We can only travel as far as we are willing to extend ourselves spiritually; celebrating writers is the foundation of a nation’s spiritual evolution. Writers are excavators of the human soul, and only those devoted to living internally can solve our collective tendency to become attached to the external. Writers approaching their craft with no intention of extending our sense of what it means to be human and reinforcing narratives that make our current state of consciousness comfortable are profiteers. We have a tendency to forget this moment will end, all the fear surrounding our future, and anxiety shadowing our mornings are temporal, and writers are the spiritual aides reminding us that freedom is possible. Guilt, fear, anxiety, and all the other emotions that paralyze our actions are necessary for our development. However, through the wisdom of those that have traversed their own paralysis we find the competence and faith to journey beyond our limiting boundaries, we are reminded of a quote from James Baldwin, “I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering – enough is certainly as good as a feast – but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his effort, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human life that no school on earth – and indeed, no church – can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable.” Love, support, and communion are often deepest when we learn to survive during suffering.
Nourishment comes through presence, communion comes through loving, and transformation comes through persistence, and helping us remember is the responsibility of the serious writer. Susan Sontag said, the responsibility of a writer is to, “Love words, Agonize over sentences, and pay attention to the world”, but, I believe, survival is also our responsibility; once a pen enters our hands we become guides into the unconscious revealing what people attempt to repress. Art provides hope while inspiring, changing , and extending people’s lives in the eternal search for light through the dark cave of living. Master craftsmen like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Albert Murray, and Susan Sontag understood the importance of their role in peeling back the defenses enclosing our vulnerabilities and living within our fullness. Myth makers and witch doctors have always been story-tellers, but since their fall from grace weaving tales about the creation of the universe, magic potions that increase our connection to the ancestors, and the art of carefully placing candles on plates and praying according to the color has before the responsibility of the modern writer to fill; story tellers are filling the space where Tylenol and Advil are useless. As we embrace our struggles, contradictions, and responsibility we become an example for people making the journey towards meaning. In a country devoted to mediocrity, the impulse to challenge tradition narratives is subverted by the desire to get film-adaptations of literature, and our best sellers list are overrun with authors that attended the same fraternity, and authors devoted to the human spirit become all the more important.
Our stories are meant to encourage man in crossing the threshold from a pure focus on the physical world into communion with his internal self. Once man makes the journey into a sense of universality in the intimacies of his existence empathy becomes a byproduct of reflection. We become moral agents of change by carving wisdom from the substance of our lives. I’ve seen people project themselves onto other people’s suffering believing they could handle it better, but truthfully no one knows what it is like being another person. Empathy, however, is gentleness and removing all infantile egoistic projections in order to connect with another person. As James Baldwin, in his amazing collection of essays Notes of a Native son, said, “It was better not to judge the man who had gone down under an impossible burden. It was better to remember: Thou knowest this man’s fall, but thou knowest not his wrassling.” I remembered this quote when my friend was struggling with his sexual desires and his religion, for his religion preached that condemnation would be the result of his first true love, and after letting him vent I asked, “Would you rather love no one?” Through watching another person live, Giovanni’s room, taught me that nothing is more important than loving who you love; recognizing this humanness in other people heals us. Literature shrinks time down to 300 pages, and watching a character live, I believe, provides us with the insight into how our rhythms can impact our future. Through reading we peak into our own potential and journey beyond our self-centered boundaries and journey into a life that could easily be ours; as fiction stretches our knowledge we move into a spiritual closeness with the world. Sometimes in order to embrace the world we need to read a book.
More about the beauty of literature read Susan Sontag’s beautiful essays in “At the Same Time”