Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The Raw Moment
In an essay called “Big Red Son” , David Foster Wallace interviewed some very devoted fans of hard core pornography. “Mooks”, as porn stars call them. Many of them it turns out found porno movies boring. Formulaic. Seen one seen ‘em all. So why watch? Because the sex in front of the cameras is genuine, one explained, what you’re really watching for are “the faces”. Specifically a very special and rarefied moment which you won’t even find in a legit Hollywood feature film. Porn stars, females especially, can fake just about anything with varying skill, but during the moment of orgasm, that most neural of facial expressions tears down the nasty girl veneer and if you look hard you can catch it as it passes by- the naked quivering soul of a unguarded human being revealed for just an instant with a heartfelt gasp and a grimace before the mask comes back on. For most of human history you had to accept marriage to see that raw moment pass over a human face. For that one instant – you see inside.
That moment of discovery is something I want to capture as a reader and a writer of stories. I think that is what suffering does for a character and for a writer, and it has to come from the writer first. We want to see the naked soul beneath the strutting and confidence. King Lear howling as he carries the dead body of his favorite daughter Cordelia. Humbert-Humbert as he makes one last rejected confession of love for Lolita even after he has destroyed her life. My own beloved Nixie, half insane and shattered, weeping blood tears at the end of “The Lady and the Unicorn”.
Happy characters can’t give us that raw, pornographic moment. Good erotica is well positioned to, though it usually fails to cross that line unless given a hard shove from behind.
I think that I have not suffered as much as others, in as much as most – not all - of my suffering, was in the abstract observance and disappointment with the world as I found it and the absence of God in the presence of human suffering. A person doesn’t lose faith in God suddenly. It’s a gradual, disease like process, like a garden being overcome with weeds of indifference. My faith went through a series of breakdowns and collapses over a period of many years. Each time I thought I had reached the bottom. Each time I found there’s always a bottom left you haven’t reached. Until you do. And then the next reveals itself. My most recent breakdown was a very public one when I was blogging on this very list, a post called “The Mook in Me” which you can read here.
A kind of epilogue exists now to that “Mook in Me” post. By some mysterious grace, its been given to me to come in contact with the object of my mook, with the very woman herself I wrote of. In “The Mook in Me” I imagined this woman living a life of personal authenticity and fulfillment, pursuing a career she was passionate about, in a solid marriage with a man who rightly adored her, cherished and helped her bloom like a wild flower sheltered by the strength of his love. My envy for her was humiliating, and in the glow of her life I felt my awful rage towards God blaze into divine hate.
I’m here to tell you, oh Friends of the Inner Sanctum – I could not have been more wrong.
No names. Respect for privacy. However, I’ll say this. Not only was she not living an ideal and authentic life, but she has endured a level of suffering and loss that was staggering to discover as she revealed only a little of it to me. Not only was she not living a life of marital bliss and creative fulfillment and prestige, but she and her four children have been homeless several times, impoverished, even living out of a tent on a campground, and twice in a homeless shelter.
And that’s not even the amazing part.
All this she endured with God and without bitterness. The bitterness certainly came to her, and she simply overcame it by force of will and faith. And she loves God with a passion I myself had never attained to. The mountain I fell off of, she scaled to the very crest and beyond. To me, that’s amazing. And out there in the wicked world, it goes on all the time.
I don’t share her faith, but I have tremendous admiration for it and the beauty of it. Not her beliefs or her god, but her faith alone is sacred and untouchable to me. How can one person, so sincerely devoted to God as myself, fall so far, just short of atheism? How can another, who suffered much more, arguably at the hands of her god if you knew her story, feel such gratitude and faith in God? How can she, unlike myself, keep her God’s hands so free of her blood?
It’s sometimes said that those whom God loves most, he makes suffer most. I don’t know if its true of God’s creations, but its true of mine. I’m fascinated by the mystery of human suffering and how happiness comes to some and not others, equally or better endowed with fortune. The characters I love most are the ones I torment most. I want to sound the bottom of their depths. I want to see the dark corners of them. I want to know them at their most intimate, that raw moment of humanity.
What I know for sure is this.
When your soul hits bottom and there’s no place to go and you’re inhabiting the dark, if you suffer creatively a certain thing is revealed to you, like a porn star’s unprofessional monkey grin of pleasure. What happens is, you’ll see other people, really see them. It’s what Buddhists call “Boddhi chita” – Noble Heart. When you realize there is no babysitter, no security, nothing to grab onto, and that everybody else is having a tough battle and we’re all in it, people will look different to you. You’ll begin to see the unspoken courage, and faith and sheer beauty in the people all around you and their sheer stubborn determination to love someone. No matter what. Then, by god, you’ll have something to write about.