Saturday, June 23, 2012

who is Carson McCullers?

What a strange and comforting insidiousness -- imagining that I 'know' someone, that I can put that knowledge on some well-kept bookshelf in the mind and take it down as the need arises. It's not a big deal, I guess, but it is a bit odd.

Carson McCullers ©Adam Fisher
I was thinking this yesterday in regards to artists, but I suppose it is true for anyone ... anyone at all. With artists, the summing up comes with a creeping near-certainty that because I know the paintings or novels or music, I therefore know the person ... a person I have never met and yet might like to ... or would definitely not like to.

The immediate cause for chewing this particular mental cud was skimming through an old photo album my mother had once compiled. There were pictures of various people and among them was Carson McCullers. Known as a very good writer at a time when reading was in vogue, I had only known her as a childhood vision ... a person I thought to steer clear of at the age of six or seven or whenever my mother introduced me to her.

Kids know stuff and what I knew was that this was not a person I wanted to be around ... too intense, too dangerous, too haunted and, like all kid-perceptions, too uninterested in me. What did I know of her ghosts? I did not know the word "neurotic" at the time ... but I knew my gut much as anyone might know their gut and hence concoct a 'knowing' that slipped up onto my mental book shelf.

Only later would I read the books, sense the beauty, and be thankful for the ghosts I had never known as a child and could never possibly know, even as an adult. Carson McCullers is a 'gifted writer,' the intellect says in a smug abbreviation that allows me to move on to other, more important things, things closer at hand.

Carson McCullers ©Adam Fisher
The writing, the paintings, the music or, in a wider sense, the thoughts and words and deeds of any friend, acquaintance or enemy. And through it all, the sense that I know something and that something is a true -- or at least true-ish -- appreciation.

I know....

And yet the closer anyone comes to what is loved or hated or excites some jet of interest ... closer and closer and more and more detailed and more and more nuanced ... the closer anyone comes, the more apparent the truth also becomes: What I know is really too smug and careless by half. It is what I don't know that is vast and endless and, perhaps, too frightening to behold.

And what is true for 'others' is also true for me -- the reflection in the bathroom mirror, the one nearest and dearest to my heart, the one about whom I may claim to know the most. No matter how hard I may put this person up on a convenient bookshelf, no matter how wily I may be in asserting thoughts and emotions and beliefs and loves and hates ... not matter how much I try to control ... still, it is what I don't know that asserts itself over and over again. I may look myself squarely in the eye and yet when push comes to shove, is it what I know or what I don't know that carries the day, that skips just out of reach, that refuses to sit idly on a bookshelf in the mind.

Carson McCullers ©Adam Fisher
I think that maybe the whole matter is just a matter of getting used to and even enjoying this not knowing ... not knowing me, not knowing you, not knowing Carson McCullers, not knowing what I may claim to know so much about.

It's not a big deal ... it's just easier that way. Imagine -- if you know, then things stop, but when you don't know, anything is possible. Religion, philosophy, psychology ... never mind those stop-gap measures. Never mind and slip into something more comfortable. Grab your popcorn and enjoy the show ... after all, it's all there for your enjoyment.

Who is Carson McCullers?

Woo-hoo ... right?

PS. I put a copyright on these pictures because a book publisher once used a picture my mother had taken of Truman Capote as a book cover ... and never gave her a nod, much less a check. I don't expect either, but I do want any pirates to consider whose gold they are appropriating.


  1. I am very interested in these photos of McCullers, which I've never seen before. Maybe I should know, but I do not: Who is your mother? Cathy Fussell, Recently Retired Director, Columbus State University's Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, Columbus, Georgia (Carson's hometown).

  2. I think I figured it out. Your mother must be Helen Eustis. Right? My e-mail is if you would rather communicate directly.

  3. Cathy -- You are a good sleuth and right on the money. My mother, Helen Eustis, hung out with a lot of very talented and probably significantly crazy people at one time... not that she was arrogant enough to exclude herself from the 'crazy' designation. :)

  4. Nice photos. I read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter last year and liked it very much. Was surprised to learn how young she was when it was written.