Monday, February 10, 2014

whose sacrifice is this?

Alice Walker

Everybody is somebody else's fiction.

I am yours and you are mine.

And yet how infrequent it seems to be that the fictions applied to others are observed in the creator of those fictions: In my own mind, as perhaps in yours, I am strictly non-fiction -- factual without any doubt or quibble ... I am "obvious" and concrete as a pitted prune from where I sit ... an assured and insistent bit of non-fiction.

 On public television yesterday, there was a portraiture program about novelist-activist Alice Walker. I watched it idly, letting the facts and analyses swirl around me without paying strict attention. I wanted to know the flavor of this woman. I wanted to know if I liked her. I love stories about people and the TV was telling me one. As I watched, I created my fiction.

Alice Walker was no one to fuck with. Sure, she wrote novels and poetry -- she was famous dontcha know -- and she had taken on the vile miasma of racism with a courage and wit I never had. Her upbringing was poor and hard. Alice Walker was a person of substance, a person with sand... not because the TV said so but because she was. If she had never had written a single book, still, Alice Walker was no one to fuck with. Others might call her a "titan," but in my mind, in my fiction, she actually was/is a titan.

I liked Alice Walker ... gingerly. That's the way it is with titans ... surrender at your peril. The television tale might be all over Alice Walker like a $5 hooker, but that was no excuse for some swooning, drooling agreement. The sui generis-ness of the titan often leaves others gasping and bleeding in their wake.

Alice Walker -- the TV version to which I was being treated -- reminded me of former poet laureat Billy Collins' observation that "meeting your favorite author is one of life's most reliable disappointments." I did not want to meet Alice Walker.

If I got it correctly from the TV, Alice Walker grew up poor. Her mother "never said 'I love you,'" but her loving sacrifices on behalf of her eight children were nothing if not apparent. Alice Walker felt it was incumbent upon her to repay those sacrifices -- to validate and fulfill the sacrifices her mother had made. Alice Walker busted her butt and came out, based on the television's tale, a winner, a titan, a person of substance and sand. I liked her quite a lot ... gingerly.

And some of that gingerness gained momentum with the passing reference to daughter Rebecca Walker's public assertions that her mom had been a lackluster mom. The assertions, according to Alice Walker, were as wildly untrue as they were wounding.

But the truth or falsehood of the accusations did not interest me as much as that the daughter might make them. From what realm of 'fact' -- of very personal feeling, whether true or false -- was she speaking, accusing, wounding? What the mother might feel was sacrifice seemed not to be sacrificial enough from the daughter's point of view. Out of what sanity/insanity was she speaking?

I suspected, but had no way of knowing, that the daughter longed to be loved unconditionally and felt that her mother, while generous in many ways, perhaps, had not been willing to make that sacrifice.

All of this is just my fiction based on someone else's fact.

But it makes me think of the sacrifices parents make for their kids or sacrifices anyone else, of whatever kinship, might make for another. Sacrifice means giving up what you might rather have for something that requires a less self-satisfied attention. Sometimes, a la the arctypical Jewish-joke mom, the one doing the sacrificing will never let you forget. More often, sacrifices go unremarked ... by offspring or comrades or whoever.

And yet when sacrifices are remarked or underscored or praised, in what way, if at all, can such sacrifices be repaid? How can anyone be worthy of the sacrifices made on their behalf? If, for example, a country wanted to pay homage to the sacrifice of its soldiers who died in battle, how could such a country go to war again? And yet the fact is that the best anyone can do is to praise the sacrifice without truly honoring it.

And perhaps the same is true on an individual level. Sacrifice is called "sacrifice" ... and that's pretty much the end of it. And if that is so, then sacrifice boils down to a choice in which the outcome can never be known. Guilt-tripping and praise aside, there is no repayment possible outside of living a life that is sui generis ... and, with luck, a little kind. There is no other repayment possible.

Sui generis (of its own kind) -- be yourself.

And if you want to honor the sacrifices made on your behalf, make the effort to find out who that "self" -- you know, the one who is non-fiction in your book -- is.

No more fictionalized "sacrifice."


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