Saturday, October 13, 2007

My Ancestors Aren't Listening

And, to continue with the above...

The energetic and wonderful New York hip hop playwright Will Power, who's a visiting professor at UM-Flint this semester, came to my fiction-writing class this week. At one point, he said he calls to his ancestors when he's writing, and they often answer back. His ancestors, he suggests, consistently wish him well and enhance his creative juices.

I'm confounded. I'm trying to figure out how this works. As I just wrote above, in the family category, almost everybody before my generation has now kicked off. My brother and sister and my cousins and I are what count as elders now. And coming after me, in my immediate family, a single nephew and three nieces. Two of the nieces are in adult foster care, and the other, carrying a big weight of historical expectation if you buy such logic, is a beginning doctor in the first year of her residency.

I'm pretty sure my ancestors are mute.

And I have no reason to believe that if they knew me, that they'd like me or wish me well. They were very religious and didn't seem receptive to nonconformists like me, especially women like me. In their way, they were nonconformists but intolerant ones -- their nonconformity was rooted in passionate belief that everybody should be like them.

The stories I've heard about my ancestors depress me. I'm feeling cynical today, but even the most colorful ones, like my Grandfather Vandersall, a traveling evangelist, seem screwed up and unhappy. What would they say? I keep thinking, from the Great Beyond, that they might utter, like Philip Larkin,

"Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can
And don't have any kids yourself."


Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is not that your ancestors are mute but instead that you and yours are deaf to their words. Whether or not they approve of your actions does not decide on if they will give you advice. The fact that you are the blood of their blood will call to them. Even their disapproval can inspire you if you are open to the opportunities they present.

Krista said...

I've never heard of the muse coming in the form of ancestors. Yikes. That's a scary thought. I'd much rather attribute that creative force to some fractured portion of my ego, or even one of the mystical Greeks goddesses.