How will you tell the truth today?
In response to my desperate blog post earlier this week, my friend Laura wrote with some fabulous ideas, offering them up as long as she “wasn’t writing” – which, of course, she was. That got me to thinking about how nervous we all get when called upon to put into words (oral or written) what is taking up space in our brains, guts, or other body parts. We’re afraid we won’t capture the ephemeral – or crucial – in a way that does it justice. We’re afraid that our audience might not understand what the heck we’re going on about. We behave like nervous nellies, period.
Laurie Wagner, an instructor with Writers on the Net, wrote in a short piece entitled Some Thoughts on Being Free:
We’re all a little bit afraid of what others will think of us when we put our hearts on the line and tell our stories, tell our truths. But beware my friends…you gotta tell it the way it is. You gotta tell the truth. When you start thinking about other people and how they’re going to react you’re sunk. Done. Finito. No mas. You’re not writing anymore. That’s the most important thing about this work.
You’re not writing anymore. I love that. You might be putting words on paper, but the moment you let the internal (or external) censor stop you from telling the story, the real story, you’re walking away from the point and the thrill of writing.
Writing truth = being free.
Note that I didn’t say objective truth. Other than mathematics and its cousins in the rest of science, I’m not sure there is ever one truth about anything. But writing a truth, that is at the heart of being free. The alternative? To work at a fraction of one’s capacity and with far too much worry, with audience more important than self. It’s an unsatisfying proposition: I know when I’m still miles away from the nub of things. Ignore it as I might, an unfinished piece (even if I insist that it’s done) will annoy me at odd hours of the day begging for more attention, to get it right. If I persist in my laziness, nothing good will come of it. The poem will be rejected for publication again and again, the story will bore. To fully write means to chase the damn truth down the street and kick it in the shins until it cooperates.
Not even vaguely easy to do, which is why I take comfort in the sheer number of ways that each of us can enlist in wrestling a story to the ground: novel, investigative journalism, interview, poem (free verse, villanelle, sonnet, haiku etc.), flash fiction, short short, prose poem, lyric essay, graphic novel, screenplay, diary entry, personal essay, flash non-fiction, memoir, biography, psalm, recipe, play, op-ed, blog, email, kitchen table note, Wikipedia entry, fortune cookie insert, any combination of the above — and then some.
The question for each of us is: How am I going to get at the truth today? What words will help get me there?