Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

What would it mean for you to be blameless?

Although thoughts of new Christmas cookies are still dancing in my head, I’m going to take a breather from the kitchen to share some news. As the year begins to wind to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about the path I have walked this last year, focusing especially on where I have chosen to allocate my time and where I have not. More and more, as the world in Wisconsin has grown snowy and still, I have been mentally refocusing on my creative priorities. A big part of that has been reflecting on the immense strides that two of my friends have taken this year as artists. Most recently,  Jessica Fox-Wilson done gone and published a manuscript. It’s called Blameless Mouth, and I can’t wait to read it. Her collection of poems is focused around issues I explore over and over again on this blog and off it: hunger, consumption, and satiety. I focus on these themes often—but not always—literally, but Jessica blends the literal with the metaphorical: hunger for food, for possessions, for the intangible; and she highlights what we consume in the quest to satiate that hunger.

A large part of ourselves and the environment we have built can be illuminated if we are bold enough to identify hunger in our lives, critically examine our consumption, and cultivate a sense of satiety that perhaps doesn’t depend on consumption, at least not in the sense of exhausting resources.

For quite a while now, Jessica has used her own blog to make public her journey as an artist. She invited us in as she moved from concept to concept, from one stand-alone piece to another. Over time, she has nurtured a series of poems that have grown like a tangle of flowering vines from a single common root. Last week she posed a challenge to those of us who have been watching her build her narrative one verse at a time.

Tell me, she said, what would it mean for you to be blameless?

This is a question with heft and jagged edges. It’s the kind of question that must be handled gingerly, or it cuts. Often deeply. At the same time, it is a question that yields nothing if not grasped firmly with both hands.

It’s a question I have avoided answering for the past week.

Part of me believes that to be blameless is to be inhuman. We are all of us bruised and corrupt and angry and selfish at times. We are all of us careless and hasty. All of us understand what it is to begrudge another. All of us have been supremely worthy of blame at different points in our lives. What would it mean to be blameless? I collect even the most minor missteps I have made in my life. In my memory are dozens upon dozens of monuments to my fallibility, all of them gleaming dully like trophies. I don’t visit them regularly, but they’re there. Whenever I believe myself to be at fault for yet another infraction, I find myself there, surrounded by the collected errors of a lifetime on display in my mind. I run over and over and over them. I know all their shapes and weights and textures by heart.

I cannot be blameless. Over the years, however, I have come to understand that each and every one of the times that I have found myself to blame has been essential to beauty, to growth. Understanding the consequences of haste, the opportunity that comes with weakness, the wisdom that comes from recognizing the hurt I have caused to another—these are pieces of my life worth treasuring. Not only do they have a great deal to offer, but they also have been bought at a price. This is, perhaps, what it means to be blameless. To walk through life acknowledging when I have done wrong, avoiding similar missteps as best I can, and holding the insights from these moments as precious because of the cost at which they were bought.

To be blameless is also to be fearless, particularly where our voices are concerned. Frankly, our mouths are known to get us into trouble. We hunger for food, people, things, love. Sometimes, our mouths are full of a bitter truth, an unpopular opinion, or a call to action that demands we give up our own comfortable apathy. Too often, especially as women, we are berated or berate ourselves for speaking truth openly or for hungering, for wanting more than what we are generally allowed. Being blameless means accepting hunger as a necessary part of living and fearless speech as necessary part of living well.

Ultimately, to be blameless is not to be free of blame. It is simply to forgive ourselves and to understand that so much of what is good and beautiful in us is there not in spite of our flaws, but because of them.

I love that Jessica’s first widely public manuscript is Blameless Mouth. With each poem, with each day well-lived, with each misstep, Jessica has been growing more fearless. Although she may not know it, I have been growing more fearless alongside her. Today, here she stands in a crowd of loved ones and strangers, her hands weighted with poems.

Her blameless voice is about to be heard.


2 Comments so far

  1. [...] with us. I especially implore you to run over to my friend Laurel’s blog, because she wrote a lovely meditation on this [...]

  2. Jessica December 15th, 2010 11:36 am

    I’ve been reading this over and over these past couple of days, trying to find something to say that encapsulates my reaction. I can’t – it’s too big. Thank you, Laurel, for sharing this and for really thinking through this question so deeply.

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