Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fire Shut Up In My Bones

Charles Blow's memoir of this title is nothing short of miraculous. It resonates with me in a way no memoir has since I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing by Maya Angelou. Two black lives - hers, a generation back; his, more contemporary - lives of poverty, of the south, of resilience and sexuality interrupted. And more. More than this list. Lives of incredible spaciousness mixed with precision.

I read a chapter/passage of this book in the New York Times awhile back. Please read that here. It gives you a strong sense of his voice, his power, and his vulnerability. I knew as soon as I read it that I'd need to read the memoir.

It is so incredibly hard to write about sexual abuse. So hard to truck the line of being a victim without turning it into a litany of victim-hood. And some people do that, maybe some need to do it. But Charles Blow refuses that. He refuses to make a single story out of his abuse, though the book is peppered with references to it and begins with the moment when he confronts his abuser once and for all. It is clear it was one of the biggest events in his life - marked him for a long, long time. A deep wounding. And also that his love - for his mother, for his family, and the love he received from them, though he felt so alone for so long - may not have fixed it, but exists alongside it.

Resilience. We can't write about it until we can respect ourselves, trust ourselves, celebrate ourselves for our own survival. The gritty truth combined with compassion, the mixed-in sense of suffering and insight - these are the combinations I find most compelling. Mixed-in. A part of the same. Not separate. Not as much about overcoming and living within, breathing, surpassing while never forgetting.

Almost impossible to articulate. And yet, Blow has done it so well here, all 228 pages.

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