I’ve spent a fair share of my writing life struggling with anger on the page. I’m not talking the anger of men, the uncontrolled, the management, the guns as extension of something roiling. I only say struggle because I’ve (past tense) felt inhibited to do so. To express anger. Or, if not inhibited, then remorseful. Caution isn’t a bad thing, self-examination and a careful rooting out of cause, of intention is perhaps a sign of maturity? Evolution? Anger, though, was something best left unexpressed in the world I was raised. Being nice, acting like a lady at least (your grandmother never swore, she was a real lady) and Roman Catholic I swooned at the saints’ lives, lives I poured over in my heady early reading days. I might have fainted at church at least in my mind although the spots that appeared in front of my eyes seemed to augur something, right? The closeness of the stained glass eyes, everywhere the idea of it. Think the Stendhal swoon in front of so much beauty. Suffice it to say (what does that even mean?) I suffered and stifled (aspiring) anger until — well — Sophie in her silence and suffering (and my own) teased it out of me. The struggle came with the reactions to it (it being my anger) — the doctor at the NICHQ improvement consortium who, after working with me for a couple of years as we tried (ultimately ineffectually because look where we are today in healthcare, epilepsy treatment especially the same drugs, the same the same the same, with a few exceptions, resistance (still!) to cannabis medicine which actually works ahem) to improve the lives of children with disabilities, especially those who were underprivileged (as They called it) or culturally disadvantaged, claimed that your anger is so much improved, darling, words that I lapped with my tongue my sharp tongue that curled around them before I swallowed, words that joined the alphabet soup in my tiny little mother mind.™ I’d write it on the old blog — the anger — be chastised in the comments and spend some time defending/excusing/repenting — the old saints and our struggles, a figurative flagellant, still. During The Pandamnic, when the ex forced me into a post post post divorce issue where I found myself on the stand defending the cost of diapers ($150 a month), a car loan for a wheelchair accessible Kia Soul and refuting the tens of thousands reputed to be pouring into my checking account, I’m not sure what happened to my anger. As I was negated, I was effectively silenced, and in the silencing I was broken.
Is forgiveness a patriarchal value? God is a father, Jesus a son. Must we forgive an oppressor or is this an edict from a system that is, at its core, oppressive?
“We are not goddesses or matriarchs or edifices of divine forgiveness; we are not fiery fingers of judgment or instruments of flagellation; we are women forced back always upon our woman’s power”
All this to say:
I read a post on The Paris Review blog about a course taught by the great Irish writer Colm Toibin at The New School in New York. It’s called “Relentlessness.”
I am interested in texts that are pure voice or deal with difficult experience using a tone that does not offer relief or stop for comfort. Sometimes, the power in the text comes from powerlessness, whether personal or political. Sometimes, death is close or danger beckons or violence is threatened or enacted. Sometimes, there is a sense of real personal risk in the text’s revelations. Sometimes, there is little left to lose. All the time, the tone is incantatory or staccato or filled with melancholy recognitions.
This speaks to me like pow! and I’m going to read all the books on his syllabus that I haven’t read and re-read the ones that I already know. I think I will find my way back to — something. To being unbroken. To being relentless. You can go here to see the list. I sat down over the weekend and began the first book — Euripides’ Medea, a Greek tragedy whose basic story I sort of knew (the one where she killed her children) but had never actually read. She was filled with rage. Irrelevant. I read it in one sitting, Reader, because it was — well — relentless. So strangely relevant in its irrelevancy and so spectacularly powerful. The personal and the political. The inexhaustible voice.
I’d love someone out there to join me in this exploration of the relentless.