No, I do not understand this one, but I see it. I take it in. I will think about it. If I sit with this image long enough, this story, I have the hope of understanding something I did not understand before. –Dorothy Allison, This Is Our World
I went to the James River Writers conference last weekend in Richmond. While I plan on blogging more in-depth later, there’s a specific thing I want to comment on now.
The last session of the conference was an interview with Charles J. Shields, author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. (As you may or may not know, the biography is “unauthorized”; Ms. Lee refused to work with Mr. Shields.) During the interview, Mr. Shields mentioned that he was a Chicago native & had to travel to Alabama for interviews. Phone calls were getting him nowhere. He said, “I came to recognize the pause that always preceded the question, ‘You’re not from around here are you?'”
The inevitable question came up in the Q & A session: So, what did you think of those Southerners? The unspoken part being Yankee. Charles Shields took a second, smiled, & said, “Southerners approach living as if it is an art.”
I’m thinking on this idea today as my family mourns my grandmother’s death. For now, I want to keep my personal thoughts on her life & death private.
But Mr. Shields’ idea is a fine one to aspire to. I think on how ultimately the hearts & minds of those we love are not fully knowable, how someone can defy your expectations in the smallest act. I think on the art that affects & troubles me: Wise Blood, A Serious Man, Year Zero, Bastard Out of Carolina. Work that angers me or fills my heart without really concretely knowing why.
I cannot tell you if my grandmother’s life was a work of art; I’m biased. But at the heart of her existence is something strong, moving & undeniably stamped with her personality, something that touched many people. I hold all these thoughts together with my grandmother’s memory & the rest of my family’s history as I move deeper into my life.