Full disclosure, I’ve had the great honor to recently work with five (mostly) debut authors—Neile Parisi (Today My Name is Billie), Sarina Prabasi (The Coffeehouse Resistance: Brewing Hope in Desperate Times), Judith Krummeck (Old New Worlds), Stephani Nur Colby (Walking with the Ineffable:A Spiritual Memoir (with Cats)), and Sharyn Skeeter (Dancing with Langston)—all of whom have written work that blurs fact and fiction. What intrigued me was whether the artist has to care about whether they’re writing one or the other, and more so in a world where fact and fiction seem to be constantly blurred. I also wondered whether the artist has an obligation to be political in such a time. And the role art can play as a salve and as a platform for illuminating truth. It may not surprise you that these artists didn’t agree on every answer to my questions. But in very short order, it will definitely not surprise you just how lively and insightful the conversation was (This conversation was conducted by email).
Ben Tanzer (Rail): Please introduce yourself and your work.
Neile Parisi: My Name is Neile Parisi. My book is titled Today My Name is Billie. The book is about a teacher, Billie Murray, who is falsely accused of physically abusing one of her students. The student’s lie extinguished her life’s dream while simultaneously erasing her self-worth. Rejected by family and friends, she is forced to reinvent herself. After a personal tragedy she gains a deeper understanding of the Gift of Forgiveness and the Power of Hope and is able to finally experience peace and power. The book explores how a single lie can spread like fire and destroy all that it touches. This book ignites hope in the tenacity of the human spirit. My book is a fictional story based on true events.
Sarina Prabasi: I'm Sarina Prabasi and my book, The Coffeehouse Resistance: Brewing Hope in Desperate Times is a memoir, and a work of creative nonfiction. It's part coming-to-America story, part memoir, and another part activist’s call to action. When my husband and I moved from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to New York City with our young daughter in 2011, we start a thriving coffee business, grow our family, and are living our American Dream. After the 2016 election, we are suddenly unsure about our new home. Reclaiming the tradition of coffeehouses throughout history, our coffeehouses become hubs for local organizing and action. Moving from despair to hope, this story is ultimately about building community, claiming home, and fighting for our dreams.
Judith Krummeck: My book, Old New Worlds: A Tale of Two Immigrants, is a work of creative nonfiction entwining the stories of my great-great grandmother, Sarah Barker, who emigrated from England with her missionary husband in 1815 to minister to the indigenous Khoikhoi of South Africa, and my own immigration from Africa to America almost 200 years later. Because I had scant facts about Sarah’s life and had to rely on secondary sources, I used my imagination to flesh out her life. So, is it fiction or nonfiction? Similarly, is the term “autobiographical novel” an oxymoron? Well, Karl Ove Knausgård wasn’t shy about owning his six autobiographical novels, My Struggle—to the point that his ex-wife and others were outraged at being “outed.” On the other hand, one theory about why Elena Ferrante chose to write under a pseudonym is that it was because her four Neapolitan Novels were autobiographical.
Stephani Nur Colby: Walking with the Ineffable: A Spiritual Memoir (with Cats) is the story of one woman’s walk through the mystery of spiritual experiences and a personal relationship with God. It is about the changing weather of belief: what we believe, why we believe, and when we believe. Drawing on childhood experiences to the present, it raises questions about readers’ own repressed positive experiences with the Divine and our relationship to the Creation brimming over with divine nearness and accessibility. It is about a spiritual approach respectful of tradition, but as free as possible from the weight of convention. It is about joy—joy, as defined by one quoted spiritual teacher, as “knowledge of the perfection of God.”
Sharyn Skeeter: In Dancing with Langston, a novel, Carrie, a business manager who always wanted to be a dancer, has two commitments today. She made a promise to her late father to move Cousin Ella, a former cafe dancer, from her condemned Harlem apartment to a safe place. She’s also committed to catch a flight to Seattle with her husband for his new job. But Cousin Ella resists leaving the apartment where she’s had salons with Langston Hughes. She also has a mysterious gift that she wants Carrie to earn. If she does, a revelation about Carrie’s father and Langston Hughes will change her life.
RAIL: A writer I know who is known for blurring fact and fiction in his work was once asked whether his work was in fact fiction or nonfiction, he responded, “No one ever asks an artist that about their paintings.” So, I ask you, does it matter if one's work is identified as fiction or nonfiction?
Parisi: Does it matter if one’s work is identified as fiction or nonfiction? No, I mean Yes, I mean No. Why must I choose? The two are often blurred as they intersect. A fictional story is fabricated based on the author’s imagination, but a nonfiction story must hold to a higher standard and could lose all credibility if sprinkled with a few fabrications. I believe that nonfiction uses many techniques of fiction to make it more appealing. A few lines of fact in a work of fiction doesn’t make it true. The labeling can be risky business. Although my first novel is based upon true events, I call my work FACTION, it’s both fact and fiction. And of course I wouldn’t want to get thrown out of Oprah’s Book Club because I mislabeled my literary work!
Prabasi: I write in an early part of the book about the unreliability of memory, and the irony of someone with a porous memory like me, writing a memoir. Another section of my book recounts an imaginary conversation with a childhood friend—a conversation I wished I could have had. As I have started reading more creative nonfiction, and autobiographical fiction, it's really challenged my notion of fiction and nonfiction as separate categories. I always thought I would write a novel, and I ended up writing a memoir. Someone I once asked for advice told me she didn't have anything useful to offer because she wrote fiction and I didn't. My friend's historical essay has characters so gripping and memorable that they lingered in my head for days. There is so much exciting writing and reading at the blurred but colorful intersection between these previously very separate categories.
Krummeck: The fact is that every writer creates from a place within their own experience—even a fantasy writer with a prodigious imagination, or a fastidious historian objectively laying out her empirical research, draw from kernels of personal experience and mindset—so perhaps fiction or nonfiction becomes more a matter of degree. Strictly speaking, Old New Worlds is creative nonfiction because I didn’t make up the facts and it’s grounded in rigorous research. But, the way that I’ve imagined Sarah’s life could be termed “historical fiction.” It’s more than just semantics—it still seems to be convenient for some agents, publishers, booksellers, and even readers, to categorize work by genre. But I do think the lines are blurring, and I’m glad. A dialog—and sometimes even a tension—between fiction and nonfiction can be invigorating and thought provoking. For instance, Everything is Illuminated is categorized as a novel, but is the protagonist, Jonathan, the author Jonathan Safran Foer? Michael Chabon’s 2016 book reads like a biographical memoir, yet it’s titled Moonglow: A Novel. Ultimately, they’re compelling stories, whatever their genre.
Colby: Yes, it does matter if a work is identified as fiction or nonfiction. A fundamental relationship of trust with the reader is involved. So much about truth is blurred these days that now, more than ever, it is important that authors strive to define honestly the essence of their works, thus freeing readers to evaluate them freely and without confusion.
Skeeter: I was a magazine journalist who taught university level journalism. I know the importance of facts to any reader who is looking for information. On the other hand, there are fiction writers who create whole universes based on their imaginations. I call Dancing with Langston biofiction. It has elements of both nonfiction and fiction. The story itself is complete fiction. Some of the incidents described in the characters’ lives are based on modified facts in the context of fiction. You see, I agree with your writer friend. To me, none of this distinction between fact and fiction matters in art. As I see it, the point of creating art is much more than simply recording facts. An artist searches for a deeper truth in that raw material. The novel, poem, painting, dance, music, play—whatever art it is—may give the reader or viewer a new way of looking at his or her world. Whatever facts or fictional techniques the artist uses are simply tools to that end.
Rail: We immediately find ourselves with a "tension," to quote Judith. Facts can be tools for creating art, but with truth so often blurred these days, is there an obligation to be clear about what is fact and what is not. So now I ask you, in the current political and social climate, do artists have a greater obligation to focus on identifying what is truth and what isn’t?
Prabasi: The obligation of artists is to be true to their art. If that art is story-telling, then the obligation is to the story. All art is political, in what it contains, what it obscures, or who it centers. This is not to say that all art is about politics, but that it is shaped by power relations, and societal norms of the time, and the artist's own place within that society. An artist makes choices in how to tell the story, and those choices are also revealing. The interplay or the dynamic tension is what makes the art interesting. As a writer of mainly creative non-fiction, I feel the obligation remains to tell the story well, whether it is fiction, non-fiction, or something in between.
Skeeter: Though these were certainly not the first to blend fact and fiction, I think the most recent trend might have started with the New Journalism writers of the 1970s. Those were writers like Wolfe and Capote who, like regular journalists, investigated for facts, but then used fictional techniques to write their books and reports. (Unfortunately, some New Journalists abused this by using more fiction than fact.) This worked when readers understood that what they were reading were dramatized accounts of factual material. This morphed into what we call now “creative nonfiction.” With that, I think readers expect facts as presented through the writer’s viewpoint. Fiction writers saw this as a way to expand their own writing to use facts in their own imaginative works. It’s not unusual to see actual events and people as characters in literary novels. (Of course, this has always been done in historical fiction.) One example is Charles Johnson’s characterization of Martin Luther King Jr., in his literary novel Dreamer. I prefer to call my novel Dancing with Langston biofiction because I use some of Doyle’s biography—and to a lesser degree that of the other characters—in a purely fictional setting. The question of “what is truth?” is one that has challenged philosophers for ages. However, for me and many artists in all media, truth is looking beyond what are considered common facts for deeper meanings that might give the readers or viewers a better understanding of their own humanity. To me, that view of truth is what art is about.
Krummeck: Well, let’s take The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. When Atwood is asked if her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian world, her response is, “Let us hope so.” Even though artists are a reflection of their political and social climate—it’s no secret that Margaret Atwood’s sequel was spurred by the Trump administration—I wonder if they run the risk of inhibiting the very essence of being artists if they take too literally their responsibility of identifying what is truth and what is not. Atwood’s response to the current political and social climate was to revisit the dystopian world of Gilead. It makes just as strong a statement by being set in a world that is (for now at least!) pure fantasy. While a good journalist does a superb job of sorting truth from untruth, I think a creative writer’s responsibility is different. It’s more about striving to be a trustworthy writer, in the sense that we trust Atwood’s world even as we know it’s made up. It’s for that reason that I felt I needed to take the reader into my confidence about giving my imagination free reign in trying to recreate Sarah’s life in Old New Worlds, so that it was clear I wasn’t trying to pass off my suppositions as fact.
Colby: Vivid writing is present in both fiction and nonfiction categories, to our benefit and pleasure. However, I do not believe that colorful writing blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction unless we want it to do so. While acknowledging that everything described in a nonfiction book cannot usually be factually exactly true (as in some recalled childhood dialogs), descriptions and assertions can remain accurate in relation to the true character and history of what took place. And I believe that identifying the book’s genre in this respect matters. For example, my nonfiction book is a spiritual memoir. I worked very hard to make it as true to life as possible. One of the reasons I wrote this book is to encourage people who may have been afraid to acknowledge their spiritual experiences, perhaps even to themselves, to do so as something meaningful and real. If there is a question in the reader’s mind as to whether I might or might not be making up certain incidents or experiences, that would undercut one of the main purposes and possible benefits of the book. I’m in sympathy with some of my fellow writers’ attempts to delineate this tricky territory with terms such as “biofiction” and “faction,” but I also think that “autobiographical novel” remains a useful and respectable term—as is “creative nonfiction” for books like my memoir. Given that “truth [is] so often blurred these days,” it is more important than ever to make these genre distinctions. A feeling of hopelessness and pointlessness can arise when people “don’t know what to believe.” Speaking from my experience as a group-home housemother to troubled boys, I think the lack of standards based in truth, not just subject to the whims of the moment, was as damaging to them, if not more, than the active abuse they received. Truth may be varied but it does exist. Being clear with our readers about the dependability of what we’ve written is a critical responsibility that affects society and the ongoing tone of our culture.
Parisi: Do I have an obligation as an author to identify what is true and what is not? There is no simple answer. I have a challenge because the border between fact and fiction is sometimes blurred. There is no simple path to truth. But there is creative justice. As a journalist your first responsibility is to the truth. It is true, writing nonfiction means you have a responsibility to be truthful and relay the facts. But you also have to craft a compelling story for the reader. You must use dialog to accomplish this. You must show more than tell. You actually contract with a reader that if they will commit to read your book, you will tell them a story. If you break that contract, the reader will no longer trust you. In a work of nonfiction you are sharing to the best of your abilities about what you think is true. I heard an author say, “all fiction is true in one universe or another.” At times fiction can tell more truth than nonfiction. But basically readers go to fiction for entertainment and fun, and nonfiction for content and subject matter. For example, you cannot take liberties when writing about military history, you must be factual. But if the issue is not of accuracy, but of aesthetics you can take certain liberties like describing a museum that you never actually entered. Many readers are seeking authenticity even in works of fiction, knowing that nonfiction is believed to be authentic. On the other hand, memoir authors often alter facts to suit their needs. Changing names even slightly can give the author greater freedom. But considering that the most interesting characters are those that are made up, created in the writer’s imagination, we sometimes misrepresent the truth. I think whether something is true or not is what is actually perceived by the reader and it is my job to give the facts when necessary and to leave the other information up to the reader’s imagination or belief system.
Rail: I am now struck by Sarina's comment, "All art is political, in what it contains, what it obscures, or who it centers." And I agree. My question then is, if all art is political, what is the artist's obligation on commenting or heightening the political discourse of the day? Said differently, if the work is already political by the very act of making it, is that enough, have you, we, done our job, or do we also have to be conscious about providing insight into what's happening around us at any given time?
Prabasi: Art can illuminate without commenting directly on the political discourse of the day. Or it can provide powerful firsthand accounts of living through political and historical moments. Artists can tackle big political topics head on, or indirectly, by building a whole other world, or by focusing on another period in human history. At its worst political art can be didactic, or lecture-y, and at its most interesting, it can linger, reveal, and surprise. I attended a talk by Barbara Kingsolver where she said she starts each novel with a question that she wants to explore, asking herself what is the big-overarching question she wants to answer. And out of that, comes everything else. This is so different to any process I have used or had even imagined, that it stuck with me, and I find myself thinking about this a lot as I start to work on my next project. What's the big question that I'm grappling with?
Parisi: There is some truth to art and politics being historically intertwined. Some art is political both in its intentions and in the way people experience it. Clearly artists (authors) are free to make political claims. It is a good thing to be able to express your political beliefs, but I find it absurd to think that all art is political. If it were true, it would be a sad state of affairs. It implies that art is sending political messages. Many things in life are designed to send clear messages and some art does just that. But I believe that most forms of art rise above the simple delivery of messages. Art deals with themes, with feelings, with beauty, things much deeper than politics. Art affects us at a deeper level. To see all art as political reduces the grand function of art into something much more shallow. Our beliefs about the world influence everything we do and say and create. Our politics don’t form our beliefs, our beliefs form our politics and are very much behind our art. I have enough politics in my life already delivered to me from all sides all the time. If there is one thing that I don’t seek when I read a novel, watch a movie, or visit an art gallery, it’s politics. When I experience art I want to be refreshed. Not everyone perceives all art to be political, therefore how could it be? I certainly don’t.
Sharyn: I’m not sure how you’re defining “political.” If you mean that all art represents its time—and the business of politics is part of every era—then, yes, some aspects of art can be political. In recent history, we’ve seen this in an extreme in Soviet era art and now, among others, art in North Korea. But for most of us outside of those societies, artists are able to choose from the many facets of their cultures to paint, dance, write, or do any other art. We can watch 24/7 news about politics. But I think too often we only see the subject of our art—which could be current politics—and miss the deep underlying themes. For instance, we could watch Romeo and Juliet for its politics and miss Shakespeare’s enduring discussion of love in various circumstances. I don’t think it’s necessary to know the language of Black American spirituals or Verdi’s operas for their art to move us to joy or sorrow. Sure, art can have political elements. But since artists aren’t journalists, their artistic work should also be about love, honor, compassion, and any other enduring human quality or question they wish to express through whatever their sense of aesthetics might be. So, to answer the question, I’d suggest that our human spirit demands more from art than CNN can offer.
Krummeck: I think I may take issue with the idea the all art is political. I wonder if van Gogh’s sunflowers are political, or a Chopin mazurka. But, insofar as much—even if not all—art takes a stand, I would want to interpret “political” as being principled rather than didactic. Yes, we all write from within the context of our time and place, and we inevitably reflect that in our work, but I think our obligation, if we have one, is as observers more than as interpreters. On the face of it, for instance, Jane Austen—with her focus on bonnets and drawing rooms and marriageability—is not a political writer. But her satirical insight into social mores is piercing, notwithstanding its deftness and lightness of touch. Was there ever a clearer case made for the property rights of women than in Sense and Sensibility? But the point is that we feel the horror of the genteel poverty of the Dashwood women not because Austen overtly comments on it, but because she creates circumstances and characters that make us identify with, and care deeply about, their fate. Certainly, there is the option of driving home the point so that the audience addresses the argument head-on in a conscious and objective way—and Bertolt Brecht used that alienation technique effectively in his plays. But I think it is more important to connect than to instruct. There is no doubt where I stand on issues of racism, colonialism, xenophobia, and evangelism in Old New Worlds, but I don’t have the answers. I can only offer my lived experience, and the most I can hope for is that it might touch a chord of recognition in my reader and make them think about it.
Colby: The political aspect is just one shade of color in the rainbow of colors emanating from an artistic work—important but not all encompassing. The implication, the slant, has to do with power in relationship. The political is present but not necessarily dominant or the central theme, even though in certain cases it may be. Love is not political; neither is faith. These can be great and powerful themes that can throw off the shackles that necessarily limit the only-political. Wasn’t it Mary Oliver who said, “Always leave room for the unimaginable,” or words to that effect? We do see through a glass darkly and in fragments, which is not to say that the fragments are not important, because they often are. But there is much more to discover, to explore, to stretch our understanding—and, as artists, for us to attempt to describe. If we are seeking the deeper meaning of things, we will inevitably be “providing insight into what’s happening around us.” Staying faithful to that search will affect the degree of benefit and awareness in all of life’s aspects that we can help bring to our readers.
Rail:“To discover, to explore, to stretch our understanding…" That's not a question, but this is: with your books out in the world, what's next for you, and how will (can) you discover, explore and stretch your understanding of the themes that are important to you as an artist and author?
Krummeck: The Egyptian-born writer, André Aciman, (Call Me by Your Name) maintains, “A hidden nerve is what every writer is ultimately about.” His is about place, as is mine to a certain extent. More specifically, my hidden nerve is about immigration—my own and, in the broader global sense, in the context of the xenophobia that is swirling around the issue, both in my adopted country and around the world. My first book, Beyond the Baobab, was a collection of essays about my immigrant experience; Old New Worlds intertwines the immigrant stories of my great-great grandmother and myself across time and place; my work in progress also touches on immigration as one of its major themes. My hidden nerve may change over time but, for now, this is the theme that I continue to explore, to write about, to talk about in the context of my writing, and to raise awareness about, if I can.
Skeeter: I recognize that we’re in a time of fast-moving transitions in many areas that affect our personal lives—climate change, migrations, technology, cultural issues, economic shifts, politics, and more. That creates anxiety-provoking challenges for all of us—including writers—because, like my character Cousin Ella, we prefer to stay in our comfort zones. To remain there, some create false narratives, fake news, and the like that look to a mythical past to avoid moving out of those zones. We do need to understand the past, as truthfully as possible, for guidance as we move ahead. But we can’t be stuck there. Since this is the transitional era we’ve been dealt, I see it as what I need to explore in my writing. So, my question I try answering in my writing is, How can we live through inevitable changes while keeping the integrity of our basic humanity?
Prabasi: I'm working on some shorter pieces while bits and pieces of my next story start to emerge. I have ideas, and some paltry notes, but nothing structured and committed to the page yet. I want to continue to explore the themes and questions that are important to me: how do we make and remake home and a sense of belonging when so many of us are on the move—by choice or as a result of larger political and economic forces? How do we remain curious and open to the unexpected and connect with each other across boundaries? How do we make meaningful art and contribute to a more fair society in a world that is controlled by extreme wealth and power? And for me, all of these questions are connected to how will we as a species respond to the existential threat of climate change? A novel or a memoir cannot answer all these questions, of course, but it can grapple with them, playfully or seriously, and contribute to a larger narrative about any of the issues of our time.
Parisi: What is next for me as an author? I have begun writing a second book continuing with the theme of “The Gift of Forgiveness.” I didn’t realize how vital it was to share this message until I presented my book Today My Name is Billie, to the senior citizen crowd. Everyone needs to learn to forgive in order to have peace and power. This forgiveness includes forgiving oneself. To date, I have presented at nine senior facilities. This began as a promotional event but has turned into an exercise of love, patience, and good humor. I have combined my stand-up comedy with my book presentation and it has been successful, well received, and has proven to be a lesson in love that has touched my heart and many others. In these facilities the seniors look forward to a variety of activities, but mainly they just want to be valued, laugh and feel loved. I provide all of these for them and they usually leave smiling and stimulated. I ask the participants to read quotes from my book and to express how they relate to them. It has been enlightening to listen to their stories and happenings from their lives. Many have laughed and many have cried as they shared good and bad memories. I always conclude with emphasizing the power of forgiveness. I promise them that they will experience peace and power if they practice forgiveness. I so value my time with these exceptional citizens and am humbled and grateful to be in their company.
Colby: In terms of what is literally next for me, I am working on three books: two are nonfiction and one a YA fantasy novel. In terms of the ongoing pilgrimage of my life, I hope that I will be able to continue as long as I can to explore mystical reality and relationship with the Unseen Power that undergirds all existence. I hope to continue to interact with the “speaking” qualities and personages of the Creation, shedding whatever is in the way within me to allow wider understanding and to make space for deeper truths, as sparked and potentized by the action of grace. There is always unending richness before us, if we are willing to both ask and receive.
Rail: To close, what have I failed to ask you today and/or what else would you like to add?
Krummeck: Your questions have been so probing and thought provoking with regard to the role of the writer as a voice of conscience, truthsayer, political commentator. All of that is vitally important. I also wonder, though, about that liminal place of imagination, chance-taking, fun. My MFA writing program at the University of Baltimore had the motto “Plork,” which is a portmanteau word from Play+Work. As writers we certainly have an obligation not to serve up drivel and falsehood, and to deliver the best work we can, but I think it’s also important not to lose sight of that magical place of creativity—that crucible where ideas can be allowed to flop around and try things on. So often, really important concepts can come out of that uninhibited place.
Skeeter: Why did I choose a building that’s being gentrified as the setting for Dancing with Langston? Very generally, we think of “gentrification” as the displacement of lower income residents in an established community, while higher income people move in. Though I don’t have an alternative name for this economic process, I don’t think “gentrification” is an appropriate term. In my novel, Cousin Ella and Jack, despite their problems due to age, are quite culturally astute and dignified—ironically, gentrified, so to speak. They’ve collected paintings, rare books, antiques, and other artifacts that represent the history of their cultural experiences. Those who are forced to move are being replaced by young people with yoga mats and market bags. However, in a bit of fairness, some of the elders’ past is dead and/or rotting. It is time for them to move. As many of us might in this situation, they resist the change that their building represents. But the fact is that neighborhoods and regions are constantly changing, everywhere. (As hard as it is to imagine, after the indigenous people, Harlem, itself, began as Dutch farmland.) All of the characters in the novel have to find ways to handle the changes happening all around them while keeping their humanity intact.
Prabasi: These questions have been thought-provoking, and led me to start thinking about the tensions in the relationship between art and market forces, a tension that has existed throughout history, but one that seems particularly striking now, with so much concentration. What does it mean to choose art? I'm always interested in the people's stories, including the story-tellers' own stories.
Parisi: I would like you to know two things, first why I wrote this book. It began as a healing process, a cathartic journey, but quickly evolved into a challenge, a competition, a contest. I wanted everyone to know what happened to me, how I was wronged and mistreated. Originally I wanted revenge, an eye for an eye, but I truly learned forgiveness throughout this process. I had hoped to warn people about what could actually happen to them. Instead I learned that the negative events in my life could be turned into a positive outcome. And second, I want everyone to know how grateful I am for the caring, outstanding people who were part of my journey, who believed in me, supported me, and loved me, my angel Mom who never gave up on me, my friend Steve Eisner who believed in me and my story, my editor Peg Moran who knew exactly what to say, my judge Steve Rohr who recognized my efforts and inspired me, my publisher Dede Cummings who applauded me and my efforts, my fellow authors who unselfishly helped me, and my multi-talented, creative, caring publicist who held my hand, complimented me, praised me, encouraged me and loved me enough to make me a better writer and a better person. I am so blessed and eternally grateful.
Colby: That we were built with great beauty and purpose, and that this holy splendor exists in every human being and every aspect of the Creation. The closer we get to the great underlying Matrix, the more joyful and authentic and powerful we become, and the more able to communicate in a more direct way with the rest of the Creation. And to do so while also still remaining “fools,” fallible and inadequate—this paradox in itself has great power, enabling us in our more lucid moments to hand over the authority to where it belongs, to God in the center of all that is. Architecturally speaking, our view of ourselves tends to be of a low-ceilinged, dirty garage, useless things piled in the corners. But this view is just the result of the “bad stories” we’ve been told as we grew up. Instead, we are each really like the most magnificent cathedrals, full of soaring light and glories, breathtaking. The humility of putting down our defenses and the courage to move however minutely toward a more active, communicative relationship with God opens up doors to this authentic splendor, surpassing all our hopes and expectations. No matter how difficult our life or circumstances, this magnificent inheritance can never be taken away from us.