“If our goal is to get to know each other, why don’t we just begin at the beginning?”
What a farce. The way to begin is rarely at the “start.”
We are already in the middle of so much. So much life. So much history. So much baggage. So much progress.
There is so much of us.
What a paradox – for we must “begin” somewhere.
How can we share what we’ve experienced? How can we share who we are? How can I not overwhelm?
And can we assume that we could, or might ever, know a person, I mean, really know a person?
If there is no easy “start,” where do we begin? How can we begin?
Does that thought of that task alone feel overwhelming? Isolating? Formidable? Exhausting?
Does it prevent us from even trying?
Does it feel like an investment? Does it feel like a challenge? Does it feel like a project?
Or do we learn to commit to the process of getting to know, no matter how or where we begin?
Do we choose to jump in?
Do we learn to derive pleasure, energy, and excitement from the process of getting to know?
Of getting to know another?
Of getting to know ourselves?
To mutually learn and recognize parts of us that have passed, to understand and acknowledge elements of us from the past that linger into the present, to hope for shared experiences that might bring us together as we exist toward the future?
We can be together now, and maybe, hopefully, we will find ways to be together then, whenever “then” is.
Is this the process of getting to know someone, I mean, really getting to know someone?
Are we willing to “begin” in the middle?
Are we willing to go through the process of “getting to know” when the process proves to be one filled with so much redundancy?
Or what? Do we think we are too smart for repetition?
* * *
Where do we begin? How can we begin?
Is this the process of writing?
In “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” Gloria Anzaldúa writes:
“It’s not easy to write this letter. It began as a poem, a long poem. I tried to turn it into an essay but the result was wooden, cold. I have not yet unlearned the esoteric bullshit and pseudo-intellectualizing that school brainwashed into my writing.’
“How to begin again. How to approximate the intimacy and immediacy I want. What form? A letter, of course.”
For some, perhaps it is not a letter. Perhaps it is a new form.
Anzaldúa continues later on, “I can write this and yet I realize that many of us women of color who have strung degrees, credentials and published books around our necks like pearls that we hang on to for dear life are in danger of contributing to the invisibility of our sister-writers. “La Vendida,” the sell-out.’
“The danger of selling out one’s own ideologies.’ For the Third World woman, who has, at best, one foot in the feminist literary world, the temptation is great to adopt the current feeling-fads and theory fads, the latest half truths in political thought, the half-digested new age psychological axioms that are preached by the white feminist establishment. Its followers are notorious for “adopting” women of color as their “cause” while still expecting us to adapt to their expectations and their language.”
Does intimacy require time – now, or past, or future? Or does it require depth? Even depth can be immediate.
Or does intimacy require honesty? truth? vulnerability with respect to our experience? Is that how we get around “beginnings,” the worries of linearity, of time?
Is that how we resist others’ temptations to project images onto us that we are not?
* * *
“Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger. I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories other have miswritten about me, about you. To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispel the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit. To show that I can and that I will write, never mind their admonitions to the contrary. And I will write about the unmentionables, never mind the outraged gasp of the censor and the audience. Finally, I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing.”
“The danger in writing is not fusing our personal experience and world view with the social reality we live in, with our inner life, our history, our economics, and our vision. What validates us as human beings validates us as writers. What matter to us is the relationships that are important to us whether with our self or others. We must use what is important to us to get to the writing. No topic is too trivial. The danger is in being too universal and humanitarian and invoking the eternal to the sacrifice of the particular and the feminine and the specific historical moment.”
“It makes perfect sense to me now how I resisted the act of writing, the commitment to writing. To write is to confront one’s demons, look them in the face and live to write about them. Fear acts like a magnet; it draws the demons out of the closet and into the ink of our pens.”
“Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.”
“I have never seen so much power in the ability to move and transform others as from that of the writing of women of color.”
“With women like these, the loneliness of writing and the sense of powerlessness can be dispelled. We can walk among each other talking of our writing, reading to each other. And more and more when I’m alone, though still in communion with each other, the writing possesses me and propels me to leap into a timeless, spaceless no-place where I forget myself and feel I am the universe. This is power.”
“It’s not on paper that you create but in your innards, in the gut and out of living tissue – organic writing I call it. A poem works for me not when it says what I want it to say and not when it evokes what I want it to. It works when the subject I started out with metamorphoses alchemistically into a different one, one that has been discovered, or uncovered, by the poem. It works when it surprises me, when it says something I have repressed or pretended to not know. The meaning and worth of my writing is measured by how much I put myself on the line and how much nakedness I achieve.”
– Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Fourth edition), edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (2015), pages 163-172.