So yesterday, I had my creative ass whopped by a group of staggeringly good poets.
That’s one of the best parts about experiencing new stories and creative acts- you get the chance to realise things about yourself you never knew, or never really wanted to acknowledge. In learning about other people, you always end up understanding more about yourself.
The truth is that the performances led me pointedly back to a fundamental issue in my writing that I keep returning to: bravery. Here are these people- people whose stories in some cases usually see them shunned and looked down upon by mainstream society- being honest and brave. They are stepping into their personal power and owning truths like superheroes, each and every one.
Me? Not so much. Oh, sure, I’ll flirt with honesty, add a hint of memoir and reality to works and avoid stating it’s truth. But the bigger truths stay firmly unspoken.
Loki’s Daughter, for example, is a story I feel like I need to tell, but every time I try, I back away. It’s curled in my brain like a bored cat batting at my innards, demanding attention and time. Have you ever seen how destructive a bored cat gets when denied the attention it wants? Not good. So not good.
The scariest part of memoir, to me at least, is opening your personal truths up to the inspection of those who experienced those same events in vastly different ways. Our memories are shaded by our life experiences, and my worst day ever might barely be a blip on someone else’s emotional radar. I used to work as a moderator on a mental health forum, and one of the biggest, most important things I’d spend a lot of time reminding people was this: your emotions and memories are valid, and someone else’s memories or emotions around an event don’t invalidate your own.
So why am I struggling so hard to understand that about myself?
As a writer, I’m still so timid, so scared of baring my soul or speaking my truths- scared of pissing people off. Which isn’t a great place to be. How can you speak truths without being honest? And where’s the line in the sand? Do I avoid telling stories that seem a little too similar to my own (yes, sometimes I actually do) in fear of upsetting someone? Do I remove characters who share vaguely similar traits, just in case someone starts wondering if that character is based on them?
How do you tell your important stories when you’re avoiding saying the important things?
Honestly? You can’t. If you edit out the important bits, you change the story. And once you change one thing, you need to change more and more, and the story you wanted to tell becomes something else. You start telling other stories, while the important one sits, getting increasingly harder to write as it gets more and more resentful (or, at least, the part of yourself hell-bent on telling the story gets resentful, and starts making life difficult in retaliation).
How much courage does it take someone to say that they will share themselves- all of themselves, the good and the bad, the scary and the amazing- with the world? How strong do you need to be to step up and accept that not everyone will like or agree with your truth, but that doesn’t matter because your truth is yours, and you get to decide how it interacts with the world?
And how do you start being that brave?
A few years back, I got the chance to ask some of my favourite authors how they dealt with emotionally fraught subjects. And the answer that stays in my head, and that’s currently on high rotation as I write this, came from one of my all-time favourite human beings, Paul McDermott:
You tell the truth, always, and you don’t let the bastards win.