My husband works at Value Village, one just north of Toronto. I often pick him up when he gets off, and he knows that if I arrive early I’ll be in the books section of the store. Most of what is sold there is second hand donations; which, in the case of books, can yield some wonderful, inexpensive finds. Today I looked at my usual three shelves filled with a variety of fantastic fiction. And what stared back at me was a relatively new novel… at least one I haven’t read… by Orson Scott Card.
I felt a pang of longing; I remember Card as a gifted writer, who weaves wonderful stories. But he is also one who does not respect my loves or life or marriage. Some of the things he has said in the past have been deeply wounding, even if he’s tried to talk around them since. I remember how much I used to love his writings; but understanding his perspective has meant that they are nothing short of tainted in my eyes. My sadness when I saw that book came from understanding that beauty really can hide bigotry.
We left the store and jumped in the car. Then, as I was driving home, and up came a new song by Wilco, “All Lives, You Say?”. I only rediscovered Wilco last year, but my experience in that rediscovery has been the polar opposite to what I know of Mr. Card. I’ve listened to a lot of Jeff Tweedy (singer and guitarist for Wilco); I’ve read a lot of Orson Scott Card. Both are supremely talented in their own realm, both can use that talent to draw emotions from me that reach to my very core. But now I see darkness in Card’s writing, in spite of the light that he is trying to elicit. While for Jeff (excuse me if I assume too much by using your first name; it just seems natural), I see brightness in spite of the rough texture of some of the music.
The reason is directly parallel. In my fifty years I’ve found that art is not divorced from the artist; knowing his or her (or their) background enhances the art, gives it added dimension. There is a line in one of the books I read about Wilco; it described how earlier in their career they were not “mature” enough to fully embrace a gay member of the band. That line rather haunter me. I’ve known experiences like that more times than I want to talk about, feeling a connection with another guy and yet being barred from real friendship because of his fear of my sexuality. As though any perceived possible affection for him would somehow defile the relationship. As a culture we’re getting better, but it still happens too often.
What I liked about Jeff’s description was that he… they… worked through it. I remember it specifically because I’d not heard that kind of admission before. In discussions about things like this, we like to talk in the present tense: where we are. We’re supportive, or accepting, or else we downright disapprove. But we don’t talk about where we’ve come from. We rarely talk about where we were. But it’s all part of the journey. Since those days when Jeff (and Wilco) were less comfortable with homosexuality, the band has shifted its outlook. They cancelled a show in Indiana a few years ago until state legislators changed a law that allowed religious discrimination against queer people. Proceeds from their latest single (the one mentioned above, actually) benefit Life After Hate, a group dedicated to helping people move forward in the same journey, moving from hate through compassion and forgiveness to achieve peace. Those are the kinds of stories that move me today.