Dorothy Allison and the People We’re Afraid Of
This afternoon, while listening to an American Public Media podcast of “The Story” featuring authors Justin Torres and Dorothy Allison, I experienced exactly that. The host asked Dorothy Allison about her greatest writing hero, Toni Morrison. After a few anecdotes and an explanation of what makes Morrison her hero, Dorothy added: “I believe in political action, I believe in
organizing. Oh honey, I believe in marchin’ in the street. But what will
change people most profoundly is to be invited inside the mind and soul
of characters or individuals that they have always been afraid of.”
And maybe it was because I completed two interviews for the book this afternoon. Or maybe it was because two more events for the book tour solidified this week and another interview came in for April. Or, was it the angry former student who could only respond to my book announcement by telling me that what happens in Afghanistan, stays in Afghanistan? In either case, Dorothy Allison’s words struck me as absolutely fitting for my motivations to write Flashes of War.
The idea of going to war is scary. Being a citizen of a nation that preemptively strikes fills me with an array of conflicted emotions. Wondering about the impact of my country’s actions is likewise shock-inducing. Pondering where my tax dollars go makes me squirm. But imagining alternative solutions often leaves me coming up dry. At a certain point, with my life on the road and the country in The Great Recession, I knew I had to look long and hard at these wars. I did so with an intention to write my way toward answers to questions I had been pondering for quite some time.
But I can see now how I was also trying to write my way into the hearts and minds of people I didn’t–and may not ever–know: A gung-ho soldier, a middleman for the Taliban, an Iraqi suicide bomber, an Afghan child, a Marine Corps amputee. “Not knowing” can be very similar to “fear,” if you break down the psychology, and that’s where Dorothy Allison’s quote comes into play. I think, for the three years it took me to research, write, and earn a publishing contract on that book, that I was exploring things that make me feel uncertain. And the only guide I had to help me decipher whether or not a story was finished, was whether or not the final draft lent itself toward some measure of certainty…some measure of knowing.