Writers Write

Rules, Snot, and Barbara Kingsolver

Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t read Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, you should. It’s wonderful.

In church this week, the sermon was from the book of Mark. Church leaders condemned Jesus for healing on the sabbath. Looking for a way to get rid of the messiah, the dudes in charge poked and prodded at every opportunity. Apparently, helping someone on the seventh day was against the rules. Jesus was so pissed off, he took his supernatural medicine elsewhere. Too bad that Dad forgot the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not repair a withered arm on a Sunday.”

Today, I picked up Cherry from art class. They drew silhouettes positioned nose to nose. The effect of light against dark created a trick. Look at the dark figure, and you see people. Watch the light space in the center, and you see a goblet. The child sitting next to Cherry drew a drippy nose on her profiles. Her mother was not amused. “What is that?” “Snot.” “Why did you draw it?” “I thought it was funny.” “Erase it, now. You’ve embarrassed me.” The kid picked up a giant art gum and removed the mucus.

The main character in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna cooks breakfast for Diego Rivera and types for Trotsky. A kid alone in the world, he needed the work. Later, he wrote the great American novel. The problem was, he did it smack in the middle of Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt. When words are taken out of context, assigned to the writer instead of the character they were written for, he’s asked, “Did you write this? Answer yes or no.” “Yes.”  Guilty as charged.

Walking with Cherry out to the car, I realized, I’m like her classmate–erasing the snot off my picture. I avoid writing the truth when it doesn’t match someone else’s sensibilities. I follow the rules, not out of commitment, but fear. What good is that? Kingsolver’s novelist wasn’t a communist, but he was prosecuted anyway. Jesus was condemned for healing on the wrong day, and that kid in art class never finished a picture. Why bother? Her mother would just make her erase it.

I’ve decided to throw away my eraser.

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