Living in Questions

I didn’t watch The Golden Globes this year, so it wasn’t until a few days following that I viewed Oprah Winfrey’s magnificent speech. I’m not going to get into the “Oprah for President” whirlwind–at least not yet, but I do want to focus on her momentous contention: “What I know for sure is speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

You would think that, as a writer, this wouldn’t hit me as hard as it does, or seem as subversive or revolutionary, so I ponder it for a bit, and it dawns on me–well, sure, I believe that speaking YOUR truth is a powerful tool, but MY truth. Well, that’s another story. It’s why writing has been so damned difficult this past year.

I’m an overthinker, folks, and I’ve got a loud and rambunctious committee, and they’ve been loud, rowdy, and a smidgeon mean the last year.

When I sit down to write they say things like: so what? or who cares? or who do you think you are? or quit whiney-assing around? or give it a rest already!

It’s hard to believe that MY truth is a powerful tool. But here’s one thing I know for sure–the committee doesn’t waste its time when nothing is at stake.

***

I’ve been reading two books since the end of the old year and the beginning of the new one–Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour and Ursula K. Le Guin’s aptly titled No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters.

In The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs contemplates what it is to live while dying. Her friend, Ginny who is also dying of metastatic breast cancer explains it pretty well when she writes to Riggs that

“living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope
over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease
is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss,
only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more
—sometimes the wind is blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

After reading this, I dog-eared the page so I could come back to it because I agree with Ginny that we are always on that tightrope. If illness is a constant reminder, then a lack of illness can obscure how tenuous our foot path is. I’ve written here before about my daughter, Peanut’s diagnosis and subsequent crash course in living with Type 1 Diabetes, and I believe that the ever-present undercurrent of shakiness was the first and maybe most important lesson for me.

Sunday night, after finishing The Bright Hour, and bawling my red and tired eyes out, I turned to Le Guin’s No Time to Spare, a delightful romp through the sharp and sometimes cranky mind of the prolific Ursula K. Le Guin. In her 80s, Le Guin is forthright and opinionated in these essays that were first published on her late-in-life blog.

I turned to Le Guin because I needed a little aid in processing the complicated and pressing questions I had. How could I be hopeful and distraught at the same time? Can grief be mitigated by hope? Does grief deepen hope? What the hell?

These are good questions. All of ’em.

In the introduction to No Time to Spare, Karen Joy Fowler reminds us that “for a seeker, the answer is less important than what the seeker does with the answer.” I might add that perhaps questions are even more important than answers.

And speaking of questions–the January 2018 issue of O Magazine seeks to bring questioning to the forefront of life by dubbing 2018 The Year of Big Questions. No, I’m still not getting on the Oprah for President bus, but I admit to being a huge fan of O Magazine. And I love the questioning call-to-action. The editors write,

Every momentous exploration, pivotal social movement, ingenious invention, and soul-stirring journey began because someone asked a question: How can we change things? Where does this lead? What’s possible? What’s next? In mind, heart, and spirit, human beings are compelled to seek answers.”

We’re hardwired to question. What a fucking relief, right, and I’m determined to run with this in 2018. I’m going to use my voice, speak my truth, and ask a shit-ton of questions. I’m making a New Year’s resolution a couple weeks late, but this blog is one place I’m going to be brave.

***

 

So back to those tears and those two wonderful books. It’s a bit strange. You see, I don’t cry a lot these days even though the the political climate of our country this past year has provided ample reasons. Maybe I’ve been stunned tearless.

Oh sure I dropped a few tears when I watched my granddaughter, Beauty, push into the world back in July. And I choked up when Peanut’s friend, Meg, got married over Christmas break. But mostly, I am dry-eyed during even the saddest movies and the most devastating books. Sometimes I scrunch my face up and hold my breath a little in an attempt to conjure up some tears; after all, I’ve cried on a dime, at the drop of a hat, without reason and gratuitously my entire life. My kids look to me for the tears they expect, and I feel like I’m letting everyone down when I can’t produce them.

The spontaneous and unexpected crying when I finished The Bright Hour surprised me. After all, I knew the book had been published posthumously. So why the waterworks?

Le Guin has an answer for me, for all of us. She writes, “A book that makes me cry the way music can or tragedy can—deep tears, the tears that come of accepting as my own grief the grief there is in the world—must have something of greatness about it.”

Yes, that’s what The Bright Hour did. It’s honesty and deep questioning made me “accept as my own grief, the grief there is in the world.” To do this, to accept the world’s grief is a calling.

And a gift.

 

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