To write autobiographically is to write into the mystery of self. This is a new discovery. I'm not trying to do it. My character, Alice, is reaching for God's messages in her little spirit womb of an apartment where she talks to her cat, a "familiar" of sorts, a companion whose proximity prevents her from being fully and blindly human. She is not consciously a witch; she's consciously Christian in a liberal Quaker way. By that I mean she loves Jesus and welcomes him into her home, sets a place for him at the table, and sees him as God's attempt to be known by human kind and to, conversely, know humanity. So she doesn't hide that she and I have tried paganism and Judaism and Buddhism as a dilettante might try drugs. They've left their traces, but since entering the mystery through Jesus she/I cannot debate them any longer. We are what we are. And so she helps me to write into the mystery.
Is it a special irony that she loses her calling of storytelling as I have lost mine of teaching? No. To write autobiographically is to write into the mystery of me. My character Alice and I both have the means and time to write and try it on as a new ministry. We don't know where the boundary is between our old feminism based in anger and our new faith based in love. We only know that we have crossed the border or absorbed it. We don't know if this writing is a ministry at all or a step toward one. We grieve leaving leadings that were so clear, and we wait for a sign. We don't know what the sign will be, but have faith that clarity will come.
I have given Alice pieces of my past that I believe the world doesn't know enough about. Without exception these are experiments in community building. I feel called upon to write about these moments of radical feminism and theatre. I have also given her my solo performances, stories I am intimate with that more or less subtly take apart aspects of war and non-violence, war and peace, and war and gender and identity politics. I am not an expert on any of these, but I am an authority on my experience of them.
But Alice has developed a sense of humor despite me, it seems. She is self assured and confident around little children and puppies, which I am not. She gets much of her self confidence from a life of economic security, which has eluded me. I enjoy keeping her free from the struggle to pay her way as it allows her a level of peace that is freeing. I enjoy imagining a freedom to be creative that is not burdened by an overwhelming need to remain vigilant. In a way, I have given her what I would have wanted to give a child of my own.
So Alice is privileged in a way I have noticed in many Quakers. Through her I am learning to relax around people who have that advantage. And she has never regretted not having her own children, never wished she has stayed anywhere that she has left behind. In that way, she is a forward-looking Sagittarius while I am a glancing-back relic-gathering Cancer.
But I started this blog post to think about "the mystery" and "writing into the mystery." In her book How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Pat Schneider uses the word "mystery" to mean the Great Spirit or God. Tanya Taylor Rubenstein speaks of "mystery" as that which we trust behind the creative process, which, as for the healing process, "is the foundation of your work and its integrity." On this she quotes Rachel Naomi Remen, MD:
"At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity."And this has been my experience, so far. When I distrust/doubt that mystery guides me in each step of this process, I falter. When I ask if my writing is Quaker enough, I falter. When I think of how to embed enough Quaker lingo, reference and explanation in my novel to make it an acceptable project for a Minnie Jane Artist in residence at Pendle Hill, I falter. And this is not to say that I know my work will be accepted as Quaker. Instead, it is to say that I know I am making my way as I must, trusting the same source that has been guiding me at least since I became aware of it in the early 1980s. And if, as Alice Walker asserts in her novel of self-awareness, The Color Purple, God is forever trying to please us, "mystery" is responsible for the joy I feel writing this and here and now.
I will write more as way opens.