I read the edge in ybonesy’s piece, Who Stole My Saint? What I like is that she didn’t shy away from what she wanted to say. She spoke her truth.
Writing breaks us open, wears us out. Most good things do both. Shadow. Dark. Light off the dent in a muddy golf ball. I liked her edge.
No one wants to talk about the hard stuff; they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. Politically correct stops us from talking. PC sugarcoats the glaring truth. We need to talk.
I’m reminded of a recovery meeting a few years ago. Someone made a reference to race when they spoke on one of the Steps. I nearly fell off my chair. I fidgeted and looked around. I was noticeably uncomfortable. What were racial comments doing in a recovery meeting?
After the meeting, I was walking out to my car with an African American woman I had connected with in small group. She had been honest and warm. I felt an opening. So I took a risk and asked if she had been offended at the speaker’s reference. I swallowed hard, waiting for her answer, and squelched a sudden obtrusive thought to apologize for the whole white race.
We talked in the parking lot for only 10 minutes. But those 10 minutes really counted. Good, direct conversation. She said she’d reacted to the comment. But then stopped for a moment and looked at the speaker’s intention. She knew they were trying to use a powerful analogy to get their point across about recovery. But what hurt was the fact that there was no follow through. The speaker threw the comment out there and left it hanging in the room.
There is no cross talk in recovery when someone speaks. And little back and forth conversation. Unless you are well-versed in the 12 Traditions, it’s hard to know what to say in an awkward moment.
As we started to wrap up the conversation and head to our cars, I told her I grew up in the South and had to do a lot of personal work to unlearn what I’d been taught as a child. We talked about experiences with racism in the South. But especially in the North, in self-declared liberal climates, where prejudice is more underground, dangerous, and silent.
I knew that was true. A few summers ago, two baseball cap wearing punks in a Ford pickup pulled up next to Liz’s Saturn on Highway 55, rolled down their windows, spit at us, and yelled, “Get off the road, fuckin’ dykes!” All we were doing was talking and laughing in the front seat. No “L” was tattooed on our foreheads. We weren’t kissing or wearing purple. We didn’t have Human Rights Campaign or rainbow stickers on the rear bumper. We were just talking. And laughing.
There’s a lot of hate out there. Plenty to go around. We need to start talking if we’re ever going to heal the past.
There have been many conquests in this country, too many to count. No one is above it all. No one culture. No one race. I spent a long time early in my life blaming it on the whites. Blaming it on men. Blaming it on my family. Blaming it on me. But I’ve learned – change happens at the individual level. You can’t cover things up with blanket blame. Talking things out might have made a difference. But I know from experience, I was angry and that’s all I could see.
When people are angry, it’s hard to have a conversation. It’s hard to change things. Even if you want to. It’s hard to forgive others. First, we have to suck it up and forgive ourselves. When other people hate us so fiercely, after a time, we start to hate ourselves. We have to forgive ourselves for that hate.
I started a conversation with the woman in recovery. Ybonesy started a conversation in the blog. That’s what needs to happen. If we’ve got some edge, good. But we will have to deal with responses from our families. And our friends. It could get touchy. Better to get it over with now, rather than when my first book comes out.
What I want to say to ybonesy is that I was one of those New Agers that stormed New Mexico. I went with my partner in 1987 during the Harmonic Convergence. It was a big deal. Many Native Americans participated that summer. They told us it was written in some of their history that a new age would come; a time when they’d have to teach whites how not to destroy the earth – and every being on it.
The New Age movement changed me. It gave me a place to find my anchor. It was a white movement. Whites trying to find ground. I never related to Christian religion. It had no place for gays and lesbians. But with some indigenous cultures, people who were different were sometimes the most revered. And nature was integrated into day to day living.
I am Pagan mostly. Wicca based. Female goddess based. It’s rooted in nature, the turn of a season. But I believe in a Higher Power, a Greater Universe, Jung’s collective unconscious. I believe Jesus was one of the prophets, just like Buddha. I pray in Recovery. I subscribe to the basic tenets of Buddhism. I sit, I write, I practice. I don’t fit into mainstream religion. But I’m a spiritual being.
We are all spiritual beings. And that’s what a mystic like Saint Teresa would tell you if she were standing here today.
What *did* I get out of the New Age? A lot. I learned about every culture and how each worked with nature and Spirit. I looked for common ground in my own roots. I learned compassion. I forgave myself. I brought what I learned back home.
I tried not to trounce on anyone else along the way. I was curious. I wanted to know other cultures. I’m not as romantic anymore. I know that a lion in the desert is going to attack and eat a wildebeest. Something has to die. In order for something new to be born.
There was a New Age way before the 1980’s. It involved Mabel Dodge, D. H. Lawrence, Dorothy Brett, Georgia O’Keeffe, Willa Cather, and all the whites that came to New Mexico in the 1920’s. It was going on in Europe at the same time – Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, countless artists and writers. It was a great time to be gay or lesbian in France. There was a freedom there. Baldwin knew it. He moved to Europe.
Psychology came out of that time, relating the way we think and live to our spiritual lives. People like William James and Carl Jung were mystical pioneers who changed the face of psychology, forerunners of therapy as we know it. James and Jung consulted for Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill’s wife, Lois, the founders of AA and Al-Anon that have gone on to help thousands of people. The connections weren’t accidents.
Whole cultures changed because people were hungry. They opened up and talked to each other. They went to smoky bars and restaurants in Paris, met in drawing rooms next to the fire at Mabel’s, and lived on high desert ranches like Kiowa and Ghost Ranch. They shared knowledge, fought about ideas, weren’t afraid to paint forbidden paintings, and have the hard conversations that bust things open. They also spent a lot of time alone.
The 80’s wasn’t the first new age. It won’t be the last. It’s only been 20 years. It’s too soon for us to know what we learned from it. Maybe it was whacked out and crazy, the way 60’s counterculture was whacked out and crazy. Some took it to the extreme, were offensive to other cultures, profited from it. Frauds. Unauthentic warriors. Crystal eaters.
But we needed something to break open. Because white culture as a whole needed to wake up. We needed to understand as a country where we came from. And take a good hard look at where we were going. Countries are born, mature, age, and have a spiritual life, the same way people do. And America is just a babe.
The New Age is over. Or middle-aged at best. Like ybonesy said, plugging into Catholic saints – it might be a leftover New Age thing. But Catholicism came from Judaism, didn’t it? Many of the mystics broke off with their own brand of religion. Their own New Age. Agree or disagree, we are all connected. Whether we want to be or not.
Being a writer is not so much about comfort. As it is about truth. We can each only write our own truths. Different cultures have different truths, different histories. And a straight woman is never going to know what it was like to grow up lesbian. Or a straight man know what it’s like to grow up gay. But shouldn’t we still ask the hard questions? To hide those things in our writing would be a sin.
Thursday, March 22nd, 2007