Bearing Witness, Even When it Hurts

creativenonfictionSometimes I wonder if I am nothing more than a big ol’ narcissist who loves shoving her existence down other peoples’ throats via the written word.

I’m not exactly the kind of person who attracts a large, rapt audience on many, hell, any occasions, so I’ve just gotten used to telling my tales whether people want them or not.

No one’s writing crazy long sonnets, penning tales of adoration or toiling as the Dread Pirate Roberts on my behalf. Everything has always been up to me. So I write my own epics.

Which is not to infer that I just throw it all out there and best wishes to whatever sticks, pasta-like, on the wall. (If that analogy makes no sense, when I was in my two-year art program the surface behind the stove featured a near sculptural assemblage of clinging dried spaghetti. They say if pasta sticks to the wall it’s done. None of us had a trust fund. I worked restaurant and catering jobs, my roommates toiled in assorted other menial positions. We ate a LOT of pasta…)

I do indeed have an internal filter, it’s just more open that many other peoples’. Think colander as opposed to sieve. (And it is apparently time for me to eat …)

Truth is, if nothing else, I have lived my life, every last shred of it. Some of it was awesome, some not so much, and a lot of it, especially following the financial meltdown a few years back, was a lifestyle apocalypse. I’ve been to a bunch of schools, earned a bunch of degrees, worked a zillion jobs from the absolute bottom of the barrel to flying first class to Hong Kong. I’ve lived outside the U.S., and outside in a tent in someone’s backyard. I’ve moved cross-country for someone, had someone else move cross-country for me, gotten hitched…none of which really worked out that well.

Yet I am grateful for every single experience. No joke. And I feel that it’s my job to talk about what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen and the people I’ve met.

It’s not like I don’t worry about what I put out there. More often than not I wonder if I’m insane. I asked Cheryl Strayed at the River Teeth conference this summer how she does it, just lays it all out, where she finds the nerve. She said that as writers it is our job to illuminate, to put down the truth, no matter what anyone – least of all our inner critics – may think. “Do you like me?” she asked, in relation to her writing. “I don’t give a shit. Do you believe me?”

She is one of the shining stars in a genre that’s publishing amazing things right now. Everywhere I turn I read powerful, mind-blowing nonfiction that inspires me.

I consider myself insanely lucky to know Jennifer Niesslein and her amazing online publication Full Grown People. She’s written an article, The Price of Writing, for the fall issue of Creative Nonfiction. (She even mentions me in the article, which will forever give me goosebumps of excitement!)

Soul-Mate-101-coverthumbnailShe’s also just published an anthology, Soul Mate 101 and Other Essays on Love and Sex. Being a tree-hugging cheapskate, I ordered the Kindle edition, and read the entire thing the afternoon it appeared in my library. Seriously, if you love good writing, you need to buy it.

And if you love good writing, you need to understand that very few of us get paid for doing this but, like most artistic endeavors in this world, we do it because we’d lose our minds if we didn’t.

There is a disregard for those in the arts. This is why so many creative people work for free, or damn close. You don’t see council meetings and think tanks going on about how to prop up the arts like they do the S.T.E.M. curricula. (Although there is finally a realization that, to fully compete, the acronym should actually be S.T.E.A.M.)

It seems like anything that does not directly contribute to increasing wealth is disregarded. Everyone sees the rich dude driving the fancy car and wants to be like him. But that car won’t run forever without maintenance. And someone has to build the shop, and the tools, for the mechanic to use. And someone else has to grow, harvest and make the food to keep everyone from the farmer to the mechanic to the rich dude fed. And somewhere in there, someone has to bear witness.

It’s the thing that makes us human, helps us reflect, find common ground.

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