The Wound That Heals

What is the value of standing witness? Atrocity and inhumanity and evil–is there a moral imperative to record it? Today I picked up a book in the library titled, The Healing Wound by Gitta Sereny. She writes of Nazi Germany and genocide with first-hand experience, but all I could think of was that title: theContinue reading “The Wound That Heals”

The Optimism of Cities

People say Seattle once had seven hills. One is now missing: Denny Hill. In 1897, city designers decided they’d had enough. And over the next 14 years, they shoved the whole thing into Elliott Bay. The project passed into history as the Denny Regrade. One hundred years after the first stage was completed, I climbedContinue reading “The Optimism of Cities”

A Prayer for a Friend

I met her when I was 19 years old. I’d been recommended for a job at the campus writing center, and she was the first staff member to greet me. It took me a minute to absorb this. Jana has cerebral palsy and relies on a wheelchair to get around. I was blinded by theContinue reading “A Prayer for a Friend”

Discomfort Required

I’m talking about the kind of discomfort that challenges us, by taking us exactly where we need to go. Audre Lorde, activist and writer, once wrote, “The severe abstinence of the ascetic…is one not of self-discipline but of self-abnegation.” When I read this at the age of 21, the ground shifted beneath my feet. WithContinue reading “Discomfort Required”

Trauma and Compassion

What if the value of our suffering–its use–is that it gifts us with compassion? I think all along I have taken the wrong approach. As a writer, I believed I was writing about my suffering. But the truth of suffering is that it is the collective, common experience of our species–and indeed of life. Akira Kurosawa wrote,Continue reading “Trauma and Compassion”

Leaving the Fold

                                It wasn’t the scientific objections. The glaring fallacies and inconsistencies in the doctrine. For me it was the morality of the thing. The Mormon worldview refuses to face the human condition squarely. Buddha, at least, could admit that “lifeContinue reading “Leaving the Fold”

Revenge and Justice

It seems I write mostly about revenge. All my characters are exacting some kind of revenge. Or think they are. Yet I feel ambivalent about it. Is revenge justice? It can feel that way. But it’s a retributive justice. A justice that retaliates. And it always seems to cost something. Mattie, in True Grit, losesContinue reading “Revenge and Justice”

The Hardest Kind of Honesty

I tell lies. Whole packs of them. Mostly to myself, but I don’t think that in the least softens the crime. Because once I start to believe them, they get passed off on other people as truths. And then it just gets worse from there. But I don’t count fiction among my lies. Fiction, you’llContinue reading “The Hardest Kind of Honesty”

The Communities We Come By

Back when my brother and I were living in our first apartment, and I was 24, I went through this three-year obsession with self-help books. I read up on style, relationships, making friends, nutrition, career planning. One book recommended asking someone a series of questions about me. I was supposed to choose someone who knewContinue reading “The Communities We Come By”