By Rebekah Hall
In The Art of the Memoir, Mary Karr writes: “[E]very time I picked up a pen, this grinding, unnamed fear overcame me—later identified as fear that my real self would spill out.” Read a few pages of The Liars’ Club or Cherry or Lit and it’s clear that Karr overcame that fear, that she let her real self pour onto the page. The writers I admire most are those who aren’t afraid to crack themselves open, to lay themselves bare, to bleed. It’s the kind of writer I want to be. But when Karr mentions this fear, I realize it is there for me, too. And I wonder, especially in the paralyzing grip of writer’s block, what am I afraid of touching in this moment, in that sentence? I can see the place I want to go, I even know how to get there. I know the things I fear the most are those that truly matter, yet I hesitate.
In the early morning of June 12, 49 people were murdered in a space once joyous and full of life. I am both shocked and not. I am saddened by the events, loss, and lack of surprise. How can we let such events happen, over and over and over, year after year after year after year. We continually return to the discussion of systemic bigotry, gun legislation, mental health. We return to it and then we retreat. We feel angry. We return, we retreat.
In light of these events I reconsider my fears: What am I most afraid of revealing? I look to writers who excavate uncomfortable truths. Spending time with Claire Donato’s debut poetry collection, The Second Body, feels like swimming inside the roiling center of humanity. Her work is fearless. Or, perhaps, honest about fear and the wounds we both cause and feel. She points out, with compassion, the inevitability of pain and our desire to retreat from it in “Branding as a Form of Torture:”
Pain. Is it correct to say
“I feel,” to mean “I am feeling pain”?
I am seeking information re: how to feel less
I avoid the news for long stretches of time. I’m ashamed to admit this because I understand how unfair it is that my retreat adds to the apathy and avoidance that pervades and perpetuates pain for those without choice. In “Apology” Donato writes:
… I numbed myself
in the Yoga Industrial Complex.
I numbed my social consciousness
and I am very sorry.
One must blow cool air on the sorrows that sting and pulse. It is a necessary coping skill to take respite from harsh realities. But what about those who have no choice but to remain? I am consumed by potential realities. I’m powerless, this death too much to take. I consider that I might stop talking about Orlando in a few months. Just as we stopped talking about the others. As we stopped talking.
I, too, am sorry.
In “I Will Not Die Here,” Donato writes: “We should feel a sense of shame / We should feel a sense of shame / For our attitudes toward death…”
Is retreat the same as complicity? Is our silence getting louder? There is divisiveness at the core of Americanness—but there must, must, be something else. We must face this truth about who we are as a culture without blinking. If we let go of fear and let our real selves spill out, we can begin to find ourselves in each other, celebrate instead of destroy. We must.
Rebekah Hall writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is a cofounder and coordinator for HI typ/O Salon, a Chicago-based, multidisciplinary artist collective. She also cofounded Mixer Publishing.