Several of my friends have criticized the fact that I have not substituted the 'Je Suis Charlie' logo for my profile photo. Of course I am a supporter of freedom of speech, in all forms; it's just that I'm not sure I can truthfully substitute my allegiance for my identity. I've always been fonder of the Descartesian 'Je pense, donc, je suis'. I am really not Charlie; I am Writerless. In English we say 'I am….'; the French actually say 'I call myself….'. There's a difference. Personally, I prefer to call myself a given name and to 'be' without the object.
Terrorism is irrational and unfathomable to me. Violence in the name of religion is doubly absurd. While I believe staunchly that everyone should be allowed to express themselves, to write things, to expose things, to disagree, to disbelieve-- I avoid offending the sensitive. There are some issues--- religious, personal, whatever-- -that offend people. I don't need to make fun of people who have no sense of humor, and I don't need to hurt people who seem to be easily injured.
I'll never forget my own father telling me many years ago on the phone 'If you want to give me a birthday present, don't ever call me'. I cringe if I telephone their house. He hates me for something I'm sure I never did. It's a form of personal discrimination I could never resolve; nor would I ever apologize or ask. I definitely avoid ridiculing the guy; he was a war hero and I respect his right to resent me or dislike me or whatever it is. Probably it's some form of shame that he's twisted into this vendetta, because I witnessed things I wasn't meant to, and like Charlie, I am unwilling to keep quiet or lie. Nothing in life is more heinous than disguising a vicious truth. I just don't draw cartoons that make fun of my father's flaws. I do write poetry that he would never recognize. His parental rejection informs my creative life in a way that liberates me. I don't have an allegiance; I am free.
My friend has an art gallery. She has a point of view and has struggled over the years, but she's on the brink of some huge success and suddenly she has hired a consultant to help her with her 'brand'. All of this is so offensively absurd, not to mention that the consultant charges a massive fee to essentially take the unique POV which has taken years to develop and round the edges and file down the points so that it resembles something she can describe with other people's familiar adjectives. This is to take her over the threshold of massive success and international 'presence' which essentially puts her in a contest with similarly branded entities and makes her eligible for a piece of the massive economic pie. It's like people no longer have a dog; they have a breed. Je suis Fido.
Last night I was reading a poetry collection on the way home. It began with a section of new poems. I had to keep looking back to make sure this was the poet I'd loved. Then at about page 45, there was a poem about going home that took my breath away. It was from 1981. And another one--- same collection. Every line was like a rocky beach that dug into the soles of your feet as you walked to the irresistible music of the waves breaking and the misty solitary horizon. It made me cry, and wince, and fall in love with words. Here was the poet … his 'je suis' moment… emerging-- crying out, writing as he was compelled, into sleepless nights, melancholy long afternoons, hungover mornings. And as they progressed into the present, it was like looking back at some passionate love; they receded. J'etais… whatever. It was sad, because the guy has become sort of a brand-- for a poet, that is… a best-selling, award winning teacher and laureate. But you knew that if he was a real poet, he knew, too.
Lately I've been lamenting the deaths of some older musicians. Some of them were part of magical times that will never come back. They were privileged to have emerged at a time when music was rare-- not the cheap, over-marketed commodity it became. When a music store was a small shop that had a few old instruments and a bunch of eccentrics who hung out and traded records. When the blues was something that grew out of a culture and a tradition and the pure need to sing and play your heartbreak and frustration like a religion. Some of these guys I was privileged to meet--- some like Muddy had worked in cotton fields, had been the sons and grandsons of real slaves. Their limbs were hard like the trunks of trees and their hands felt rough like bark. They'd grown up in poverty, and you could feel the landscape of their roots. Few of them could read let alone read music… they had old guitars and they played the shit out of them. Each one sounded like himself. Je suis John Lee. Je suis Muddy. That's who they were-- not their given name but the thing they became. The thing that they were--- not a brand, not a style, not Eric or Joe or Kenny Wayne but Slim and Wolf and Bo and Mississippi. By being themselves, they were larger than they ever could have been. People can collect them, and imitate them, and take their names--- but they can't touch the original. But they can receive, because the original goes on giving, if we will only receive.
So while we need to sympathize and love and support what is right, protest what is wrong and cruel, what is most important is that we tell the truth-- that we tell our own truth, and that we are not afraid to think for ourselves, and be ourselves, and while we march for our causes and other people's causes, we don't forget to see how hard it is for disabled people to get through a day, and how everyone is losing someone, and thousands of innocent Nigerians are being massacred, and we will not forget what came before, and who taught us these things, and we will go on and become ourselves, we will not take anyone else's thoughts or beliefs for granted, but we will become what we are. We will let ourselves listen and look and think and feel, and we will not be deterred or deceived because nous ne sommes pas, but each of us… Je suis.