Friday Essay – Universal and Real

Bird by BirdI have finally finished Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird.  I started it in April.  It didn’t take me this long to finish because it was tedious or boring or disturbing or anything like that.  If it had been any of those things I would have simply put it down and forgotten about it.  I think I wanted it to last forever – it really is lovely.  So,I would sample it, take small bites and savour them for a month or so.  Of course, a book doesn’t last forever and I did come to the end of it eventually.  It was really lovely.  In one of the last chapters she has written this about writing:

“If something inside you is real, we will probably find interesting, and it will probably be universal.  So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work.  Write straight into the emotional center of things.  Write toward vulnerability.  Don’t worry about appearing sentimental.  Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent.  Risk being unliked.  Tell the truth as you understand it.  If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this.  And, it is a revolutionary act – truth is always subversive.” (p. 226)

This was also a message I heard at a workshop about spoken word poetry.  What is real for you, what is personal, will most likely connect with your audience.  Therefore, what is real and personal is universal. Not everyone in your audience is gay, or has had an abortion or has been molested by a trusted hockey coach.  But everyone has known pain, shame, isolation, the feeling of being different.  Your poetry, your writing will touch people. According to Anne Lamott a writer is morally obliged to speak this truth. This is our job, our craft, our art – to tell the truth.  This truth may not set people free, but then again it just might.  Hearing a poet’s coming out story may give someone the strength to come out.  Reading about someone else’s abuse at the hands of a trusted coach may give someone the strength to speak out and seek help.  Reading or hearing someone else’s story may shake you to your core and convince you to do something – something for yourself, for your community, for others.

I don’t know why this is.  I don’t know if there are psychologists or anthropologists who know why this is either.  Stories make us human.  Maybe dogs and dolphins and chimpanzees and gorillas tell each other stories; I don’t know about that.  What I do know is that stories – news stories, myths, novels, poetry – tell us we are connected by what makes us human.  What makes us human is our lived experience, our feelings and our stories.  So, tell your story, you just might change someone’s life.

Be Lovely to Each Other,