Friday, October 5, 2018

My Notes on Alice Walker's Talk

On Thursday night, I was extremely fortunate to be able to go listen to Alice Walker talk, to listen to her read her own words in her own voice. It was only through her voice did her words gain such power and beauty. She lives in her dreams in what she writes. Poetry comes to her—she does not seek it. Novels come to her in images.

Here are a few things I managed to capture in my notebook as she was talking...

"We have to believe that we are the agents of the change we want to see in the world. Though our wings may be small, though they might look weak, if they're moving, they can be changing the climate all over our world."

She thinks very highly of Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Buddhist monk, who she says taught how to take the arrow out of the heart.

"Take the arrow out of your heart instead of railing at the person who shot you. Look to yourself. Relieve your own pain. It is hard to live when we are in such pain. Be with your pain and let go of it: meditate. On your in-breath watch all the misery you have. Then breathe out what you would rather have for yourself and for others. This is your guiding direction."

(This is the essence of Buddhism:) "We've all had arrows; some of us more than others. Some may think they've never had any arrows. They're the ones who are most pinned to the wall! But as you go along, you learn that suffering is the great teacher. It takes training to recognize the benefits."

"Love the mystery of life, the unknown. Learn to be grateful you are here in this wonder. My favorite word is "amazed." I can't believe what we've blundered into, being born in this world, wherever we are. It is a gift."

(Be authentic:) "The long road home to who you really are."

"Get clarity within yourself. Wait for it. Meditate. Dream. Walk. Believe in the beauty of the world."

(Be in the moment:) "I live my life as it unfolds."

"No matter how deep the fall into obscurity and obscenity this new age portends, life might permit us to remain standing, if only on the inside."

(Let people be who they are:) "No one is going to have all the qualifications you want this person to be."

"One of the greatest joy of our life is that we always have teachers. Finding them is our task. The people who have gone before us, stood for us. We are loved by these teachers. They teach us how the world works and should work."

"Remember that we have a soul. Just the certainty of knowing that should be our lodestar."

"What goes into the making of a human being, the good and the bad, is timeless."

"All loss has a door. Stay with the curiosity about who you were and who you will be. The door at the bottom of the well will penetrate your sorrow. There is no door-less bottom to this life."

"Facing fear, stepping into your better selves, takes courage and work. Encourage people to work. Freedom is a constant struggle. Do the work. Make progress. Work is endless. Accept that, and keep doing it."

When asked what truth artists need to be shouting: "I don't believe in shouting. It's enough to get clarity, and often, clarity has to be prayed for."

"Don't waste your energy on something that doesn't matter much anyway. Life teaches you to let go. And it's a good thing to learn."

She blogs regularly about politics, books recommendations, and whatever else takes her fancy. She also shares snippets of poetry or entire original poems about current events. She's currently fascinated by Nigerian writers and the work they are producing. Her favorite book that she can recall at the top of her head is The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

An aside: She participated in the 1963 March on Washington, where she met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another aside: In 1983, she coined the term "womanist" to mean a feminist of color, thus elevating the importance of diversity in feminist pursuits.

While her book tour was for her newly-released poetry book Taking the Arrow out of the Heart, I picked up her earlier book of poems The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers, when her journey into Buddhism was still fairly young. I bought the book for her very first poem, which is in praise of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, someone whom I admire deeply and consider the most holy of human beings.

"What Makes the Dalai Lama Lovable?"

He smiles / As he bows / To Everything: / Accepting / The heavy / Burdens / Of / This earth; / Its / Toxic / Evils / & Prolific / Insults.

Whenever I see / The Dalai Lama / My first impulse / Is to laugh / I am so happy / to / Lay eyes / On / One / So effortlessly / Beautiful.

The Dalai Lama is Cool / A modern word / For / "Divine" / Because he wants / Only / Our collective / Health / & Happiness.

That's it!

What makes / Him / Lovable / Is / His holiness.

The talk and reading part of the event was excellent. Then came the conversation led by Vivian Phillips, one of Seattle's Arts Commissioners, an adjunct professor in Seattle University's MFA Arts Leadership program, and known as a communications professional and civic arts leader and advocate in the region.

In short, the conversation was a disaster. Phillips loved the sound of her own voice—she talked more than Walker could. She asked a question and then started answering it herself rather than giving Walker the floor. She had zero interviewing skills. She didn't know how to keep the conversation flowing based on what Walker was saying. She asked the most inane of audience questions without moderating them.

But worst of all, she was ill-prepared and had obviously not read anything about Walker other than some cursory biographical details and nothing of Walker's work other than The Color Purple and that, too, not very thoughtfully. I realize TCP is what Walker is known for, but she is a writer of far greater import than that one book. Walker is as much of an activist as she is a writer. A brief look through her blog reveals what she thinks about everything happening in the world today. Very little of this was brought forth in the conversation. Surely, if you were charged with interviewing a writer of Walker's stature, you would do the needful homework and really get to know your subject and their work, and brush up on interviewing skills. What a disappointment!


Vassiliki said...

How fortunate to have been able to attend this talk. She sounds like an incredibly thoughtful person. As for the moderator, that is frustrating. I have seen this happen a lot unfortunately. The interviewer is there as a star rather than someone who brings out the best in the talent.

Keira Soleore said...

I was indeed fortunate to have had this opportunity. Our Arts & Lectures series brings in wonderful speakers. Last year, it was Anne Lamott. Later this month, it is Barbara Kingsolver.

"The interviewer is there as a star rather than someone who brings out the best in the talent."

This is so true--I just never thought of it in that light. What a waste of a golden opportunity to bring to light some as-yet-unknown nugget of information/thought from an illustrious speaker. The interviewer here was showing off and basking in the attention, rather than getting out of the way and allowing the interviewee to shine.