Tuesday, January 02, 2007

dear lisa

dear lisa,

i was so moved by your post called 'this year i want to be a real writer' and just loved the fact that you were going to honor your work by giving yourself good tools and a wonderful work space, but i was so saddened by those that spoke of the hurt caused by thoughtless critics and wounding words.

i stumbled across this chunk in a book i'm slowly moving through for review and it said so beautifully the words that i want to pass on to you.

i for one do not want to live in a world where the novelists have been swept off the face of the earth. you tell my stories. you do important work. you keep me sane. please know that i think that the work you do is some of the most important on earth. you make us gentle and cause us to think. david james duncan says it so much better than i do in 'god laughs and plays':
"One of our greatest human traits is compassion, which means, literally "to suffer with another." But this high art is seldom born in an instant as a response to watching the TV "news," or even in response to firsthand experience. More often compassion's seeds are sewn via preliminary magic known as empathy. And empathy begins with a fictive act; What would it be like to be that black girl four rose in front of me? a little white girl wonders in school one morning. Her imagination sets to work, creating unwritten fiction.

In her mind she becomes the black girl, dons her clothes, accent, skin, joins her friends after school, goes home to her family, lives that life. No firsthand experience is taking place. Nothing "newsworthy" is happening. Yet a white-girl-turned-fictitiously-black is linking skin hue to life, skin hue to choice of friends and neighborhood, skin hue to opportunity and history. Words she used without thinking - African, color, white -- feel suddenly different. And when her imaginary game is over they still sound different. Via sheer fiction, empathy enters a human heart.

To be a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, is to immerse oneself in unstinting fiction making. Jesus's words "Love they neighbor as thyself," to cite a famously ignored example, demand an arduous imaginative act. This deceptively simple line orders me, as I look at you, to imagine that I am seeing not you, but me, and then to treat this imaginative me, alias you, as if you are me. And for how long? Till the day I die!

Jesus orders anyone who's serious about Him to commit the "Neighbor = Me" fiction until they forget for good which of the two of themselves to cheat in a business deal or abandon in a crisis or smart-bomb in a war -- at which point their imaginative act, their fiction making, will have turned Christ's bizarre words into a reality and they'll be saying with Mother Teresa, "I see Christ in every woman and man."

True, the ability to love neighbor as self is beyond the reach of most people. But the attempt to imagine thy neighbor as thyself is the daily work of every literary writer and reader I know. Literature's sometimes troubling, sometimes hilarious depictions of those annoying buffoons, our neighbors, may be the greatest gift we writers give the world when they become warm-up exercises for the leap toward actually loving our neighbors. Ernest Hemingway's is the definitive statement about this. "Make it up so truly," he said, "that later it will happen that way." This, I dare say, is Christ-like advice, not just to those practicing the art form known as fiction writing, but to anyone trying to live a faith, defend the weak, or sustain this world through love."
please keep introducing us to our neighbors lisa. it is possibly some of the most important work on earth!


Sarah Louise said...

oh this is wonderful. Thanks!!

Kel said...

dear bobbie
you have the gift of encouragement
of which lisa is the lucky recipient today
as a fan of david james duncan, i'm glad you shared this excerpt from his recent book

lisa said...

Oh, Bobbie! This is so wonderful. Thank you so very much. I really DO feel encouraged and really grateful for the calling I've received. Also grateful for you.

Tell your guest I said Hi and received the package in the mail and am THRILLED and will email her when she gets home!!