Table Of Content
- About the Author
- About the Book
- Advance praise for The Revelations of Asher
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Remember (Asher speaks: A story)
- A word to begin with: Precedent to “An introduction” (Jeanine speaks)
- This book is different: An introduction (Jeanine speaks)
- A significant and singular interlude (Defining Lover Identity) (Jeanine speaks)
- Introducing a Supreme Lover Identity (Or, Why this work is so real) (Jeanine speaks)
- Things you need to know about this book (Jeanine speaks)
- An aside (Jeanine speaks)
- Visual Aid #1: Members of the inquiry and fragmented selves (Jeanine illustrates)
- An intermediate, personal, clarifying statement (On my hopes as a sociocultural literacist, a Black woman, an endarkened feminist scholar, and aspiring Supreme Lover) (Jeanine speaks)
- A word on audience (Jeanine speaks)
- Ok. So, I guess I should introduce myself (Asher speaks: An introduction)
- Do you remember (Asher speaks: A poem)
- Interludes: Regarding BIG questions about this new literacies event (Jeanine speaks)
- How are literacy practices and new literacies events being defined here?
- What is the function of this new literacies event? Why was this book constructed?
- How is this new literacies event unique?
- How does one need to read this new literacies event?
- What kind of qualitative research does this new literacies event represent?
- Interludes: Regarding small questions about this new literacies event (Jeanine speaks)
- Is everything written in the book representative of actual narrative data (even the poems)?
- Why are some words, statements, questions, and/or passages highlighted in gray?
- Why are some names faded to gray?
- What is the purpose of varying fonts?
- Why are hyperlinks included in this new literacies event?
- Are the footnotes important?
- This book is necessary: A response to a call (Jeanine speaks)
- This book is grounded: The qualitative inquiry that birthed Asher’s revelations (Jeanine speaks)
- Introducing Mukhtaran (Brief on a woman of color fighting complex terror where love could have been through a dynamic and daring literate life) (Jeanine speaks)
- Aligning the types of “terrors” (Jeanine speaks)
- After the alignment of “terrors” (Jeanine speaks)
- Visual Aid #2: The t/Terror Visual Aid (Jeanine illustrates)
- Resolution (Asher speaks: A story)
- List #1 (Asher speaks: A list)
- Finding a place in the war on t/Terror (Jeanine speaks)
- How the inquiry came to be (Jeanine speaks)
- Naming, structure of meetings, and the nature of teaching/learning spaces (Jeanine speaks)
- Depictions of Sisterfriends (Jeanine speaks)
- Popular culture narratives (Jeanine speaks)
- Research questions, methods, methodology, and interpretive framework for data analysis (Jeanine speaks)
- Methodology (Jeanine speaks)
- An aside (Jeanine speaks)
- Interpretive, analytic positioning, and sense making (Jeanine speaks)
- An encounter (Asher speaks)
- There are two truths (Asher and others speak: A poem)
- When Asher and Soren met (Jeanine speaks)
- There are two truths: A literate revelation (Jeanine speaks)
- An aside (Jeanine speaks)
- Honoring the voices of selves and the necessity of a responsive reading/writing research pedagogy (Jeanine speaks)
- The evolution of disordered coherence: A critically creative means for uncovering the risings and revelations of fragmented selves in qualitative data (as literacy events) (Jeanine speaks)
- The rise of fragmented selves (Jeanine speaks)
- Visual Aid #3: Members of the inquiry and fragmented selves (Jeanine illustrates)
- A departure (Asher speaks: A story)
- Leave (Asher speaks with Nason: A poem)
- A discussion: How Sisterfriends formed a literate, local epistemological framework for knowing, leadership, and action in the service of Love and in opposition to t/Terror (Jeanine speaks)
- Literate witnessing (Jeanine speaks)
- Reading darkly (Jeanine speaks)
- We make the road by walking (Asher speaks: A story)
- Where it’s at (Kagan, Sash, Rajah, and Nason speak: A poem)
- “I know better than this.” (Or, getting to where it’s at, with or without company) (Jeanine speaks)
- Co-orchestrated, creative compositions: Interpreting the form and function of the writings (Jeanine speaks)
- “I” and “She” statements: The progression of knowing and being (Jeanine speaks)
- “We” statements: The progression of leading and action (Jeanine speaks)
- A palimpsest: A representation of the writings (Jeanine speaks)
- (R)evolution: A function of the writings (Jeanine speaks)
- Come in from out there (Asher speaks: A story)
- How I got over (Sash speaks, with help from Laish: A poem)
- “That’s how I fucked him right back.” (Or, a literacy practice that pays homage to Mukhtaran) (Jeanine speaks)
- An idea for further consideration (Jeanine speaks)
- Another idea for further consideration (Jeanine speaks)
- Don’t Lie (Asher speaks)
- Liar (Asher speaks)
- A short: On lies, laws, and violations of souls (Jeanine speaks)
- Do unto others (Asher speaks: A story)
- List #2 (Asher speaks: A list)
- As you would have them do unto you (A brief on casual sex, occasional commitments, and multiple “truths”) (Jeanine speaks)
- Casual sex
- Occasional commitments
- Multiple “truths”
- The midnight message (Asher speaks: A story)
- The Apology (He speaks: A poem)
- On dichotomies, apologies, and new literacies (Jeanine speaks)
- If…then (Asher speaks: A story)
- If…then (Asher speaks: A poem)
- Getting to the bottom line (Or, “I am with you. That means, I am with you. Regardless.”) (Jeanine speaks)
- How new literacies practices and events support fragmented revelations of the soul (Jeanine speaks)
- Why we need to capture the most innovative iterations of voices and stories (Jeanine speaks)
- Interludes: Regarding emerginG statements and questions about this new literacies event (Jeanine speaks)
- Here is a concern
- In what ways can New Literacies Studies assist the work of consciousness raising with regard to the ideas presented in this book?
- Why do we need to do this type of consciousness raising?
- Why was Asher so affected by her breakup with him? What does it mean to detach? Why is it a big deal?
- Why do we consume stories with such greed? Is it habit? Availability?
- Does knowing and believing these revelations mean we must change behavior? Are behavioral shifts an intended outcome of endarkened feminist epistemologies and ontologies?
- A Question of Great Significance (and without immediate response)
- Why is this new literacies event entitled, “The revelations of Asher”? Why not the revelations of Sash, Maven, Nason, Rajah, Laish, or Kagan?
- Why does Asher get a backstory and the other fragments do not? How was this event compiled from Asher’s perspective?
- Are you sure you’re not Asher?
- Do you do everything Asher says? Do you believe all her revelations?
- How do fragmented selves Aid #1: Members of the inquiry and sfunction in the Spectrum of Personhood and what is their nature and purpose? How do they contribute to a Supreme Lover Identity? (Re: What I have learned from this research; using mySelf as an example.)
- What does a Supreme Lover Identity mean, in a sociocultural and socioemotional sense?
- Is this work schizophrenic or an example of fracturing within the psyches of Black women?
- Did some of the women in the study embody and express more of one fragment than another?
- How so?
- Are the male voices in this new literacies event fragmentations?
- Do men’s revelations count in the development of an endarkened feminist new literacies event?
- Why don’t the men have more to say?
- Why doesn’t He have a name?
- How are we to understand a revelation? Is it the same as a research finding?
- Why do the fragmented selves contribute digital media when they communicate?
- Why are Asher and Laish related?
- No one seems to be getting any love here. What happens to a love deferred?
- What is the difference between killing and dying? And who is doing all this?
- Why must we welcome killing and dying?
- Why does this dilemma take shape? Why do we contend with our selves?
- To remember who we are?
- How does the cultivation of Supreme Lover Identity speak to/against supremacist patriarchies?
- Remember this takeaway, if you remember nothing else from this endarkened, feminist, new literacies event
- Regarding Asher (Soren’s probable response to Asher’s If…then)
- Your heart’s a mess (Soren responds to Asher: a poem)
- Man up (Asher speaks: A story)
- Small (Laish speaks with help from Nason: A poem)
- (Literally) Considering men’s roles in the performances of terror in love (Or, how women can be made small) (Jeanine speaks)
- Women as keepers of visions, dreams, reverie, fantasy, myth
- Women as authenticators of worth and virility
- A discussion (One of many discussions on how new literacies practices and events enable the location and exploration of endarkened feminist epistemologies and ontologies that taught me all about terror in love) (Jeanine speaks)
- Thinking and feeling my way through a family of terrors by invitation of fragmented selves (Jeanine speaks)
- Toward a meaningful method of care for Self (Through knowledge of selves and the terrors that they bring to the Spectrum of Personhood) (Jeanine speaks)
- Visual Aid #4: Fragmented selves (Their names, desires, and narratives in the place of the soul) (Jeanine illustrates)
- Visual Aid #5: The Spectrum of Personhood (Jeanine illustrates)
- A conclusion: How fragmented selves are racialized and gendered (And, what Blackness and femininity have to do with love, terror, new literacies and power for all people) (Jeanine speaks)
- Important Note to (my)Self (Jeanine speaks)
- On Black feminine/ist privilege and endarkened knowledge (Jeanine speaks)
- Visual Aid #6: Knowledge(s), Ways of being, and REALITIES (Jeanine illustrates)
- Another conclusion (Or, how a highly literate life is integral to salvation) (Jeanine speaks)
- What happens when a self is out and up front in the Spectrum of Personhood (i.e. the Self) (Considering “why we care” and “how reading and writing can change [or save] lives”…or kill them) (Jeanine speaks)
- Visual Aid #7: What happens when a self is out and up front in the Spectrum of Personhood (Jeanine illustrates)
- An aside (Jeanine speaks)
- Defining Supreme Love, Supreme Loving, and Supreme Lover Identity (Getting specific) (Jeanine speaks)
- Is Supreme Love the same as self-love? Are they similar?
- How does this Loving live?
- Does a Supreme Lover Identity guarantee love in life? Does it spare one from heartache?
- So what is the point? Exactly how does Supreme Love produce and attract love, even guarantee it? How does Supreme Love heal and save our lives, our communities, our world?
- Just love supremely
- On the necessity of new literacies and supremacies (in the work of deliverance, health, wholeness, salvation, justice, and truthful, unifying intimacies for all humankind) (Jeanine speaks)
- When I read, I’m trying to find myselves. Without the word/Word, there is no way. (Jeanine speaks)
- When I write I’m trying to kill myselves. Otherwise, what’s the point? (Jeanine speaks)
- When I speak, I’m trying to live myselves. Apart from my voices and stories, I am self less. (Jeanine speaks)
- When I listen, I’m trying to learn myselves. Devoid of lessons, I am lost. (Jeanine speaks)
- An aside (Jeanine speaks)
- A brief word on prepositions (As indicators of time and place) (Jeanine speaks)
- A word on “happy endings” (which are pulses in stories, not conclusions)
- This is all you have to do (Soren for Asher/with Asher/to Asher; channeling the idea of the power and passion of yes…thank you to Floetry and the Robert Glasper Experiment who sing of these things and show what they mean, through song.) (Soren and Asher speak: A poem)
- Appendix A: The Seedsheet of The Revelations of Asher
- A final forward thinking question (Jeanine speaks)
- Appendix B: The Stylesheet of The Revelations of Asher
- Selected Glossary
- Series index
Get ready. In this magnificent new literacies event, Jeanine Staples will take you on a very challenging, exciting, and provocative journey. In The Revelations of Asher, Jeanine examines Black women’s terror in love and life by explicitly and necessarily focusing on talk and writing. In this delectable magnum opus, Jeanine powerfully presents these women’s voices and stories by pushing readers to conceptualize a deeper understanding of love as central to the work of social and emotional justice. Jeanine does not write only about the act of loving. She also writes about the responsibility of being and becoming a lover. She writes about what it means to develop a lover identity and how this mindful development is an integral part of consciousness raising for the individual and liberation for all. She does this by examining relational terror and its impetuses.
Her nuancing of the data-rich stories of a group of Black women reveals how emotional, psychological, and physical terrors get reinscribed onto our bodies and into our hearts and minds. Jeanine goes further and shows also how such terrors, lodged in these places of our Personhood, are reproduced socially, politically, and culturally. Her focus on romantic love and terror, then, may push us into a place of fear—a place where we fear naming how supremacist patriarchal ideologies and enactments cripple our existence, relegating us to worlds of violence and oppression, hatred and abuse; provoking us to confront the fact that such worlds are often generally directed toward Black people, and specifically toward Black women.
This fear of naming (and not knowing how to dismantle) supremacist patriarchal ideologies and enactments in everyday life and love is implicitly terrifying. Such fears and ignorance lead to our bewilderment about how supremacist patriarchies prevent people from being whole (wholly/holy human beings, wholly/holy lovers). Thus, we arrive at the painful reality of terror and the terrible reality of pain, ← xxi | xxii → just under our skin, along with a lack of clarity about how to heal it. In opposition to this dead end, Jeanine instead encourages us to occupy a place of complex awareness and radical love—a place of deep enlightenment where we stabilize manifold resistances that counter supremacist patriarchal ideologies and enactments in love and life. Through The Revelations she shows us how to do this from the inside/out. She shows a way to heal our selves by knowing our selves, loving our selves, and developing an ability to be loved by others. This way of being—living and loving despite supremacist patriarchies—serves as the foundation for the development of the ontological concept, “Supreme Lover Identity.” Jeanine explains herein that a person who is a Supreme Lover, embodying a “Supreme Lover Identity,” is able to “rule her kingdom, and by doing that, she can heal the world” (p. 543). This is genius.
In this book you will learn that, although a Supreme Lover cannot avoid the possibilities of being hurt, disappointed, disheartened, and/or disillusioned, she can practice availability. That is, she can learn to become “emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically available to acknowledge and deeply empathize with the gamut of human experiences, rejecting nothing” (p. 522). Jeanine names this practice “anchored ascendency” because it is at once a foundational practice of grounded strength, self-awareness, self-care, self-actualization, and also a mounting practice of (r)evolutionary building throughout the lifespan. Jeanine materializes this practice, and the connections between romantic love and terror, within the pages of this book. She does so through prose, analytic memos, poetry, music, and moving storytelling. This materialization is not only a brilliant artistic and creative move. It is also an intensely profound, highly philosophical, and complexly theoretical one. It shows us one way to contribute more marginalized voices and stories to multiple scholarly fields, and everyday women’s lives, simultaneously.
This demonstration not only reveals Jeanine’s stunning power as a scholar and educator; it also signifies the epistemological and ontological revelations, of Black women. To arrive at this new, more empowered end, Jeanine holds nothing back, and rightfully so. She knows that the stories of Black women do, in fact, “meet with others’ stories in ways we may not consciously realize…their purposes and meanings ← xxii | xxiii → relating to our desires, intentions, the reasons we care, and the grounds for our longing to connect and understand” (p. 4). For Jeanine, this longing to connect, understand, and love can be understood in the ways her participants’ seven fragmented selves conjoin to manifest five toxic, reactionary lover identities. They are: Main Chick, one who is considered to be a man’s official, #1 girlfriend, wife, or partner; Side Chick, or a side piece, the jump off, the mistress, the #2; Bonnie, the ride-or-die figure from the “Bonnie and Clyde” allegory, one who is loyal to the death and also resourceful in her own right; Bitch, a belligerent, malicious, aggressive, sometimes fuming individual; and Victim, a person who is perpetually mistreated and abused as a result of toxicities doled out by, or through, another person’s deceit, infidelity, and violence.
Jeanine illuminates and calls into question these lover identities. She draws attention to the elusive roots of their existence. She explores the socioemotional and sociocultural impacts they exact not only on women, but also multiple others, and various communities. She does this through a critical, creative new literacies framing of the ways supremacist patriarchal ideologies and enactments manifest in love and life to construct these lover identities. She then introduces a Supreme Lover Identity as a way to overcome them. Supreme Lover Identity aligns with and pushes forward emotional and social justice through Black women’s wisdom, power, and resilience. That is but one of the many, many uncompromisingly deep beauties of this book. The Revelations of Asher rivals the limiting constraints of racist, sexist, misogynistic, patriarchal ideologies that undermine the wisdom and brilliance of Black women (and, I believe, all women).
Jeanine does this momentous, critical, and creative work beautifully and with all heart. Her research participants—Jamila, Kendra, Leah, Kaliyah, Kiera, Nola, Paloma, Tiana, Brianna, and Sabrina—trust her to do this. Through these Black women’s fragmented selves— Rajah, Asher, Nason, Maven, Kagan, Sash, and Laish—Jeanine demonstrates absolute mastery of this difficult, gorgeous, and enthralling work. She shows it all: How the fragmented selves give all they have; receive what they can hold; push back; question and interrogate; challenge and resist supremacist patriarchal ideologies and degrading enactments. Jeanine shows them all standing tall, courageously, and sometimes ← xxiii | xxiv → fearfully, re-learning ways to love selves and others. As they do these works, they are able to collectively address the pressing questions that are at the center of this endarkened, feminist, new literacies event:
“What would happen if a fragmented self could tell her own stories (and, in so doing, reveal multiple stories as a collection of one, coalesced literacy event)?”
“What would she say?”
“What could she reveal to us about the complexities of Black women’s REALITIES, knowledge, and ways of being, of love, and terror?”
Read this book and encounter the powerful answers to these questions. Read this book and begin to understand some of the reasons why many Black women love the way we love, why many Black women live the multiple ways in which we live, and how many Black women oftentimes submit to toxic fragmentations of Self. The beginning of this deep understanding is also the beginning of the deep realization of why we all must love Blackness, womanhood, and Black women—openly, powerfully, and supremely. SUPREMELY. Getting to these beginnings means that we must read this book more than once, that we must live with it, and the fragmented selves. It means that we must reflect back onto our own selves the romantic love, terror, and truth-searching that derives from the stories Jeanine Staples presents. SUPREMELY.
When we do these things, what we might begin to notice and name are those very patterns, behaviors, and stances that influence our intimate relationships with ourselves, our sister-friends, with men, our communities, and even the world. So, yes, read and re-read this intensely smart, fun, novel, and sexy book. Devour it over and over again. Get to know the names of the fragmented selves in The Revelations of Asher. In so doing, get to know their voices and stories. Learn the ways they love. Learn the ways they become toxic, reactionary lovers. Learn the ways their stories connect to the stories of other Black women who, too, seek to become Supreme Lovers instead. Then, re-learn your selves and start again until this process is a way of life. Trust me, this book is all you need. ← xxiv | xxv →
Valerie Kinloch, Ph.D.
Professor, Literacy Studies
Department of Teaching and Learning
Director and Chief Diversity Officer
EHE Office of Diversity and Inclusion
College of Education and Human Ecology
This book could not have been conceived and constructed without the influential genius of several Black (Brown and White) women (and men) who generously shared with me (both intentionally and otherwise) their voices and stories, long before this project began, and as it continued to develop, over time. I name them here to honor their brilliant souls:
My family: Henrietta Edwards Howard (my maternal grandmother). Mary Howard Staples (my mother). Russell McKinley Staples (my father). Joy Kristina Staples Alliston (my dearest sister and her husband Darec Alliston, my favorite brother-in-law). Lori Ann Staples (my dearest sister). Jenae Lorren Alliston (my Precious Angel). Russell Darec Alliston (my Honeybear). Theresa Howard McGilvery (my auntie). Jessica Hirschhorn (my auntie). Sophie Hirschhorn Howard (my baby cousin). Tommie Regina Stone Chaplin (my godmother). Myra Billups (my auntie). Angela Billups Aghaziem (my cousin). Diane Ginn (my kindergarten teacher). All the Jewels in my mother’s book club; you know who you are. The 52 Pearls of Pearlescent Perfection and each generation of the Ladies of the Upper Upper Most House of the Alpha Chapter, of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated…thank you for your unmatched excellence. The Sisters who Study to Serve, thank you for studying the Word and praying with me in the Fourth Watch for one year prior to this publication. Your sacrifice was seed. My friends: Kimberly Baldwin Norment (we go back like babies with pacifyas…and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches). Nicole Holland Thomas (my parallel and reality TV comrade). Kamau K. M. Stanford (my kindred ← xxvii | xxviii → spirit and childhood covenant friend). Kimberly E. Houston, esq. (my line sister and childhood covenant friend). Kiah N. Cobb (my sister since freshman year, at The Real HU). Iva Jade Green (my OSU Opening Doors sister). Dr. Ann Marie Stephenson (my homegirl who went from frenemie to real friend). Starlette M. Sharp, M.S. (my homie, for real…thank you for sharing the same heart and mind with me). Marjorie Menard Morris (my twin…thank you for showing me what nonjudgment really means). Dr. Theresa Adkins (my friend in the new way…thank you for committing to The Coach with me). All the Dr. Sisters at Penn State (…thank you for our dinners, marathons, writing groups, and those on-campus nods we need every day…thank you for the fellowship). The Flydocs at PENN + Our Charlie: Dr. Angela McIver. Dr. Annette Campbell Anderson. Dr. Patricia Louison Grant. Dr. Tyhesha Goss Elmore. Dr. Raymond Gunn. Y’all are soooo fly. Thank you for the long nights talking and reviewing our writing, for AAAGSE at PENN, for starting businesses with me, for writing dissertations together, for being so real, till this day. My other PENN friends: Dr. Deborah Bieler (my Boothwyn babe…thank you for reading an ultra early draft of this book). Dr. Marc Lamont Hill (my scholarly soul mate, thank you for everything). Dr. Lalitha Vasudevan. Dr. Kelly Wissman. Dr. Rachel Nichols (the Lytle protégés; thanks for staying in the trenches with me, and encouraging me to get out when it was time to go). Dr. Susan Lytle (thank you for introducing me to NLS and critical teacher education). Dr. Leslie Pratt…thank you for reading. My Black Feminist Thinker Sisters: Dr. Kristie Dotson (the fly Philosopher; we’ll always have NY). Dr. Uma Jayakumar (my partner against The Patriarchy…thank you for your ears, your eyes, your beautiful voice). Dr. Maha Marouan (my singing, laughing housemate…thank you for the many long nights talking about love and making sense of all that is senseless). Dr. Valerie Kinloch (my literacy guru…thank you for paving ← xxviii | xxix → the way). Dr. Stephanie Troutman (my former student and activisting feminist…thank you for asking the hard questions).
And to the Pennsylvania State University doctoral candidates in the Language, Culture, and Society and Higher Education Programs who served as early readers of this book, editors, and commentators. Thank you:
Talia Carroll. Wideline Seraphin. Donna-Marie Cole-Malott. Pauli Badenhorst. Ana Diaz-Beltran. Andrea Pfaff Kolb. cubbie rowland-storm. Alison Tyler.
To Stephanie Lang Heilman, the wonderful, adventurous, steadfast, earnest, independent editor who learned all the rules of this event and kept them sacred.
To the men who have loved me, and those I have loved…you know who you are. Thank you for All things. All means All.
Finally, I acknowledge my foremothers in Black feminist and womanist thought. Scholars, educators, coaches, ALL.
Maya Angelou. bell hooks. Paula Giddings. Patricia Hill Collins. Toni Cade Bambara. Cynthia Dillard. Anna Julia Cooper. Elaine Richardson. Harriet Tubman. Beverly Guy-Sheftall. Niki Giovanni. Audre Lorde. Edwidge Danticat. Bebe Moore Campbell. Toni Morrison. Angela Davis. Sonia Sanchez. Ntozake Shange. Elaine Richardson. Vivian Gadsden. Nina Simone. Kimberle Crenshaw. Alice Walker. Iyanla Vanzant. Miki Turner. Julie Dash. Gloria Naylor. Harriet Jacobs. Ida B. Wells. Zora Neal Hurston. Pauli Murray, Esq. Marcia Riggs. Letty Russell. Cheryl Sanders. Francis E. White. Delores Williams. Diane Nash. ← xxix | xxx →
Each person named here has infiltrated my soul in the most profound, provocative, and peaceable ways. Thank you.
← xxx | 1 →
I was lost once.
It happened when I was seven or eight years old. I was in a mall, shopping with my mother. It was our special time together; we had so much fun. She perused the high-end dresses and designer shoes and I busied myself with hiding games. I dove between clusters of mannequins and covered my head with skirts and pencil-thin pant legs. I slipped under carousels of sweaters and waited for my mother to call me. When I was out of sight for a few seconds, she would sing my name quietly and tell me that she missed me. I’d always laugh, jump into view, and she would call me her “favorite surprise.” But on one particular occasion, I did not answer her call. To this day, I don’t know why I stayed tucked away behind that rack of blouses. I listened to her initial bidding then stood frozen as the minutes passed and she started to scream my name in fear. I didn’t see her run to find security, but I knew that she was gone. When I emerged quickly, hoping to see which way she ran, I saw no sign of her. Suddenly, our roles were reversed. I roamed the shops for what seemed like an eternity calling her name. I was afraid, and I felt guilty for so foolishly disregarding the rules of our amusement.
Soon, I grew weary of looking…hoping to find her, or be found. So, I settled into being lost. I found my way to another clothing store and looked upward into people’s faces. I hoped to recognize someone or see a spark of familiarity in my surroundings. There were none. Several adults and children who passed by looked at me curiously, but they did not stop to talk to me. So, I moved on. In my wandering, I came upon a woman’s shoe boutique that looked familiar. I stood outside and waited. Soon, my attention veered away from my circumstances and settled on a couple standing nearby. They were arguing. The man was angry and the woman looked tired and embarrassed. I felt struck by his response to her. He was visceral, turning red with each insult hurled in the woman’s direction. She cried to herself and shot nervous glances out of the corners of her bloodshot eyes. I had never seen grownups speak so harshly before. I don’t remember what ← 1 | 2 → they argued about, but I remember feeling jolted by his words. They affected me, somehow changed a part of my little girl understanding. As I stood listening and watching, reading their movements and phrases, I eased closer to the pair. I felt drawn into their conversation like a movie. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I didn’t want to miss what might happen next. It may have been my first attempt at eavesdropping. I was not a natural and was soon noticed. When The Angry Man saw The Crying Woman’s eyes focus on me with sadness, he loosed his fire in my direction and growled, “What the hell are you lookin’ at?”
My mouth was sealed shut. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. The woman tried to come to my defense, repeating over and over that I was “just a kid.” He seemed momentarily distracted, realizing that I was, in fact, a child. In the next moments, I heard my mother’s voice in the distance. She was very far away…a great distance behind me, screaming my name and running in my direction. Her voice was mingled with the sounds of walkie-talkies and the solid clump-clump-clump of fast-paced police officers. Although I did not turn to look in her direction, I knew instantly that I had been found and started to feel relaxed. The Angry Man held my eyes hostage, but he did not scare me as much as he had just two seconds prior. I knew my mother had my back. I thought the scene had ended; yet, I still felt provoked by the couple’s story. I felt my head swimming with questions. Why did they argue? Did the man want to hit the woman? I remembered him shaking. He looked as if he might choke her. Why had she stood there attempting to reason with him? Where had the violence come from? Where did it go once a witness’s eyes uncovered it? As The Crying Woman tried to reason with him, he shouted obscenities at her and cursed me indirectly. I stood gazing, while waiting for my mother to reach me. I tried to understand my reading of their adult behavior. Then, a few moments before my mother’s hand reached my shoulder, The Angry Man asked a question that startled me further. His voice mounted in irritation. He glared threateningly at me and screamed:
“Why do you care?!”
With that, The Angry Man snatched The Crying Woman and led her down the corridor in a hurry. I watched them go and felt my mother’s ← 2 | 3 → presence drawing nearer still. I never answered him. I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know. I didn’t know why I stood there staring, struggling to make sense of their story. I didn’t know why I felt so drawn in, responsible somehow…not for their trauma, but for an awareness. I know now that I felt connected to their visibility, to the idea of witnessing and understanding. I felt connected to their lived experience. But, my childhood mind could not tease apart such feelings, and my little girl mouth could not articulate such thoughts. I had not yet developed the ability to glean ideas from my heart and mind, and hold them out to be examined. So, the question taunted me for years. When my mother swooped me up, I felt her desperation. She hugged me tightly and murmured my name repeatedly. She kissed my face and held me out in front of her quizzically, looking for signs of outward damage or scar. She did not consider that I had been altered within.
She carried me away wearily, crying, thanking the police officers and clutching me to her thin, trembling frame. We headed to the mall office, where we would spend the next hour completing lost-and-found reports. I clung to her as we walked away from where the couple stood. To me, it was the site of their unfinished story and The Angry Man’s burning questions. He was angry with me for reading that moment in his life. I could tell. I had exposed him and connected myself to him. I was almost inside. I knew too much and he could not evict me from the experience. Later, when we were at home, my mother asked me where I’d been and what happened. I never told her about the couple and the questions. I didn’t think she would understand the impact they had on me. I barely did. So, I told her that I’d walked around for hours, kept to myself, and no one bothered me. But the startling question pressed in. I spent the next several years making sure that I had a grasp on why I did anything, why I questioned some things sometimes and not others, said something or kept quiet, went somewhere, got involved in some way, or avoided involvement…everything was questioned. I wanted to know why I cared, not because The Angry Man asked me, but because, eventually, I started to ask myself. Now, years later, I’m still asking. And since you’re reading this book, I’ll ask you…
Why do you care?
Have you ever thought about your intentions, your interests…whatever captivates your heart and soul? Why do you care about your education, your ← 3 | 4 → health, your family, friends, your career, your love life (or lack of one)? Why do you care about global warming? Illiteracy? Abortion rights? Gun control? Why do you care about people dying of a famine across the ocean? Why do you care that children you’ve never met are abused and mistreated? Why do you empathize with women or men whose names you do not know? Why do you spend so much time thinking about people (people you like, people you don’t like, wish you knew, wish you didn’t)? Why do you keep trying to make your relationships work? Why do you get out of bed every day, put your clothes on, and walk out the door, open to discovery, or bound to routine? Why do you dream? Why do you keep hoping? Why do you get it wrong? Why do you keep trying anyway? You must have your reasons. There has to be a point. Our lives can’t depend solely on inherited obligations and prescribed responsibilities.
I’ve thought a lot about my personal responses to such questions. More often than not, the answers are right in front of me. They exist in the stories of my life—the ones I (co)author, participate in, intersect, accept, or reject. Our stories meet with others’ stories in ways we may not consciously realize. Their purposes and meanings relate to our desire and intentions and point to the reasons we care, the grounds for our longing to connect and understand. Our stories also explicate the ways we often screw up the cultivation of new stories and the culmination of old stories. They show us who we really are, where we’re really going, and unveil the impetuses for our hearts’ desires. Our stories provide insight into what we think is real, who we believe we are or can be, and how we know what we think we know. A primary life objective may be to learn to read into and write through the stories around us and see their relevance in our own lives (this is serious business; for more on the integral nature of storytelling in understanding multiple predicaments of the human condition, go here:1 http://tinyurl.com/nvt4by7). Although I didn’t know it at the time, I began to learn this level of reading and writing when I was lost. I began to see how to begin to deeply comprehend the life stories unfolding around me, figure out my points of (un)caring, and responses to some of the burning questions. ← 4 | 5 →
This ability catapulted to new heights on September 11, 2001—a day when suddenly thousands of stories exploded into media, through my soul, and onto pieces of paper. It’s been many years since 9/11, but the date is still significantly ominous to many in the U.S. and abroad. I can unfold multiple televised scenes of the tragedy like a movie in my imagination. I remember watching the Towers fall2 (http://tinyurl.com/owf7txv). I saw people actually floating in the sky and I remember feeling shocked and sickened. I also felt the rising urge to hold something still. I wanted to arrest something to paper, make something tangible that I could grab. But, I dismissed the thought as overly dramatic. So, instead, just as I had done in response to The Angry man and The Crying Woman, I woefully watched the stories of American firefighters and police officers cross paths with those of daycare workers, financial brokers, accountants, and electricians. Their stories became even further entangled with those of Islamic militants and violent extremists. The stories of each life crashed violently and interlocked for minutes that have now stretched into decades. Ultimately, those intersecting stories created a new story. At first, I thought I was distanced from its development. Then, I realized that my reading made me a participant. As a Philadelphian, and an American, it was not only proximity and nationality that connected me to the stories of 9/11. Unexpectedly, my understanding of my own story was affected by the ones I read on TV, in print, online, in conversation with others, and the resulting bigger story. The stories made us touch (Roy Peter Clark understands this. He speaks of How 9/11 “Storytelling Charts Our Survival”: http://tinyurl.com/3dgtadn).3
I believe we are our stories. So, each individual’s stories matter to all others as each human being matters to all others. The fact that I had never met the people I saw on television was irrelevant. The fact that 9/11 victims and perpetrators didn’t know each other’s names was of no consequence. The fact that the search parties had not seen the faces of those who were lost didn’t matter. People kept searching. People kept ← 5 | 6 → praying. People kept watching and wondering and waiting. People kept crying and talking and hoping. Something in our stories attached us to each other deeply. Many people changed forever. The clash and melding of the passions, longings and experiences of each person brought light to the answers we all seek to the burning questions. To find them out, one must read and write. That’s what I believe. That’s why I’m writing what you’re reading right now. These are reflections on one season of my reading/writing life and the revelations I discovered within myself and with my friends. My writings couch some of my stories and some intersecting stories. I’ve dug through a major chapter of my everyday life (at least so far). Through my digging, I have discovered affiliations with other people, and written them here so that I can remember what I know, why I care, why I do the things I do, and where I’m going next. I hope it’s useful to you.
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- XXX, 592
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2015 (December)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXX, 592 pp.