While at Rosemont, Tabor gave a talk about the value of her liberal arts education as she’s journeyed on her path towards writing, and she spoke about a letter she wrote to get a job when she was 24 years old.
“I am intrigued by the probing questions of authors concerning the human condition. And I have learned that the questions never really seem to change although the answers do. What I am trying to express is the extraordinary unity in man’s questionings throughout time and the unique ways in which he has attempted to answer the unanswerable. Job on the ash heap cries out for a rationale for his punishment; Oedipus is caught in a world that he attempts to understand and control, but he is doomed inevitably powerless; Lear in his madness cries, ‘Is man no more than this?’ It seems, I said, that the questions, the cries of anguish, in the face of the incomprehensible and inevitable, poignantly and meaningfully unite all men and all epochs of time and thought. These questions represent for me an assimilation of my reading; for reading has become an assimilation into my own experience. From my reading and from my teaching, I hope I have learned compassion and understanding for life. I have learned to search, to question, to try to understand. My study of literature has given me much more than a compilation of names and titles; it has given me a sensitivity to existence. Or at least I hoped that was true. I was trying to get a job that I did not appear on paper to be qualified for and I got it.”
I asked Mary Tabor if I could reprint the above piece, and not only did she say “yes,” but she wrote the introduction to it for me. How cool is that! Such generosity of spirit. I felt very moved by her talk, and this letter in particular, because Mary very much seemed like someone with a “sensitivity to existence.”
I’m so drawn to that spirit in her writing “to search, to question, to try to understand.” Every now and then, I guestion this thing I do, writing stories. To what end? For what? Rereading the above passage reminds me of what first drew me to texts, not so much for answers but for the questions. There are many ways to set one’s self against the universe (for me, it was first science, especially quantum physics). I read somewhere that the Big Bang is our own creation myth, and one wonders the price a culture pays by giving its scientists the power to create the stories that define us.
Oh, I’m always drawn off target in these blog entries. What I mean to say is that I love writing that sets itself against the unfigure-out-able, and there is something powerfully human about that desire for the theory of everything, the one sentence that defines our existence. We all know the sentence the universe has given us (life with no chance of parole), and we bang against the bars and the walls, as if someone can hear our cries.