Welcome to Writing the Unthinkable

from Lynda Barry’s What It Is. Why haven’t you gone out and bought this book already? Jeesh. Do I have to say it again??

There are certain children who are told they are too sensitive, and there are certain adults who believe sensitivity is a problem that can be fixed in the way crooked teeth can be fixed and made straight.

And when these two come together you get a fairytale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it.

I believe there is something in these old stories that does what singing does to words. They have transformational capabilities, in the way melody can transform mood.

They can’t transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable.

It seems that human beings everywhere understand that a child who is never allowed to play will eventually go mad. But how do we know this? And why do we know this? And what happens when we forget?

“I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable.” I read and re-read Black Beauty as a child, sobbing like the world would end, the description of the torture of the horses almost more than I could bear. But I needed it. It made something real, it told me other people knew about pain.

And I know so many non-Jewish incest victims who, as young teens, were completely fascinated with the Holocaust, all those horrible, awful, brutal details piled up. Some even became obsessed, and developed this weird thing about Jews being the victims we have to all protect (huh, wondering now how much of Christian Zionism this explains???). The ones on the far side of this, the survivors, say plainly that reading the awful stories was a kind of comfort—they made real and physical the level of emotional torment these women faced living in unthinkable circumstances.

Well, not so unthinkable, since the adult perpetrators clearly thought this stuff up and then acted it out in the world. Sometimes I want to know what was so intolerable in their own lives that the scenarios and images they created to make it okay to stay in the world involved hurting children so badly. Guess that is a circular inquiry, though, the question that answers itself forward and backward in time.

If you’ve ever been told you were “too sensitive,” what do you think the motive was behind that particular speech?

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