The Woods

The Wilderness.jpg

Over the past few weeks, I've had a lot less internet contact than I'm used to. A couple of days ago, in the most embarrassing manner, I broke my Iphone. I was really upset about how this happened. I was not very upset over the fact that it was broke.


I've been scrolling through Ross's back and forth with Andrew and various other bloggers over marriage equality. Andrew has done yeoman's work, and really engaged Ross on a level that I find, in some ways, admirable. In other ways, not so much. Increasingly, I have become aware of the commitment it takes to debate fairly and honestly. And yet even accepting that commitment, I've also come to believe that we often marshal all our apparent fairness and honesty to cover for what is, ultimately, politely spoken prejudice.

My problem is that I have come to view some questions--gay marriage among them--as beyond the realm of debate. In a world where Newt Gingrich, is allowed to credibly position himself as a defender of "marriage," there is something gut-wrenching about engaging people who think gays shouldn't be allowed to marry. I feel like I am watching Andrew very respectfully reply to a critic who demands that he prove his humanity. It is not my right to feel that way. Perhaps it isn't even logical, And surely someone must do it. But increasingly--in all such matters, and in this way--I feel unwilling. 

Since I've been out here I've gotten constant requests to respond to the latest "The Problem With Black People Is..." essay. I've obviously obliged when moved. But the less I do it, the better I feel. The best responses I've offered, the ones that leave me tingling for years, can not be done by googling around and then taking a couple of hours to pop off. They're done over months, and sometimes, years of reading and talking with people, and then retreating into the wilderness and confronting the horror of solitude and loneliness.

Years ago, when I was trying to be a poet, a good man told me "You can't get better in a crowd." I thought about that after I broke my Iphone. I felt rather silly for ever even owning one, for advocating for one, because I think my need was essentially built on a desire to not be alone, to not face the terror of my own singular thoughts.

Out here, at night, I have to walk to my sleeping quarters with a flash-light. I can hear animals moving, but can't see them and I am terrified by the fact that they can see me.  My work space is deep in the woods and wrapped in a kind of silence that a city kid, like me, has simply never beheld. There is no phone, no cell coverage, and no internet. A few days ago a storm swept through, bringing with it a bout of terrific thunder. It cracked through everything--air, trees, bone. I was so scared to be alone out there--no people, just me, the thunder, animals and rain. But after ten minutes or so, I gathered myself up and took my pad out to the covered porch, and just listened. I was still scared, but it was so very beautiful.

During my early years of blogging, I thought that the back and forth was actually sharpening my own logic and thinking. And maybe it is. But, at my core, I am selfish and each day less interested in polite, high-minded debate. Perhaps I will feel different when I return. But out here in the great green, I'm not convinced that any of it matters. 

I don't want to die debating the humanity of the blacks, the gays, the browns and the poor. You must then see, that I can never make a permanent home here. I want more.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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