Guest Post, Douglas Light: Connect

The scene:

Doors ClosingIndianapolis, late September, Saturday night.

The hotel brimmed with wedding parties and attendees of the National Black MBA Association Conference.

I was attending neither.

I’d been nominated for an award for my story collection Girls in Trouble—an award I didn’t win—and had just returned from the dinner celebration and award ceremony. Was I disappointed that I came back empty handed? I’ll lie: the honor and a thrill of being nominated was award enough.

Having fulfilled my obligation of smiling and shaking hands and chatting and posing for photos, all while waiting in agony until the winner was announced, my wife and I decided to check out the town.

We hit the hotel, changed, then made our way down the hall.

Waiting at the elevator was a group dressed in gowns and suits.

Nodding hello, I stated the obvious. “Just come from a wedding?”  It was 10 p.m. The reception would have been in full swing. Drinks, dancing, and fun. The group should have been elated. Instead, they were dour. They looked like they’d just been brutalized in bankruptcy court and were now pondering a eight-floor window exit to the parking lot below.

No one responded to my question. So I asked again. “Come from a wedding?”

A grunt. “Yeah,” one woman said.

The elevator arrived. We all clambered in silently.

Guess they’re not in the mood to talk, I thought. But I was cagey. (Was it due to the fact that I hadn’t won the award, the effects of the three strong cocktails, or nasty dessert kicking about in my stomach? I can’t say.) There was no way I letting this group off easy.

When the doors slipped closed, I turned to the young woman nearest me. “What did you do wrong this week?” I asked.

She looked up at me, startled. “Nothing.”

I turned to her friend. “What did you do wrong this week?”

Her face lit with fear. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

One last query. A man in his early 20s. “And you, sir. What did you do wrong?”

He shook his head, refusing to meet my eyes.

The leader of the pack poked me in the back. “You can’t ask that kind of question in a public elevator!”

“Is there any other type of elevator?” I said, realizing that—of course—there was.

But my question silenced him.

“Well,” I announced, “would you like to know what I did wrong this week?”

Everyone turned to me, rapt.

“I lied to my students,” I said.

“About what?” the poker asked.

“Yeah, tell us,” the grunter said.

“Well, I lied about—”

The elevator chimed. The doors glided open. The lobby. “Looks like we’re here,” I said, striding out with my wife.

“What’d you lie about?” they all called after me.

But I didn’t answer.

Yes, I’d been a bit of an ass. And what did that accomplish? Nothing.

But after a day or so, I realized I had been striving for something more.

I was trying to connect. Trying to find commonality in a crowded elevator. But we’d all done something wrong that week—how could we have not? We’re human. I was, heavy-handedly, trying to tap into that fact. Trying to acknowledge that we are all in a fight to be better individuals, and that we all, daily, experience the failure of accomplishing perfection. And it’s the acknowledging and sharing of failures that make us able to relate to one another. It is what enables us to bond, to understand, and to feel we are not alone. It’s how we endure.

Good fiction does the same thing. It connects. As readers, we may never experience an Oklahoma dustbowl, a vengeful ghost, or espionage in a foreign country. But as readers, we have experienced similar joys, heartbreaks, terror, love, and disappoint as the characters in our favorite stories.  And that’s the connection. The bond. The unique universality that affirms our humanity.

And for the record, I didn’t lie to my students—at least not that week.

Guest Post, Mary Sojourner: Review of The Third Law of Motion by Meg Files

Meg Files

The Third Law of Motion, by Meg Files, Anaphora Literary Press, 2011 (reviewed by Mary Sojourner)

Newton’s third law states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It is one thing to open a book and find yourself deep in a movie of the story; it is quite another to open a book and realize that you have become the character. Meg Files brings us into the mind, heart, body, longings and profound confusion of Dulcie White, a ’60s teenage girl too quickly becoming a woman.

You may have been Dulcie. I certainly was. She is a smart, curious, sensual young woman caught in a time when it was perilous to be both curious and sensual. She meets track star Lonnie Saxbe at a dancing class her friend has persuaded her to attend. The trajectory of their connection, or more accurately dis-connection, is predictable. Any woman who has gone into an abusive relationship or marriage knows the arc. Rather than describe Dulcie’s careening out of her own life, her own self, a discussion of Files’ craft in shaping Dulcie and Lonnie is more germane.

So often, the young are cursed by what they believe are their informed decisions. They are meteors propelled by desire and the longing to be desired. Files gives us in her perfect pitch renditions of conversations – both outer and inner – an exploration of the deep, intelligent and connected love between Dulcie and her college room-mate; and the hot and dissonant passion between Dulcie and Lonnie. By shifting point of view from Dulcie to Lonnie throughout the book, we are forced to know the young man’s inchoate violence and tangled driven mind.

Files brings us into intimate knowledge of two young people who most resemble the chaos of smoke. It is often easy for women to blame other women for entering and being unable to leave abusive relationships. Any of us who have found ourselves trapped in our own terror of being abandoned – “What if there is no other lover? What if I destroy my lover by leaving? I don’t want to grow old alone.” – whether we are gay or straight may know the sensation of being mired. We may know the equally energizing and terrifying rush of fresh air when we pull ourselves free. We may certainly know the descent that follows the liberation – and how old and new voices from our childhood and the society around us begin to natter in our minds, telling us to return to the mire.

To read The Third Law of Motion is to understand more than why a woman might find herself trapped by her past and present. As Dulcie and Lonnie tell their stories, the reader comes into contact with greater notions of cause and effect. We understand the degree that Second Wave Feminism – Files never preaches ideology – provides light for a dark and potentially deadly path. I imagine some of Files’ younger students reading the book and wondering why Dulcie didn’t go to a women’s shelter, to Planned Parenthood, to an empathetic woman OBGYN. Those of us who lived through the ’50s and ’60s can answer that question. There was nowhere to go. We were alone with what we believed were our choices. We didn’t yet know that there were few choices – and that all of them were part of the swamp that held us fast.

I found myself wanting The Third Law of Motion to be required reading in all academic women’s and gender programs. Meg Files has given the gift – subtle and sorrowful – of a woman’s truth.

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– Mary Sojourner