CRAZED! Personal Essay October/November 2016
In The Age Of Post-Truth:
If you're an artist or a writer or a journalist you're going to upset people. Tell The Truth Anyway.
Post-Truth Is The Oxford English Dictionary Word For 2016
This week The Oxford Dictionary announced that the 2016 word of the year is post-truth. The definition of post-truth is “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Basically it's when propaganda and false information are more important than facts in shaping opinion, and I would add, that most people in a culture prefer it that way and vilify anyone or anything for actually illuminating facts, fact checking, or telling the truth. It's a familiar thing for anybody who’s been abused at anytime in their lives, or who has lived in a dysfunctional environment. It's now become accepted on the meta level in my country, the United States as evidenced by the recent Presidential Election cycle by many supporters of Donald Trump and by the Trump campaign as well. Because of this, it's why it's even more important that artists, writers, performers, comedians and journalists tell the truth, their truths and the truth as they experience it, and also why journalists need to be objective, and factual. Facts and truth and those who’s job it is to expose and illuminate them are now more vital than ever. When people would rather cover their eyes and ears, and shut their mouths to hatred, it's crucial that truth tellers shout the loudest no matter what. And yes, that's not easy in the face of opposition.
Hello, My Name Is Annette and I’m a People Pleaser
In of the 12 step recovery programs I’m in, Adult Children of Alcoholics and/or Dysfunctional Families (ACA/ACoA), being a “people pleaser” is a common trait. Also I’m a woman. Being a “people pleaser” is something we're taught is “feminine,” “nurturing.”
Basically as an artist/writer, I’m doomed unless I grow some ovaries and stop giving a shit about triggers, hurting feelings, offending people, airing dirty laundry, and showing people all the skeletons in the closet. Since like most creative people, I use my own life whether I’m writing fiction or personal essays, this is going to include upsetting even close friends and family members. If I worry about keeping people happy, and instead censor myself, or sanitize my experiences, then the writing will be horrible, a lie, and not helpful to anybody. It will bomb.
Art Isn't Linear
I’m not a super successful artist, but I want to be. By successful, I don't mean rich or famous. Sure, I’d like to earn money from writing, and I’d like to have an audience, readers who regularly read and interact with my work.
The first means I can pay bills, have a place to live, buy food, and maybe even travel. It also could mean I could finance independent creative projects, my own and others.
Having an audience will feed the work, and inspire me to create better, more interesting material. Not because I write, make art, or perform to please an audience but because all creative works are loops, forms of communication. Literature requires readers. Performances, films, shows, paintings, photos, sculptures require viewers. Otherwise the loop is open. The artist creates into a vacuum when there's no feedback of any kind. It becomes like attempting to grow crops in complete darkness. You plant a seed, but it won't grow without the sun.
Still making money from my work or having a large fan base for this blog or any of my other creative projects isn't what drives me, or makes me feel successful. I am never successful as an artist if I’m not telling the truth, if I’m not being vulnerable in my work, if I’m hiding, or lying to preserve my denial or to be more “likable.” I can't worry about that.
In the past I did hold myself back. I did care about being liked. I did try to not hurt or trigger. I often was in denial about it. But I was guilty of hiding lots of things, and burying the truth including from myself. I was my own enemy in my work as a creative individual. I was a coward. I’m working on fighting those tendencies. In my opinion, all artists must.
You Can't Always Be “Nice”
Sure, sometimes you might make something that causes just about everybody to feel joy, and want to hug you, to like you, and that makes your mother not worry that you just told the world that you weren't raised in an idyllic family who always comes together every holiday like a Norman Rockwell painting or the post WWII propaganda film, “A Date With the Family.”
But most of the time, your work is going to piss someone to lots of people off. Some person, or group, maybe even your inner circle of closest friends, or your immediate family, or gulp, your boss, is going to tell you that you can't publish that thing, even when it's fiction and you've changed any identifying details because they're triggered/offended/guilty/in denial, and you just reminded them of something they wanted to keep buried for all eternity, especially from themselves. How dare you!
Well, you must dare. You must risk. You must do the clichéd feat of entering the belly of your beast, naming all the darkness, embracing it, merging with it. Why? Because that's how you do good, reveal light, hold people and the world accountable, heal people, fight corruption, and protect the weak.
There's a reason lots of creative people are addicts and/or depressed, often don't live long, and die by their own hand. We’re not usually “likable” even if we’re kind, loving, and caring people in person. Plus most of come from extremely dysfunctional childhoods. Then we use those things to tell the truth about even the worst parts of ourselves and humanity. We use everything. Every experience, our own an any that others share with us, is material. We will write it, or paint it, or film it, or mold it into something that we will then share with the world. We’re some of the most private, enigmatic people you’ll ever meet, yet we have no secrets.
Just The Messenger
Even when we write about, paint, film, play ourselves in a show, we’re just “the messenger.” Seriously, it's always in service to a truth, a theme, a universal experience, something greater than ourselves somehow.
A personal essay by a victim of date rape isn't just about them, but is about every rape that ever happened, about the shared experience of what that means, feels it like, what the repercussions are. It becomes a link to connect every person who was ever raped. It tells every person who's experienced that, “you're not alone.”
That's what art, what stories, what literature, music, poetry, film, dance does. It exposes. It connects. It binds. It shares. It tells everything. It can't hide or sanitize. It's going to heal sometimes and hurt other times.
Great art comes from vulnerability and cause the viewer to be vulnerable. That's the beauty, the threat, the promise and the gift of it. I don't think I create great art, or write very well. But I want to be brave, bold, and to tell the truth. I know that might further isolate me. That's OK. The only way for me to be successful in my soul, my heart, is to just deliver the messages, even the ugly ones, even the ones that expose the wounds that friends or family have buried.
During Defeat Art and Literature Become More Important
After the results of the 2016 Presidential election I posted what I and many other survivors of sexual abuse and/or sexual assault were experiencing. In sharing that I had to once again expose family secrets as well as my own dark past. I had to risk upsetting family members who aren't yet in recovery for any of the awful events of the past and who are instead still living in denial and fear.
I post my memories of childhood abuse, including sexual abuse to help other survivors. I don't share my story to hurt, blame, or upset my mother or other family members. Abuse, addiction, family dysfunction, are diseases passed down across generations. They've happened to multiple generations of not just people in my family, but in every family. Hiding or denying the dark, horrible parts of my past, my family's past, the nation’s past, the world’s past, won't help anybody. I encourage all the writers in my family to find their strength and courage to share their own stories, to heal, to recover and to go on to help others heal and not feel alone.
I and all artists and writers have a duty to tell the truth. Healing is painful. In order to truly change, to ensure that history doesn't keep repeating, to help each other, to remain connected, is to share the entire story. We must tell everything. We must feel everything. We must be vulnerable. We’re the messengers, the storytellers, the truthsayers, the guardians.
Now is not the time to be silent. Now is the time to shout. We must all work together to end abuse, to end hatred, to fight tyranny. We will never accomplish this by being silent. We’re going to trigger people. We’re going to make some people angry. Some of those people might be friends or family. Sometimes they might be the people we never thought would choose their own fear over helping others and supporting us. That's ok. Often it's a sign we’re doing the right thing because we touched a nerve or ten. We have to remember that sometimes the most loving actions, the bravest actions, aren't the prettiest or the nicest. Art, literature, journalism don't exist to gloss over truths, but to expose them. Now let's get to work.
Annette Sugden is a writer, artist, dancer, actor and the editor of CRAZED! Her work has appeared in Bearfoot Magazine, Beyond Baroque Magazine, Poeticdiversity.org, and Gentle Strength Quarterly. She’s had work nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Sundress Best of the Net.
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