I’ve been a little slow in getting this site up and running. Why? I’ve been working on a very difficult personal essay that I just submitted last night. And it feels great. A huge accomplishment. Not just the actual completion of the essay itself (which is a big deal coming from a poet — it’s more words to deal with than I’m used to!), but the fact that I finally told this particular story, plainly and metaphor-free.
I’m freaking out a little.
The essay makes me vulnerable. More than any other “characters” who make an appearance in the story. My real name is on it. If it gets accepted for publication, people will read it.
People will read it??
But that’s the point, right?
We poets and writers spend so much time in our little writing spaces, isolated –with language as our only company– that we sometimes forget people outside of ourselves might read (and care about!) what we have to say. That is, if we send it out into the world.
If we don’t send it out, what’s the point?
I just wrapped up another semester of teaching creative writing. Another group of young people eager to share their words, their poems, their stories: their take on the world. Some of them take my class to fulfill a creative expression requirement; others take it as a stepping stone towards their dream of being a writer. All of them leave my class with a deeper appreciation for language and how they use it to express what they think, feel, and see. Many of them also begin to understand the perils that come with being a writer.
People will read what you write. People will agree with you or disagree with you. People will celebrate you. People will cut you down. People will judge you. This last one is the harshest reality. The world is not a safe space.
So is it better to just write in your little room, crouched over a notebook, and then shove it in a drawer? Or is it better to just not write at all? To save yourself the headache, heartbreak, fury, and scathing comments? Is it better to be silent?
Not by a long shot.
Why? Because it will save your life. It will get all that ugly, angry, broken, beautiful, crazy shit that is you (and yes, we are all made up of crazy shit whether we admit it or not) outside of your body, outside of yourself and into the great wide open. Keeping things in will only build up into a powder keg. And when that spark ignites, it will be out of your control. The inevitable explosion might be pretty. It might also be dangerous. It could be both. Wouldn’t you want to channel that energy into something *not* destructive?
Me? I’d rather shape it into something productive and beneficial for, not just me, but for others. How many lives have been saved by a story? People don’t want to feel alone. When they hear a story that parallels their very lives in that moment, there is a small sigh of relief, a quiet “Thank God, it’s not just me!” or “Look at that – they made it through.” And maybe that person makes a decision to do something different. To rewrite their own story. Or maybe just to endure, knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
So when this essay I just wrote gets published –whether for this specific project or for another– I will hold my breath. Wait for the response. Hope for the best. Hope that someone connects with that story and chooses to keep going. Then breathe. And remember: I am still alive. I am here.
Being a writer is dangerous business. But, in the end, you just might save a life.