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Taking the Time to Save Lives

Taking the Time to Save Lives: writing, a solitary and community effort

Recently I have been feeling that there are transparent but solid walls in the universe, blocking people from one another. As visible as each of us thinks we are or want to be, no one is noticing us. Am I wrong? I’m of an older generation and technology amazes me and tires me. Are we so overwhelmed with sound bites and word bites and to due bits that everything is a blur and we can’t function in time and space? I know I feel that way sometimes.

As much as I sometimes yearn for a telephone call or a visit or even an e-mail, I have to ask myself who am I calling, visiting, e-mailing? And, when someone calls or visits or e-mails me, do I take the time to appreciate them, absorb them, respond to them—or do I feel they are intrusions? Is there something or someone I am afraid of? Does insecurity have something to do with isolation—the lack of self-esteem? Instead of appreciating space, do I berate myself, do I fear it’s because I’m no good, not a teacher, not a writer, not a friend?

I recently read an interview in the journal pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, issue #3. Reading this interview, particularly a dialogue between Marta Maria Miranda and Rane Arroyo, I cried. I cried because there are few words or images I have come across that express the loneliness I often feel. Once an interviewer asked me what was something people didn’t know about me. My life is pretty much an open book, but I responded, “they don’t know how lonely I am."

Marta and Rane articulated for me what I knew, but couldn’t put into words. I am not lonely so much because of lack of relationships (I am lonely despite close relationships), but because of who I am and will always be—some other.

The loneliness of being “other." Rane wrote to Marta: “I only wish you were my friend when I was younger. One thing we don’t talk about in discussions of race and gender is the profound loneliness we must endure—and, perhaps, conquer."

Marta wrote, “What a profound sense of connection exists within the acknowledgement of the loneliness that we share as ‘other’ regardless of what group we are in or out of at the moment."

She also wrote: “Only parts of me get connected, lots of my selves are left behind, lonely. There is an underlying sense of deep depression I feel underneath my outward cockiness and my rage when I stop fighting, arguing, and teaching. I feel very lonely, sometimes hopeless, and most of all deeply hurt."

I believe writing saves lives—connecting our stories, knowing we aren’t alone-- but who has the time to write? In order to write, do we need to be strong willed, ignore e-mails, phone calls, community events? I believe we do. I also believe, however, that participating in grassroots events and/or attending them is just as important. I know I need community to support me/to remind me my work as a writer/teacher is important—don’t we all? I also know I haven’t written anything for maybe six months—and what was the last event I attended? Juliana’s play at Mixed Blood Theater? No, I think it was Split Rock instructors reading at the Split Rock Soiree the end of July. I know which events I tell myself I’m going to, then don’t. Why didn’t I go to the Peace Island benefit reading? I planned to go, I was looking forward to going.

A recent publication reading (Anya Achtenberg, STORIES OF DEVIL-GIRL and my book, HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE serial essays that saved a woman’s life) at Amazon Bookstore reminded me to not look back but forwards. We may send a hundred e-mails announcing our events, and maybe two people show up (or more, as was the case)—but those two might just be the most important two people to enter our life/and you theirs. And, as I was, we might just be blessed with family attending our readings, and finally know our words, our stories are not imagined. Yes, I am really Black, I didn’t make it up. Here’s my cousin whose mother wrote “white‿ on his birth certificate, then crossed it out and wrote “Negro.‿ My sister, now, is checking to see what her birth certificate says. Worlds open, family happens, community embraces us—I am able to write again after months of silence.

Nikki Giovanni once said to me not to be so hard on myself. Good advice. Don’t be hard on yourself. I do the best I can. We do the best we can.

I try to let go of the empty spaces, not be sad or hurt or lonely because of them. They are a blessing really, a time I could write. I also try to appreciate and acknowledge the work of others, and therefore the busyness of others, that does contribute to saving my life, as I hope and know my work contributes to the well-being/the survival of others.

We are all busy doing what we need to do-- loving our partners, our families, our children, our grandchildren (isn’t it on this most intimate level that love, and justice, and peace can blossom)—and working to pay the rent, squeezing in time for creativity, squeezing in time for friends. It’s okay to squeeze. We have to pay the rent, we have to eat—too bad necessity takes so much of our time, but it is what it is and better than being homeless and hungry. But don’t we know, don’t we feel the energy, the spirit, the connections of the love that is everywhere—it is everywhere.

I am trying to let love overwhelm whatever isn’t love. I am trying to write and share what love I have. I am trying to embrace your writing, your love. But, we all know there are limits, there are boundaries, there are time outs. It’s okay. It’s okay. I believe we are all striving to do the best we can to save our own lives, and each others. The world is big, so big. As we tell the babies—you are so big, so big. The largeness of it all can be frightening, can be overwhelming. But, we can love one baby, one person at a time—and the world knows and is changed.

Sherry Quan Lee
August 26, 2008 Rough Draft

Anya and I will be reading at the University of Minnesota Bookstore, September 17, 4:00 p.m.



Whoa that's deep. Seriously. Been writing for years and I can honestly say that without it I might be dead. Or just really, really boring.

I've always known the connection between race and loneliness. Wrote about it in 1963 as a brown girl from Texas suddenly transplanted to a small Minnesota town. Had lots of friends, but the gringos only saw the parts of me they already recognized. Anything Mexican was overlooked, disregarded, or laughed at. The rest was consciously hidden for survival's sake. What I didn't know then is that it gets worse with age, which only adds another layer of invisibility. Sometimes, in public, I talk to people and they simply don't hear or see me. But as with all life's experiences, it interests me terribly. The frustration is accompanied by an intense fascination with the human condition, interpersonal relations, the way in which some people have more social capital than others. And I do appreciate the freedom of that kind of loneliness, the kind of internal dialogues that can arise when one is invisible, the spirit of invincibility that comes with the struggle to be heard. But then I've always believed that the loneliness created by our failure to fit the visibility requirements of a shallow society is an asset. It is precisely those most unrecognized and undervalued parts of us that give us the need, desire and ability to create. Thus, that in us which cannot be seen is not our burden but our gift.

So big!

What a perfect visual for this, Sherry. Your writing always moves me.

Yes. We must be selfish to create, and isn't that strange, that in our attempts to pull others closer by introducing them to us that we must, often, push them away first? And yet, that very selfishness gives. It's a paradox; and if I weren't supposed to be working right now, I'd explore it further... I do know, however, that there is a certain amount of pain that goes into sharing. It's a lonely business, the desire to communicate...

But isn't that how it goes? We work to survive, but we create to live.

Love you, Sherry. Thank you for putting this out there.