I am a newbie writer who has tried many careers before coming back to the one Ms. James suggested for me in the 4th grade. I have been relying on the loyal support of friends and family and Facebook and community connections to encourage me. While these diverse groups have, for the most part, supported me over the years through my indoctrination in to radical feminism, a public use of inappropriate hyperbole and unsolicited drunken advice, lately the chorus has grown silent. Since my writing leans to the political left I comfortably discuss my atheism in my writing when I believe that religion has contributed to an injustice. As an activist, I have always felt obligated to stand in my truth, but as a writer my truth appears to be losing me an audience. Is there a bend in the art of writing? Can I transfer the rawness of being a grassroots activist into writing? Most of these people knew I did not nor ever have supported organized religion, why now are they ashamed to associate with me?
Holy or Wholly
Dear Holy or Wholly,
Well, first of all, congratulations on seeing the light – by which I mean, congrats on coming back to writing after many years. It is my growing theory that we are born how we (magnificently!) are and then life, and people in our lives, try to fuck that up, but, if we are lucky, we eventually find our way back to who we are, to who Ms. James could see we were when we were back in the 4th grade. That is no small thing. I’m excited for you.
It also sounds like you believe you are fortunate to have a lot of support – and loyal support, you say – which is also no small thing. Support isn’t just about telling you to keep up the good work. It’s having people who have your back even when you do things they don’t understand or even when you fall on your face repeatedly. Which is why, frankly, I don’t know how “loyal” the support you have is if suddenly your friends have gone silent.
But let me back up here because, look, religion is a controversial and confusing subject. That stupid saying about how you should never talk to your friends about politics and religion is stupid because you should talk to your friends about whatever the fuck you want, but it’s also onto something about human nature. People grow irrational and irrationally emotional talking about grand subjects, especially religion, which relies on an aggressive suspension of disbelief. People who have made the choice to believe often don’t like it suggested that they’ve, um, made a dumb choice. I had a book come out that occasionally mentioned God in a non-reverent, but never more than curiously agnostic and irritated, way, and Holy Fucking Shitballs, you wouldn’t believe the crazy born-again mail I’m still receiving.
But that’s the fringe crowd, right? The birthers, hot saucers, picket-soldiers-funerals-because-you-are-afraid-of-cocks-in-asses types. Well….
Guess which group can also be over-sensitive, religious, and often intolerant? Lefties! Lefties are intolerant of all kinds of shit. They’re hypocrites too! Like, they hate religion, unless it’s their particular liberal brand. A little kumbaya with a guitar on a Sunday before brunch, with a preacher who wears cargo shorts and sports a couple of silly tattoos? Ah, how hipster cool! A full-on Catholic mass with robes and incense? Bah! Oppressive! You see what I’m saying, I think. Which is really just that your leftie friends are going to be as irrationally intolerant when it comes to religion as anyone else because religion demands irrationality. Which is fine. We all need a little batshit meaning in our meaninglessness. But just as the religious demand tolerance, intolerance of the non-religious is also not fine.
Which brings me to your questions. It would be most helpful if I could interview your friends and ask them exactly why they’ve grown distant, but I don’t know them. But, but, but wait! YOU know them! Why don’t you ASK them? “Dear Friend, I’m concerned I may have offended or alienated you because of my recent essay/story/play/whatever. Could we get together and talk about it? I miss your friendship, and hope we can agree to disagree.” (So sensible, right? And no snark! Fury is confusing herself with her good manners!)
Here’s a question for you: Could the reason your friends seem to be deserting you be because you write vicious prose attacking not the institution of religion, but the religious themselves? Or do you write poems called “I hate people who believe in God!” In your letter you mention your “indoctrination into radical feminism,” which, frankly sounds awesome (all feminism is radical!), as does your grassroots activism, but this kind of passion can reach, well, a religious fervor, and you may be forgetting that conversation can only happen when we listen to, and don’t shout at, each other.
Maybe your friend chorus has grown silent because you are not reachable, because you no longer listen. If this was just a handful of friends I’d say they’re the problem, but if it’s most of them then you are either uniquely bad at choosing tolerant friends or else you are being an insufferable, intolerant ass (you do mention your “public use of inappropriate hyperbole and unsolicited drunken advice.”)
Have you heard of the National Coalition of American Nuns? I mean, holy shit, right? Surprising! They’re nuns and they are out there defending our right to birth control in the Affordable Care Act. By which I mean, it is possible to be more than one thing at a time, to be a complex person, to be a flexible person. We can all start by listening better. If you can’t hear, you can’t help. Better listening leads to better writing, anyway. And THAT is how you transfer the rawness of being a grassroots activist into writing.