Friday, April 18, 2008

Shining A Light in Darkness

When I took my tax returns to the post office on April 15th, there was a line of protestors on the sidewalk near the drop boxes. They were dressed in costume - a full body pig outfit, partial face pig masks, rubber snouts, and a variety of farm dress. None of their faces were plainly seen. They were protesting the war in Iraq with statements that those of us paying our taxes were supporting that war. One of the protestors spoke directly to me, wanting to know if I supported the war and asking if I wanted a brochure that told how our tax dollars were being used. Of course, I took a brochure. I believe in protest efforts and I try to understand their basis, whether or not I agree.

When the woman handed me the brochure, she made a comment that was accusatory of my support for the war based upon my payment of federal taxes. My temper flared because she made an assumption based on nothing more than me being in a line at the post office. With that flare came the words that I had been holding back since I had pulled into line: "If you believe in your cause, then why must you hide who you are? Wouldn't you want everyone to know that YOU believe in what you represent?"

I do, indeed, believe that there are times when protest is necessary and I have protested along with the best of them for many different causes. I have never covered my face. If I believe in a cause enough to stand up for it, to speak for it, then I should reveal my identity. Identity gives the support more credibility. It's like signing a letter - if you do, you stand by your words; if you don't, then those who read your words are less likely to take them seriously.

Historically, only those who are in fear for their lives or who know they are wrong are the ones that hide their faces when protesting. There should be no one who fears for their lives for stating their beliefs in the United States.

My beliefs on the war? I do not think we should have ever invaded Iraq, but now that we are there, we need to finish what we started. Pulling out now would serve no purpose. Had those protestors stood there with their signs and proudly displayed their faces, I would have a lot more respect for them and their opinions.

Sometimes a little light to penetrate the darkness is necessary.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Accepting Darkness

Darkness is based upon the perspective of the individual. For me, the night and “the dark” are soft, welcoming and peaceful. For others, they are full of fear and worry.

Honestly, I embrace the dark. One of my close friends recently commented that I seem to appreciate the darkness in situations and people. This is true. I prefer stories, movies, television dramas that do not paint an individual as “good” or “bad”, but rather as a composite of both. After all, everyone has their buttons which, when pushed, will set them off. I can appreciate the dramas such as Moonlight, where the hero of the tale has a dark part to his soul that can entice him to act violently. Sometimes that violent action even appears to be justified. I believe that tendency is hidden in us all. I can honestly understand the parent who, upon hearing that the murderer of their child has been arraigned, waits on the courthouse steps with a gun to enact swift and immediate justice. While this side of darkness is not welcoming or peaceful, it is understandable.

However, there is another aspect of “the dark” that is shiny-hard, like obsidian, sharp and dangerous. This is the darkness that I envision leaving a deep, bloody wound when caressed. It is reflective, refusing to allow the viewer to see anything past the surface; reflecting only the pain that is held in the heart. This is a dangerous darkness. It is the darkness that leads to suicide. It is the darkness that results in parents that kill their children – and children who kill their parents. It is a fearful place and little understood.

I believe that the individuals who fear the dark, who are unwilling to embrace the darkness within themselves, are the ones most at risk from this form of dangerous darkness. When it approaches them, they are unaware of how to react, how to prepare themselves for its effects. Unable to cope, they succumb.

Take a good look at yourself and uncover your own hidden darkness. Do not be afraid – we are all a balance of dark and light. We must accept all aspects of self and learn to balance them properly. Do not allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security; do not allow yourself to be surprised when it creeps up on you without warning.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Starry, starry night!

Do you ever sit outside on a dark night – perhaps on the ground, digging your fingers and toes into the earth or maybe just sitting in a lawn chair with your favorite throw quilt – lean back your head so that you are staring into inky darkness and watch as more and more stars become visible? When you first look up into the night sky, only the brightest stars are obvious, but as your eyes adjust to the lack of light, the tinier pinpoints begin to come into view, as if what little light they possess is struggling to pierce the darkness. Soon the sky is filled with tiny lights. It is an amazingly beautiful sight.

Often we get so caught up in our daily lives that we forget exactly how small and insignificant we – and I do mean the entire planet – are in the larger scope of existence. Our tiny world is only a spec in the huge cosmos. Far past our solar system are many other solar systems and past them are more. Open space is unbelievably expansive between all of these. There is no limit imaginable that can be applied to the system of planets, stars, black holes and celestial bodies that exist.

It is like attempting to imagine infinity. The human mind is incapable of this concept. Infinity means, quite simply, always was and always will be. Without beginning or end. Always in existence. How is it possible? The mind begins to warp if you really attempt to embrace the concept. And yet…

There is nothing like sitting outside on a dark night with your head leaning backwards, staring into the inky darkness, watching more and more stars become visible to make you understand how absolutely unique you are. How can that be?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Meeting Dorothy Allison

Last night I met one of my literary heroines, Dorothy Allison. She was invited to our public library by the Women’s Studies and English departments of a local university. There she read us a short story which is yet to be published! It was wonderful, as are all her stories. I sat spell-bound throughout the story she read, as if I were being handed a priceless treasure and I needed to carefully retain each tiny morsel. It was amazing to hear her voice, listen to her words and know that they were written by her. She read to us from the legal pad on which she had written – that is how “pure” the story was.

For those of you who don’t know of Dorothy Allison, she is a Southern writer, born and raised in the town of Greenville, SC. Her most famous work is Bastard Out of Carolina, which was made into a movie of the same title. She also wrote Cavedweller, which was adapted to movie form. I fell I love with her writing through a collection of short stories entitled Trash. She also wrote a collection of essays about her life under the title, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.

What makes her an exceptional literary artist? Quite simply, it is her brutal honesty, vaguely clothed with humor. This is not humor that lessens the severity of the truth, but rather the spoonful of sugar given with the medicine. It makes it go down easier, but there is no doubt in your mind that it is still medicine. Her subject matter is the rural South, its people and its ills. Poverty, abuse within families, and the degradation of women are common in her tales. However, in the midst of all the pain and the ugliness, she draws out the beauty and the strength of these women and how they deal with the hand which life has dealt. Some of her short stories and essays also deal with prejudice in the forms of socioeconomic status, gender and sexuality. Allison writes about the life she lived and the women she knows.

She also talked about herself, her family, her life and the tradition of story-telling. She willingly fielded questions from the audience that ranged from her philosophy of Southern writers (why must they leave the South in order to write the truth about the South?) to her personal life in California. Afterwards, she signed copies of her book.

I have seldom known what it is to be awe-struck and very rarely have I been awe-struck in the presence of another human being. Quite frankly, it usually takes a phenomenal act of nature to inspire awe within me. However, I was awe-struck as I stepped up to the table for Dorothy Allison to sign my copies of Trash and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. Any semblance of intelligent conversation on my part was hopeless. Meeting Dorothy Allison was a ray of hope in a recently frustrating darkness. I am grateful for the opportunity.