Thursday, October 23, 2008

Of Saving, Bell Jars, and Mental Health

"I can only speak for myself. But what I write and how I write is done in order to save my own life. And I mean that literally. For me, literature is a way of knowing that I am not hallucinating, that whatever I feel/know is. It is an affirmation that sensuality is intelligence, that sensual language is language that makes sense."
Barbara Christian, “The Race for Theory" (1987)

I was caught in the bell jar once.

It was a very difficult place for me. I spent months buzzing in a smoky glass prison. I was haunted by spirits. I don't know where they came from or what it meant that they lingered, cold and white, over my shoulder, cobwebbed like gum in the corners of my room.

I couldn't see very well inside the bell jar. I knew two of my best friends were out there. Somewhere. I know one of them called out to me once. But I wasn't aware of anything beyond the Buzz, a quiet but heavy hum that shook the bed when I sat on it. The Buzz made the ground rumble inside my jar--which of course went with me wherever I went. So that when I sat at a desk, the pencils would jump and twitch, the computer keys would click with the force of the keyboard rocking. So that when I stepped away, all was normal. My jar, my cloud, my Buzz and my quiet little earthquake would cocoon around me, ready to travel with me anywhere. Patient, faithful and frighteningly timeless.

I think I lost a year of my life stuck in the bell jar. I was somewhere deep inside myself, banging on the glass and unable to find a way out.

And then I woke up one day and I was outside. Of the jar. Looking in at it, completely bewildered.

Around the same time I fell upon the women I began to research. I am still researching these same women today. At the time, I didn't realize I was so focused on the women. I thought I was interested in race, frontier/borderland communities, people of African descent who spoke Spanish and French, people of mixed-race who were able to navigate several worlds at once despite and because of their polymorphous identities.

What I was really interested, turns out, was how do women--how do mothers--pass on to their children a faith, love and strength in themselves that transcends society's demands.

What I was really interested in, and still am, is the complex and soulful relationship between mothers and daughters.

Using these women as a springboard, I entered a community of young scholars who were determined to make their experiences the focus of their academic interest even though our liberal arts education refused our say so. We, dammit, were going to the reading and writing that would bring our selves. We grasped for voices that were up to the challenge, but when we found our voices, the words poured out of us. On paper. Or on the seminar table.

All we needed was permission. All we needed was the space. And each other.

It is not a coincidence that my escape from the bell jar came at the same time as my quick and surprising tumble into historical research.

I was lucky enough to save my own life. I was lucky enough to have help. The individual and the collective worked together and worked a cure on me. And the haunts went away. Never to return, at least not yet. If the two events were simultaneous, then I think they never will--a voice once found can't be silenced. Not even in death.

How do women and girls become themselves? How do they come to life for themselves? How do move beyond society's demands of them and embrace whoever they are and how do they even know what that is?

I write. I read and research. I create history and I create fiction and I create poetry. Sometimes I play with multimedia. I dance. And I teach. These are the ways I begin to know myself Beyond. To affirm myself in ways that a liberal arts education, Western civ concepts, "modernity" and race theory just can't help me with. The sensual, the dark, the feminine, the warm, the wet, the blue, and the burden that is

So when women like Christian wrote that they were saving their own lives by reading, writing and researching women of color; when Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, bell hooks, and others continued along that same theme; when Deborah Gray White, Stephanie M. H. Camp, Jennifer Morgan, Nell Irvin Painter and Darlene Clark Hine scream into history that there is more than the 500th biograhy of Abraham Lincoln; when Lex, Mamita Mala, Noemi, Elle, Sudy, BFP and so many others are saving their lives and saving others lives right now, we should all listen.

When I say death was around the corner...until I opened the right book one night...and began to read...and picked up the pen...and began to write...

You should listen.

Now go play.


mamitamala said...

It's amazing really how for us, writing/speaking/reading and how we are connected through these acts is a means of survival.

Gracias for this. Without my words and yours, I would likely still be inside the jar

celi said...

thank you for this. i don't know why it took me so long to get to it but it came just in time. just when i started to crack open the lid and thought about closing the jar...

again. thank you. for this. and for seeing inside my jar. and making the exit a little easier. and just being there along the way.

love you.

lex said...

yes! i'm late as always. but i love this so much. i love this description of your project so much it makes me scream out loud in the early morning!


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