i just write about
what i should have done
i just sing what i wish i could say
and hope somewhere some woman hears my music
and it helps her through her day
I have always written. Even before I believed I had anything worthwhile to say, I wrote. And I read; pulled myself through childhood on one word or another; mine or someone else’s, whatever filled the need. Initially, I wrote thinly veiled, abstracted poetry, which felt safe because it was so open to interpretation. I found in it a way for me to say what I needed to say without giving myself away, without telling any of the secrets I knew I was supposed to keep. A way to rid myself of the toxicity of experiencing reality in a world where illusion was taken to be fact, of being taught to tell the truth in a world based on lies, no one was allowed to question, and seeing the consequences involved for those who did.
Back then, I wrote for myself. And if someone else got something from it, if it meant something to them, then all the better. But I was my focus. It was all about finding ways to work things out, to get all these images, all these ideas, all these emotions and juxtapositions and paradoxes out of my mind and onto the page, where I could sort them out, where I could isolate inconsistencies, where I could pinpoint inaccuracies, where I could search for truth among the chaos. When I understood my reality was based on a series of agreements, with myself and with others, and not on anything absolute and unchanging, I became addicted to truth. At that point I didn’t recognize the possibility of truths and spent my time searching, instead, for The Truth. I found myself unable to write.
As artists, as people, we are constantly changing perspectives, making new realizations, finding new fixations. We alter our realities when alter our level of acceptance, when we let go of beliefs that limits us, that are not true for us, that are not for us. Along the way, all we can ever do is tell our own truth, how we perceive things based on our own collection of recollections, obsessions and perspectives. That is what I committed myself to: to creating, to recognizing, to sharing truth. I no longer believe truth exists as an absolute, but I do believe that there are truths to be found, to be acknowledged, to be accepted.
Toni Morrison found a way to recognize a life that was lived but not valued, a voice that was raised but not heard, a story that was made but not told. She found a way to reconstruct history in her fictionalization of the life of Margaret Garner. Took a life, depicted so crudely in history, simplified and damned by the majority, dehumanized and objectified by slavery, by an acceptance of a reality in which human beings were deemed property, and allowing us to experience the complexities of her situation, her motivation, her subjugation, and she made it into a story, into an experience, into a truth, we could internalize and feel, rather than just memorize but not recognize. This allowed me to see how using a story can have more of an effect than all the proselytizing, lecturing, protesting, boycotting, and ranting I could ever do. We open ourselves up to stories, to the characters in those stories.
It gives us a window into another life, another frame of reference, another reality. It allows us to see what goes on behind the masks we all have in place in our everyday existence, which serve to divide us even as they protect us. It takes beyond the framework of truth or lie, of us or them, of fact or fiction, and into the realm of experience, of emotion, of intention.
Part of what drives me is this disparity between our actual realities and the illusion collectively agreed upon as reality. We are collections of conversations, recollections, expectations, agreements and fears. We have learned to distinguish fantasy from reality through repetition, reinforcement, and validation of what others believe and the subjugation, mockery, and dismissal of what they do not. We make agreements with ourselves, with others, about what truth is, about what reality is, about what fact is. We can choose to disagree with the collective beliefs, but we must live in this world regardless of what we decide, and it is difficult to remain vigilant to a truth when there is so much based on its fictionalization.
Allowing ourselves to remain consciously aware that we exist in an illusion others take to be fact, to recognize the willful ignorance employed, both individually and as a whole, has never been easy. Perhaps, this is where many artists are born … on the periphery, living in two worlds, aware of the possibility of more than one truth, one reality. Needing to find some way to communicate this understanding, this idea, this burden, to others in some form. Needing to find connections, to find commonalities, to find truths, in a world that defines everything in absolutes.
We are creatures initially defined by our experience, by our environment, by our access to opportunity. We exist, physically and socially, within the narrow framework of our lives; constructed by such a random variety beliefs and assumptions and conclusions, both conscious and subconscious, that it is difficult to understand ourselves, much less another. Stories give us pieces of the puzzle we are continually missing on our lives. Gives us access to the minds of others, what they do behind closed doors, what has happened to lead them up to this moment, what is left unspoken, left unsaid. In our culture of silence, we turn to fiction as a way to play connect the dots, as a way to connect, as a way to re-connect with something essential within ourselves and to see it reflected in others, see it reflected in the “other.”
I am writing my way through my life. I am finding ways to make the personal universal, to make the truth subjective, to make reality authentic. I went from veiled, abstract, imagistic poems that left me feeling safe but uninspired, to blunt, brutal non-fiction pieces that left me feeling cathartic but unsatisfied, to a blend of fiction and fact that has bridged a gap between the two. In my attempt to deal with life honestly, to find my own truths, to trust my own judgment, to understand reality, I have found fiction often tells the truth much more effectively. The thing that brings us back, keeps us reading and re-reading, keeps our focus fixated on books and films and television shows, is our ability to see much more of the whole than we ever can in our lives.
I am inspired by everything around me, by small moments throughout the day that strike me, leave me reeling, leave me feeling like something monumental has occurred, like something inside me has shifted, and it has. A thousand times a day, my perception shifts and I find new ways to see the world around me. Every tiny occurrence, every word spoken with the range of my ears, every movement captured by my vision, has something to say. And I feel I have to find a way to capture it and share it, to recognize and remember it, to acknowledge and honor it. Writing is like breathing, in so many ways I can’t explain. It is necessary to me; I will always write. It’s how I find my focus, how I decide what is real, how I establish priority and importance and intent. Even if I never published anything, shared anything, read anything, I would still write.
But part of the magic of creation is communication, the dialogue we create both between works of art and in response to them. Writing well is finding a way to take this language, created to describe objects and communicate actions and find a way to describe emotions and communicate thoughts. It is a way to remember our shared history, a way to recognize discrepancies, a way to respect our own perceptions. It is a way to acknowledge our responsibilities to ourselves, to each other, to the truth as we see it. A way to allow others in, allow them access to possibilities, to realities, to beliefs other then their own.
It is a way to give back to the world, to the writers of the words I wrapped around my own fragile frame, to the readers searching for something they can’t even define, hoping to find it buried somewhere, in between the lines, hiding behind the subtext or out in plain sight. It is a way to contribute, to participate, to communicate, to relate; a way to play connect the dots with our thoughts, with our experiences, with our personal perspectives based on all the various aspects of this life we’ve been living, on all the connections we have made. My writing is a way, both into, and out of myself. Both the act of reading and the act of writing create bridges, create connections to others, through acknowledging our reflection in their stories, in their actions, in their intentions, and to ourselves, through recognizing our own responses and allowing ourselves to question our motivations, our beliefs, our truths.