The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Chapter Eight — James Baldwin

F5C6A1E1-7063-4DBD-B7E0-F740681F3554It is early Sunday morning and I am wandering through the lake gardens checking on the preparations for the afternoon picnic. It is the perfect day, as Sundays usually are. Over in the grove I seem my friend Jimmy. He appears to be fishing, but there is no fishing allowed in the lake.

“Good morning Jimmy. Are they bitting today?”

“O’ Good morning Socrates. Yes, they are. I like to put a piece of bread on the end of the string and feed them. They provide me with a sense of communication, poetry in the nibbling. There is no hook so the fish are free to safely feed and I am free to simply watch and enjoy the morse codes they send me. I think we communicate without judgement from a collective point of consciousness.”

“That is an interesting perspective Jimmy. Does it work with humans as well?”

“There is no judgement from the fish as to who provides this bread for them. They do not know nor care if I am a man or woman, Black or white, gay or straight. They just eat the bread. With humans it is different. I need words to tell the other who I am. I am responsible to them in a greater way. A great deal of what I say just leaves me open, I suppose, to a vast amount of misunderstanding. A great deal of what I say is based on an assumption which I hold and don’t always state. You know my fury about people is based precisely on the fact that I consider them to be responsible, moral creatures who so often do not act that way. But I am not surprised when they do. I am not that wretched a pessimist, and I wouldn’t sound the way I sound if I did not expect what I expect from human beings, if I didn’t have some ultimate faith and love, faith in them and love for them. You see, I am a human being too, and I have no right to stand in judgment of the world as though I am not a part of it. What I am demanding of other people is what I am demanding of myself.”

“You sound more like a philosopher than a writer Jimmy although I know ultimately you are an artist who engages philosophy. We are similar in that way. We are both true to our own convictions rather than to the tastes of others. We both write what we want to write and say what we want to say. Not what others want to hear. And as you say, ‘We have both been misunderstood.’”

“You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you, Socrates. If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.”

“True. So very true.”

“But tell me Socrates. Why am I here? Why did you invite me to this world of poets, writers, artists of all forms, musicians, intellectuals and thinkers?”

“Because you greatly influenced my life, Jimmy. Your stories liberated me from feeling alone in the world.”

“You do not know how pleased I am to hear that Socrates. When I was very young (and I am sure this is true of everybody here), I assumed that no one had ever been born who was only five feet six inches tall, or been born poor, or been born ugly, or masturbated, or done all those things which were my private property when I was fifteen. No one had ever suffered the way I suffered. Then you discover, and I discovered this through Dostoevsky, that it is common. Everybody did it. Not only did everybody do it, everybody’s doing it. And all the time. It’s a fantastic and terrifying liberation.”

“I know. I was in college when I read The Fire Next Time. I was struggling with my role as a student of Western philosophy and as a Black student in a white educational, political and social system. I did not know where I belonged.”

“This is the crime of ignorance of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.”

“But we both survived to become the artists and writers we are.”

“Yes we did but we loss too many of our unacknowledged contemporaries along the way. It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you. And if you survive it, if you don’t cheat, if you don’t lie, it is not only, you know, your glory, your achievement, it is almost our only hope because only an artist can tell, and only artists have told since we have heard of man, what it is like for anyone who gets to this planet to survive it. What it is like to die, or to have somebody die; what it is like to be glad. Hymns don’t do this, churches really cannot do it. The trouble is that although the artist can do it, the price that he has to pay himself and that you, the audience, must also pay, is a willingness to give up everything, to realize that although you spent twenty-seven years acquiring this house, this furniture, this position, although you spent forty years raising this child, these children, nothing, none of it belongs to you. You can only have it by letting it go. You can only take if you are prepared to give, and giving is not an investment. It is not a day at the bargain counter. It is a total risk of everything, of you and who you think you are, who you think you’d like to be, where you think you’d like to go — everything, and this forever, forever.”

“Are you saying we are only here as witnesses?”

“During my times, I saw the sheriffs, the deputies, the storm troopers more or less in passing. I was never in town to stay. This was sometimes hard on my morale, but I had to accept, as time wore on, that part of my responsibility—as a witness—was to move as largely and as freely as possible, to write the story, and to get it out.”

“And we are still trying to get the word out Jimmy.”

“I think I know how many times one has to start again, and how often one feels that one cannot start again. And yet, on pain of death, one can never remain where one is… It is a mighty heritage, it is the human heritage, and it is all there is to trust….This is why one must say Yes to life and embrace it wherever it is found—and it is found in terrible places; nevertheless, there it is; and if the father can say, “Yes, Lord,” the child can learn that most difficult of words, Amen.”

“Amen Jimmy. Amen. Shall we join the others at the picnic? There are some new guests here and I would like to introduce you. Henry Miller and his wife June recently arrived. I believe you and Henry know each other and share many common interests.”

“That sounds perfect Socrates as long as we can continue this discussion another time.”

“It would be my pleasure Jimmy. This conversation is not finished. We have yet to speak directly to the issues of race.”

We head toward the glen where the picnic is being held. Most of the guests have already arrived. Each is dressed in the clothing of their time period but it does not seem to matter to anyone as they engage freely with each other in conversation. Johnny Hartman, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane are testing the sound system for this afternoon’s entertainment. Margaret Mead approaches Jimmy to remind him of their upcoming dialogue on race tomorrow evening after dinner and the two walk off together. I am a witness to this beautiful day and to the engaging individuals I have invited here. I feel a gentle grasping of my arm.

“Socrates. Will you be so kind to join me at my table?”

I turn to see June Miller, tall and stunning, holding my arm.

“I can not seem to find Henry or Anaïs anywhere. We are going to lunch together during the concert.”

“It will be my pleasure June.”

2AA7885A-4F9A-4363-98BB-5209385BB635.jpeg The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Chapter Nine — Henry Miller will be published on Sunday, October 14, 2018.

Cover Art “Aries” by Emilee Petersmark.