Monday, December 9, 2013

Mary Karr: "Surrender is hard for me. I'm a willful little beast"

The end-of-year holidays, as always, offer a variety of emotions; writing and teaching at Syracuse University, Mary Karr's novels and memoirs offer the chill of real failure and self-discovery of a "blackbelt sinner" with lacerating humor. Here is an excerpt from The Paris Review interview following the publication of her book, Lit (2009).

I got sober in 1989 — twenty years ago now. Only with prayer could I stop drinking for more than a day or two. Once I made three months clean, but it was a white-knuckled horror show. Call it self-hypnosis, prayer, whatever. To skeptics I say, Just try it. Pray every day for thirty days. See if your life gets better. If it doesn’t, tell me I’m an asshole. People tend to judge a faith’s value based on its dogma, which ignores religion in practice. It’s like believing if you watch enough porn or read enough gynecology books, you’ll know about pussy. For me, being a Catholic is a set of activities. Certain dogma seems nuts to me too. I’m not the Pope’s favorite Catholic. ...
When I feel God, it’s quiet. I can’t hear anything — it’s like balancing in air in some vast, windless space. If I’m trying to discern God’s will, I’ll feel a leaning sensation toward what I’m supposed to do. Like a dowser’s wand. It’s a solid tug. Even if that direction is scary for me—like refusing the first offers for Lit, or like the writing of it was. There’ll be quiet around it. This takes days, sometimes weeks. The trick is not to act until you have a solid leaning, and not to obsess until you get that—really give the problem up, in a way. You might say you leave it to your intuition. I say I leave it to the Holy Spirit. The God-centered choices tend to stay solidly quiet. I never regret or recant. ... but surrender is hard for me. I’m a willful little beast.
... You have constantly to question, Is this fair? No life is all bleak. Even in Primo Levi’s camp, there were small sources of hope: you got on the good work detail, or you got on the right soup line. That’s what’s so gorgeous about humanity. It doesn’t matter how bleak our daily lives are, we still fight for the light. I think that’s our divinity. We lean into love, even in the most hideous circumstances. We manage to hope.
(Photo by Marion Ettlinger, SFGate)

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