because, atypicality is so hard to portray in a communal art in such a way that some watchers will identify.

Aristotle talks about Katharsis in literature. He defines this as the identification and fear when we see a character we recognize in a drama. A lot of stories aim for this but they rarely hit it (in my humble opinion.) Or at least, they rarely make me identify with the character in any deep personal "This is Carole" way.

I've gotten a lot of insults on the internet. Well, of course, who hasn't? But I've gotten it from other places as well. Christians, Blacks, Whites, Atheists, writers, non-writers. The consensus is that I am somewhat too transparent or too obsessive or too immature and unworldly. Someone recently sent a message to me on facebook telling me I was too obsessive and I shared too much, cluttering up their feed. Well, yes, I am. I'll admit it. I suspect that comes from my trait of oversharing what I consider helpful to others, important that others should know. Information, odd news items, depressing news items, music, writing contests, videos.  Because I am so obsessive --and really I have no way to fight this obsession-- I thought it best to stop posting on facebook.

But the hurt from the unasked for comment still stings. Yet again someone has told me I am not mature. Yet again, someone has told me I am odd and mentally unstable. Yet again I am faced with my problem of feeling that my entire life is an intrusion. Maybe it's all my childhood issues (growing up with relatives, growing up black in a white neighborhood, going to white churches and being black, my half Indian sister telling me my father hated me because I was too dark.) Maybe it was prenatal when my mother realized she was pregnant and unmarried. Maybe it's about being a Christian writer and having secular writer friends. Maybe it's all that and something else. Being a Christian in this world.

I remember listening to an interview with Jamaica Kincaid, the great Antiguan writer in which she said something to the effect that her truest real personality is melancholy and she feels more comfortable when she's in it.

That is me as well.

Now, whether this is good or bad, I don't know. I don't know whether the essential me --as created by the stuff life has dealt me-- is the truest me I must seek to honor. Or the me I should try to escape and heal.

I do laugh a lot when I'm among friends. But I also have a deep seated melancholy that seems to be my default.  Yesterday I quit facebook. Why? Because I'm at my default, in my clearest orientation, an isolationist. I don't feel any peace at all when I'm around people. But this aspect of myself is greatly conflicted by the other side of me that really likes hanging out with people. In addition, because of childhood issues, I have often felt myself to be an intrusive presence. I always feel as if people are tired of me and are tolerating me.

So there I was in a book of Ecclesiastes state:  better to be in the house of sorrow...life isn't fair...why do good people suffer? Why is my life as it is? yadda yadda. And then it occurred to me. What do I really believe? The rubber had hit the road. Am I going to believe that the good people of the world suffer and that all the premises that my life rested on were utterly false?

And in a sudden moment, it seemed as if the Holy Spirit challenged me: Do you believe the world works the way God says it works? Do you believe the Bible is true about how spiritual laws work? Do you believe you are like a tree planted by rivers of water because you read and meditate on God's word? Do you believe God answers prayers or rewards the good...not only in the next life but in this? Do you believe you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of theliving?

And that moment I decided: I WILL BELIEVE. I will walk in hope and joy and hope in the truth of the words of the Biblical God. I will not let the words of certain negative or despairing or "sane" Christians affect me. I was born to believe that Jesus is all the AMEN of all God's promises.

So this morning as I read Psalm 37, personalizing it for myself. I affirmed once again that God has made many wonderful promises to the poor and to the good and I was speaking them and believing them. (The Bible had opened to that psalm and it was so apropos, I felt as if God had opened the book to that page for me.) It felt odd but joyous to remind myself that God oversees my path and that the just are taken off.

We are enjoined to be joyous and hopeful. But we are also asked to be sincere. So if I am obsessive, then let me be obsessive. My good friend Jessica whom I've known for about ten years now wrote a great blog post for me to heal my heart. 

So, i am what i am. I cannot force myself to do what I must do. I can ask God to change me. But I must write from the weakness and the sorrow of the person I am. It is healing for me to see other characters like my odd self in dramas and in books. And I suspet it is healing for others to see themselves in me.

I got this from my friend Rose-Marie who emailed me to comfort me.

Carole, I relate to what you say. I think I still have a strong "melancholic" base although it has dissipated quite a bit as I have worked at looking at things a bit differently. I do think it
enables good writing as long as it doesn't get too dark and we don't identify with it as our most essential person but simply a passing state. I write better from that place than from my "happy" place because it is more substantive and compassionate and keen but I also think that part of it is something we need to fight against. It takes over if not monitored by discipline and strong choice.
Jesus was a Man of sorrows, but also a fully alive, and I think, joyful, Man. His sorrows were correctly placed, correct responses to that which is sorrowful to the heart of God.
It would be sick to think that God is always happy when He has to watch all the evil and what it does to the world.  God, because of us, feels less than joy, and sadness, but also overcomes it within Himself as He knows that He can ultimately triumph over it.
I think we struggle because it doesn't feel like we can triumph over it but even that thinking has to be adjusted because it is God who must overcome and we get to watch and have faith. The more our faith is rightly based, the more our melancholy will find its right place in the service of God and not ruling our existness.
I am slowly becoming a more simple person, and more willing to let fear and sadness go as a kind of "haven't got time for the pain, haven't the need for the pain, not since I've known You. You showed me how, how to fill my heart with love, how to open up and
drink in all t hat white light, coming down from the heavens....." ....now i'm showing my age but love that song. :)
I do think that there is that tension between "hell is being alone" (TS Eliot) and "hell is other people" (Sartre)"  -- I do think the world has gotten noisier and crazier and we must pick our battles with it and learn to retreat often. Especially if we know that melancholy over the state of our world is our weakness. 
As for our essential selves, they are happy, childlike, yet wise beings. Not naïve but gentle and seasoned. Strong and weak, happy and appropriately sad, we must look at ourselves, and what we have blueprinted as our essential self, and ask, "Am I absolutely sure this is the best me that God had in mind?"
I know the difference in my own life, know when I cross the line into something less, know at this point, that I can momentarily lose my way, or at least site of the path (which the thought of  definitely awakes the melancholy, instead of full of trust, so I must affirm that the path is quite nearby or indeed, I am still on it, when I feel my worst. It is a fight of faith.
love,
rm


Ah, don't you love it that she quoted Carly Simon's song?
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