I was born, like everyone else, into a family, a community, and a world view: in my case, an educated family, a small Missouri town, and the Baptist Church.   Poetry and fiction have given me the power to choose new memes and forge my own world view.Pussy Blackface

Starting with the fairy tales my mom read me, to Pussy Blackface when I was 7,  “To a Louse” when I was 10, to Sufficient Grace when I was 70,  and always, even long after I couldn’t believe anymore, underneath, The King James Bible.  Literature has altered my world view dramatically, through a series of small, accumulating revelations, and, consequently, has revolutionized my life.

The Joy of Reading

Until I went to college, I didn’t chose books; they chose me.  I read, randomly, whatever was on the shelves of our small-town library.  Similarly, Robert Burns was all there was on my grandmother’s bookshelf when I spent long weekends with her in St. Louis — a green leather volume, the kind with the leather folded over a bit at the edges.   But while “O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us!” doesn’t seem earth-shattering to most adults, it provoked an epiphany in a small-town Baptist ten-year old.

Fiction and poetry let me live in another world.  In Darnell Arnoult’s novel, Sufficient Grace, I was Gracie.  In my real home, there was mental illness aplenty, but I wasn’t the schizophrenic; I was his daughter or sister or wife or niece.  In Sufficient Grace, I was schizophrenic.  I lived in the home of Mama Toot and Mattie, in the South, not with my mom or dad in the Midwest, and, finally, I saw schizophrenia as an opening, not an affliction.

For me now, after having read Sufficient Grace, I know my “mentally ill” father and uncle differently. While “mental illness” can cause pain, it can also nourish opportunities, produce beauty and art, and cultivate fuller, happier lives for others.   There is, possibly, redemption for all of us.


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