“You know what I’d like to be?” I said. “I mean if I had my goddam choice?…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all…And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d be the catcher in the rye…”
Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
Who wouldn’t like to have written that? You can hardly put into words everything he’s caught in those lines–every bit of longing and need, every bit of hope, every bit of love. We want to know Holden, and we think we do.
I don’t think JD Salinger even wanted the fame and fortune that book brought him. What he wanted was to write it.
“Two coyotes looking for afterbirths trotted through a pasture to the east, moving through fluid grass, the sun backlighting their fur in such a way that they appeared to have silver linings.”–from Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Proulx, in That Old Ace in the Hole.
When people argue about writing for pleasure or writing for profit or writing for the audience, I think about sentences like that. People writing to capture truth, to lay it out to see if it moves you the way it moved them. To see if it leaves you vulnerable.
Taller than the Eiffel Tower, in a flat, desert area in the center of Australia. Eight miles around. More than 600 million years old.
Sacred places–unknown forces are at work to activate space with spirit. They hold things we want to know. Some of us believe we are meant to know. Some of us have a passion to know.
This year marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the closest document England has to a constitution. They’re one of three countries without a written constitution, along with New Zealand and Israel. Our constitution is based in part on the Magna Carta.
It was created out of real protest, not by politicians.
It was the first time protesters spoke truth to power and had a real impact–they would no longer be ruled at the whim of the King, a tradition in place for as long as anyone could remember.
It is the origin of the legal concept of our right to due process of law for people and property.
It’s still used–Darcus Howe, an outstanding Civil Rights leader in England, in the case of the Mangrove Nine, 1971, used Magna Carta as his defense.
One historian said recently–it has survived by magic rather than its words. What it carries is hope. And that’s how people have used it.
One morning, when I was staying up country in a valley of the Manzano Mountains, I got up early to see the sun rise. I went out on the deck, and as I looked across the field, I saw about a dozen turkey vultures, each perched on a fence post.
They stood with wings outstretched, unmoving, waiting to catch the sun’s rays, to warm their wings. It was a surreal sight, as if they were caught in a moment of worship.
It made me think of turkey vultures differently, to feel a kinship with them. We both were in that moment to appreciate something ancient and foundational that is rejuvenating to something deep within us. For that moment, we were worshiping at the same church.
Now when I see them surrounding road kill, I don’t go, “Ew-w-w!”
We want to.
But our history says should we?
Carrie Jean is a main character in Jumping: a Novel. She’s Native American, with a multi-tribal background, raised by a Navajo grandmother. The group of students she travels into the Void with come to rely on her spiritual rituals as reminders of gratitude. I, a white writer, venture into all those areas.
Nathan is another character, a fellow Void traveler, who is African American. I write of his family and history, too, and of his thoughts and dreams.
In another part of the book, I write about a Muslim man meeting his maker (who is a white non-Muslim woman from another life).
Is this right?
Some writers are still divided on this issue. Others offer advice (these happen to be cartoonists):
“Don’t just parachute them in.”
“Ask your PoC friends to read your stories. If you have to ask if something is racist, it probably is. Base your characters on real people, but don’t just project your own feelings into a stranger’s life. Don’t assume that because someone is a minority that they’ve lived a certain kind of life.”
—Maré Odomo, author and illustrator of Internet Comics
Is it better than the alternative?
I like to think so.
‘My daughter, my daughter, my daughter,’ she says over and over in my ear.
I’m lost in the lap of something so much bigger than I am, and I rest there. All I can see is the folds of her white robe as I’m overwhelmed with the permeating scent of roses, which are everywhere. And then I’m falling out of the hug, as her attendants pull me back to put the next person in, pressing rose petals and strangely, a Hershey’s kiss into my hand.
I was charged with the energy of that hug for days after, hearing her words in my ear–‘My daughter, my daughter, my daughter.’
Once a year Amma, India’s hugging saint, comes to town. She arrives at a large hotel in Albuquerque that can accommodate the thousands who come for a hug, as crazy as that might sound. When you arrive, you remove your shoes, are organized into groups, given your hug number, fed and are presented with all kinds of memorabilia to buy, from photographs to clothes. While you wait for your group to be called, you listen to Indian music, are strewn with rose petals, watch multiple large-screen videos of Amma’s good works around the world, and look at everyone else who has come.
It all moves along smoothly. She and her team are experts at this–after all, she’s hugged more than 30 million people world wide, royalty and celebrities included.
When your group is called, you join a double line of people, in chairs, gradually moving forward, like musical chairs. Up ahead, Amma is dressed all in white, sitting on a sort of low throne, hugging people, one after another—families with babies, the old, the infirm, young people, people speaking different languages. When you’re finally next in line, her attendants move you to your knees a few feet from her, asking you what language you speak.
You’re sort of dropped into a tight group of front line attendants, dressed in yellow robes, who are plunging people into Amma’s lap and then dragging them out, in a claustrophobic frenzy. You’re in a feel-good, out-of-body daze as you’re pulled out.
At first I thought that wonderful feeling was from her, from what she has. After the third hug, I began to believe that we generate it together. She calls it forth, and what I feel is my soul answering.
Photo: Erode, Tamil Nadu, Monday, January 12, 2015