But let me tell you a bit of where I come from and who I am. At my core, I am a fighter. It comes from being an immigrant, born in India, raised in the States, living an Indian life at home and an American one outside while growing up. Assimilation was part of the fight, and fighting for certain rights and responsibilities was also part of the struggle. Books were my protection and my mask, so I could wrap myself in heroic adventure stories from Malory and Dumas, learn comedy from Ariel’s verdict on the human species, and later from Kingston’s brave Woman Warrior. I stole my reading, from the back of cereal boxes to surreptitiously reading the comics at the Go-Go Stationary Mart until the owner chased me out. You see why I connect with Charyn? Only I grew up in the “maddening dream of the middle class,” as Charyn puts it, the suburbs that consumes immigrants.
That paragraph is from a book review I wrote for The Key Reporter (this link leads you to the Key Reporter’s website, and displays a very interesting new collection of stories by May-lee Chai)about Jerome Charyn’s collection of essays called In the Shadow of King Saul. Charyn’s essays are about his life, and about his love affair with books. I read the book slowly, because there was so much to digest, about growing up in the Bronx, about authors like Babel and Bellow, about gangsters, about loss.
And I thought about loss, about books, about commitment. I thought about materialism, about the suburbs I never leave; suburb meaning “a passion for things more than ideas.”
I wanted my students to write about the sadness under surface tragedy, but all I could tell them was to write beginning with a sentence from “An Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by gabriel Garcia Marquez. The sentence was, “The world has been sad since Tuesday. they wrote beautifully, fiercely, perhaps even honestly.
A neighbor once told me her passion was death, but I think what she meant was how people cope with loss, how they manage grief. I think that is one story of our life, if that makes sense, how we try to manage our memories, our sense of incompetence in face of death.
I have been afraid of writing for so long, fearing failure, knowing failure. If one is rejected by the world, or seems to be rejected, then what is the next step in claiming back our life? How do we surmount our sense that is selfish to even try. We must, because the abyss is only worth looking at, not falling in. If we fell, then we have only added to another’s burden of grief. I guess what I am saying is that we muddle through, we get to the next day.