I am in love with stories. I am in love with you and the stories you tell about yourselves. I am in love with the stories I get to tell you.
In some ways, what makes us unique among animals is nothing to write home about–we are the apes most concerned with cleaning up poop, our own and the poop of others, even other species. No other animal spends to much time fretting about poop. That’s really nothing to be proud of.
But the other thing that makes us unique are the elaborate stories we tell. This, right here, my words to your eyes is a miracle and one we take for granted. We are so lucky, to have words so freely available to us. To be able to write and to read and to respond.
I’ve often wanted to tell you about the essay that changed my life, Carole Maso’s "Rupture, Verge, and Precipice /Precipice, Verge, and Hurt Not," but I didn’t know how to explain it if you couldn’t see it for yourself.
Today, I pulled it back off the shelf and read it again and sat in my office and cried. It makes me so happy, this essay, and it reminds me again why we do this and how we are so lucky to get to do this–you, my army of Shahrayars, and me, your Xeroxed copy of a copy of a copy of Shahrazad.
And also, in one of those happy fortuities which is the internet, I found it for you in cyberspace. You can read it yourselves and love it or hate it. But there it is, my favorite essay.
I read this for the first time ten years ago, I imagine, and was dumbfounded and moved. I remain moved.
Here is what I heard about feminism and how closely entwined feminism must be with my ability to read and write and, most importantly, be heard.
Even though you call me sentimental—on the one hand girly-girl, on the other hand loud-mouthed bitch, on the one hand interesting and talented writer, on the other hand utterly out-of-touch idealist, romantic—it is you who wants the nineteenth century back again. When things were dandy for you, swell. You want to believe in the old coordinates, the old shapes. To believe in whatever it was you believed in then. You were one of the guys who dictated the story, sure, I remember. Who made up the story and now go teaching it all over the place. But even then, when you sat around making it up, even then, my friend, it had nothing to do with me. With my world. With what I saw and how I felt.
You will call me naive, childlike, irreverent, idealistic, offensive, outrageous, defiant at times, because I do not believe in a literature of limitation, in a future of limitation. I annoy you with this kind of talk, I know. You’ve told me many times before. You’d like me to step into my quiet box. You’re so cavalier, as you offer your hand.
How familiar does that sound?
I do not believe it has to continue this way—you over there alternately blustery and cowering, me over here, defensive, angry.
You guys, this is what I’m trying to say to you. All this stuff, where you say, well, that’s just how it is; no, it’s not. These are just stories we tell about ourselves and we can tell other stories and we can learn to believe them, to believe in them.
I believe that, with all my heart, that words can change us, that reading and writing can transform us and heal us and bring us closer together.
Despite all efforts to tame it, manage it, control it, outsmart it, language resists your best efforts; language is still a bunch of sturdy, glittering charms in the astonished hand.
And I know that, if I can convince you of that, these dark squiggles on a sea of electric whiteness hold all the magic we need to make ourselves known to each other. If I can convince you that it can be done, and that these letters and these words are the tools with which we can do it, then I wonder if you will let me. Let me slide myself in there where you are most vulnerable–a tongue through slightly parted lips, a finger gently into your soft places. Let me whisper my words in your ear, my hot breath on your cheek. Let me speak to you in hushed tones when you are alone.
And, when I am most lonely, I will shut my eyes and feel your cheek against mine, and listen carefully for the magic you give me in return.
It’s greater than we are, than we’ll ever be. That’s why I love it. Kneeling at the altar of the impossible. The self put back in its proper place.
The miracle of language. The challenge and magic of language.