Write your story as though you know yourself.
The words materialize under my pen in one of my 99-cent lined composition books. As soon as my eyes read this self-generating command, I know what I ask of myself is almost impossible.
Writing as though I know myself is no simple task. Because I write in in order to know myself, there will always come moments when I look back and watch myself muddle through to that knowing (or, perhaps more accurately, to something my mind categorizes as 'knowing').
I look back on my writings and see a girl grasping in the dark, feeling for things she does not yet understand. This is how I encounter most of my book: as an old story full of evidence that I do not know myself. Or, more generatively, that I am on the brink of illumination.
The strongest parts of my book are the stories where I am not trying to make a point or assert a belief, but instead to describe sense perception: colors, shapes, words, memories. I arrange them into narratives, of course, but don't try to immediately assign or demonstrate meaning. If there is meaning, it is in how my subconscious shapes the story, not in the theological or philosophical points I hope to make. Not in the propagation of things I believed.
It's hard to work with such a beast of a manuscript. I wonder if I need to let go of the old stories.
I realize that there is an irony in considering this apocalyptic action. In the evangelical milieu I grew up in, the world was always on the brink of destruction, a slate to be wiped clean (burned) to make way for the new heaven God would create.
And so the universe laughs when I talk about letting go of the stories, of everything. As though I could. As if I had that supreme power of erasure and re-writing. As though it wouldn't be the stories erasing and re-writing me instead.
But neither can I write and finish this book within the old frames, the old assumptions and securities. I had beliefs and dogmas that stayed my course. And I believed them until it became impossible to meet the world with these burdens still strapped to my back.
I find myself not only bored with so many of my previous preoccupations, but viscerally sickened by them. White evangelicalism thrives in a kind of unreflective bubble, confronting only the questions that manage to squeeze past the gatekeepers undercover. The perpetuation of white supremacy relies on the slumber of its unwitting adherents. I find the shape of white evangelicalism unnervingly conducive to sleep.
White evangelicalism had me in a constant state of self-reflection, but a reflection that stayed comfortably in the realm of my relationship with God and my existential crises about the relationship. I was fixated on the state of my heart before God: whether my soul and body were pure in the eyes of God.
But white evangelical Protestantism spoke out of both sides of its mouth in this regard. On the one hand, I was pure because Jesus had washed me clean. But I could never be really pure in this life, except in a forensic sense. Jesus was the actual clean one, not me. God looked at me through Jesus lenses (or declared me pure on Jesus' tab).
As Alan Watts said, the church institutionalized guilt as a virtue. The best thing I could be was a sinner-saint, constantly erring, constantly cleansed.
But what was this obsession with personal purity? I see it now as a distraction, frankly. By focusing attention on the inner workings of the heart in isolation, the white church didn't have to confront itself as a larger entity and cultural force. It didn't have to face itself as a body bound to white supremacy, the Galatea to the Pygmalion of white supremacy.
The more I examine the stories I lived in as an evangelical, the harder it is to work on my book without being overwhelmed by them.
I sometimes feel impatient and frustrated with them. I want to grab the stories by the shoulders, shake them and yell, "Why don't you know me? After all we've been through? After so many years and hours I've worked on you, trying to shape you into a story that's honest and piercing and sad and beautiful, why don't I see myself in you? Why don't the words fit me anymore?"
Maybe that was my mistake, the mistake woven into the fabric of fundamentalism: the hope of fixity.
I carved an image of myself and expected it to remain as cold, still marble. And it did: the book was a faithful representation of who I once imagined myself and the world to be.
But I supposed that clinging to this hard, unmoving image would conform me to it, that I would be fixed, solid, pure. This was the ideal of Christian fundamentalism. This was the promise of all our dogmas and creeds. That the world changed, but God was unchanging, the constant in the chaos. The rock. The anchor in the storm.
The eternal, immutable scapegoat designed to defer our waking and keep us from owning our shit.
I am not a startled Pygmalion wondering at the sudden warmth flooding the face of my creation.
I am a terrified Galatea, body aflame with the rush of nascent cells, eyes fluttering open for the first time. I am not the cold, brittle marble that white evangelicalism wished me to be: silent, still, breathless, witless.
I am a body frenzied with sensation, shot through with all the wonders and horrors of the waking world.
I write as if on the edges of consciousness, as if just beginning to wake. I make my way to the threshold and step out into the land of the living.