Franz Wright, "Solution"
It's hard to identify, when living in an area which isn't working for you, what is and isn't knowledge.
I am struggling to compose a "Best Of" for 2022. Certainly, there are experiences I want to share with you. For example, Kate Beaton's Ducks and Jeanette McCurdy's memoir were reads that shook me. However, what was truly transformative about this past year can't be communicated through a list. Despite setbacks and uncertainty, I got to be more of myself. I got to be a nervous wreck in job interviews and in public, a wreck who happened to say one or two things which stayed with people. Maybe just as importantly, moving confirmed certain suspicions of mine. It's hard to identify, when living in an area which isn't working for you, what is and isn't knowledge. You can see opportunities which will never be yours, but you can't be sure you've done enough for them. Once you're at a place where your value is more readily accepted, the suspicions are confirmed. There are areas defined by structures such that you could have a Nobel Prize and not receive a second's thought.
To properly explore the transformative, I would like to consider an object which means to transform someone. A poem I'd like to transform me. Enter Franz Wright's "Solution:"
Solution (h/t Timothy Colman) Franz Wright What is the meaning of kindness? Speak and listen to others, from now on, as if they had recently died. At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.
"What is the meaning of kindness?" opens Wright. Some will dismiss the question. Kindness, they believe, is an obvious good. They give it, receive it, acknowledge it. I have to take the question seriously, if only because I've known a number ready and willing to hurt others. Often they'd ask about the value of kindness cynically. When other people showed it, it was dismissed as insincere.
The meaning of kindness, then, needs explanation. Wright provides an imperative which immediately overwhelms: "Speak and listen to others, from now on, / as if they had recently died." It's beautiful, flooding us with tenderness, framing lovely moments with strangers. This meaning of kindness feels like kindness. However, how does it apply to those who have dedicated themselves to abuse or neglect? They want to be remembered, if not idolized. When you treat them with the tenderness given to the recently passed, you obligate yourself to their memories. Their just and unjust ways of seeing the world can become your obligation. The truth, not so much.
I want to speak and listen to others as if they had just moved beyond this life. And I do not want to do injustice to my experience, my values, my memories. The dead who refuse to admit wrongdoing are accountable. Infamous. To clarify this tension I want to embrace, I think it is worth quoting Alexander Chee on the necessity of wartime writing:
Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whatever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write.
"Speak to your dead.... Let them hold you accountable." I can be responsible to those better than me by working harder, asking more questions, and accepting tough truths. And I can be responsible to those who hurt others in a different way. A just accounting need not be merciless. It needs to share in tenderness, in the pity of those who don't know how to treat others well or show respect. It needs to pity those who do not earnestly ask why dignity matters.
Still, I wonder who I envision when I picture myself speaking and listening to others as if they had recently died. Yeah, whoever that person is, they're a much better person than I am now. Too much better. Wright says "[a]t the core the seen and unseen worlds are one." I can't help but feel I would have to learn how to grapple with an invisible world in order to glimpse my best self. An imperative so compelling, so overwhelming, brings us to those moments everything must change to continue being.