Sunday, April 27, 2014

2014.04.27 Serious Daring

Eudora Welty, b. 1909, offered this wisdom to all writers: “I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

This is absolutely delicious to the ears of a seriously daring introvert who grew up under the tutelage of a seriously extroverted mother. 

Welty’s wisdom is gospel for any writer, and it may be so for any woman striving to be heard in patriarchal societies, churches, and cultures.  Emily Dickinson gave birth to some of the best poetry in the world—from within her rooms and from within her own soul. She wrote of love: “That love is all there is, is all we know of love.”  Few could top that for serious daring from within!

Now, speaking of topping anything, I am currently wondering if I am an utter fool to keep on believing in my writing gifts and feminist slants. I’m riding on god knows what wave of feminist spirituality, probably fourth wave, which is more spiritually inclined.

Religious women are getting sick of feeling excluded from conversations in a secularist culture. Not long ago I attended a reading by Gail Collins from her fine book, When Everything Changed. The Story of American Women from the Sixties to The Present. Collins’ book is revelatory of the ongoing subordinate status of women in a patriarchal culture. It’s very thorough, often humorous, and also makes you wince. At the Q and A time I asked: “I don’t know if this omission was purposeful or not, but I noticed that there is nothing at all (I’d checked carefully) in your fine book about what was, and is, going on for women in religion during this time period—and there’s a lot.”  A hush fell over the small group of maybe 40 people, during which I thought to myself: Either I hit a nerve or I’m about to be run out of town.  (But I saw a few heads nod.)

Collins finally spoke, “You’re right and I’m sorry.” Then she explained all the instructions she had given to her researchers and how they used only secular journalistic sources, blah blah. Then she said, “I should have interviewed you for my book.”  I thought: You should have, and said, “Thank you. Maybe another book.” Maybe mine? People laughed and the tension was over. Collins was honest and gracious, yet it saddened me how isolated religion is from our culture, and how we women all have the same concerns about being treated with equality and dignity.

I won’t write a book like Collins’s. I don’t have the time or the energy, but what I do write does matter, so I persevere anyway, after a recuperative break to breathe, finishing my memoir and researching publishers—small ones.

I’ve questioned my desire to get published by a publishing house. I don’t aspire to any of the big houses. Well, I once did. Growing up and into one's gifts is a steady process of right-sizing for humility. But do I seriously dare to think I have something to say? Well, yes, in fact.

Is the case that my story illustrates relevant?— the need to establish full dignity and inclusion of women in all areas of ministry AND the need to liberate divinity from oppression by masculine pronouns? Yes, I believe so. Christian feminists continue to insist that words matter and language shapes how we feel about ourselves as well as how our relations are structured. Many people think that God is just as God is described in the Bible. Really? Every description? Count ’em. What we think is God is a portrait of God—not the same, Dorian! Scripture is full of portraits of God. Our work is to discern with integrity and not to make any one an idol. Perhaps the Church has sold its soul to market just one portrait: He-Man deity inflated with transcendence? It still sells.

It’s hard on our spirituality to live in a consumerist and market-driven culture. Nowadays for example, an author needs a sizable platform, a dazzling provocative brand, a perfect pitch, and an irresistibly alluring hook just to get in over the transom. Good Gawd, what an insane world. Anne Lamotte was right when she labeled America “the U.S. of advertising.”  Even my beloved late dad, the 1940s “mad man,”would agree.

I think we writers ought to rebel completely and make our own markets. Most of us, after all, have had some assertiveness training along the way! Between market demands and economics, our part feels almost negligible. Look how fast celebrities turn out memoirs! Really, I think it’s baloney-on-the-run—celebrity writing for either fame or fortune, or both.

Writers, it is time for some serious daring. Write your very best; make every word accountable; don’t sell your soul, or your words, to the market; let your soul speak. Publish yourself. It’s one way to protest and be prophetic—a prophet being one who sees the world for what it is and acts accordingly.

Thank you, Ms. Welty.