On Silence

I’ve been silent on this blog for the past ten days. It’s not because there wasn’t anything going on, whether in literature or in the culture at large, but because I honestly didn’t know what to say.

While I was at Bread Loaf in August, I workshopped the opening chapter of my novel, in which a huge flood devastates a slum in Casablanca, leaving many people homeless, including my protagonist, Yacoub. The rescue efforts turn out to be a complete failure, and Yacoub and his neighbors turn up at the marketplace to complain to their local state representative. They boo him and chase him out of the slum.

My classmates gave me great comments, said they found the prose ‘evocative’ and even ‘brave.’ I was foolishly and secretly pleased with myself.

Then I got home to the news that Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans. The images of the devastation were so horrific, so gut wrenching, that I couldn’t bring myself to get up from the sofa, where I had collapsed due to a flight-induced ear problem. My feelings ranged from horror, sadness, to anger, and back again. Babies were dying of dehydration, corpses were left rotting in wheelchairs, people were looting and killing and raping, and still there was no comprehensive effort to rescue and help the survivors. My disapproval of the Bush administration is well known around these parts, but even someone as thoroughly cynical about the current government as I am had to be shocked at its spectacularly inappropriate response to the hurricane. And yes, I think rescue efforts have been slow because the refugees are black, poor, and powerless to affect the system.

Over the last few days, I’ve been trying to do what I can to help out–donating money, offering assistance, calling officials. None of it has quelled my anger. I’m really not sure what will.

I was humbled, too, by how limited my imagination had been. Faced with a real-life flood, I know I’ll have to scrap whatever it was I wrote and start over. That’s the trouble with fiction–how to write something that’s believable when, more often than not, reality pushes the limits of what’s believable.

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