“I am not what you supposed me, but far different”~Walt Whitman.
I was introduced recently to an author who at one time answered ‘Dear Sugar’ letters, an advice column on a wide variety of stressful topics. The author responded to questions about love, life, anxiety, hopelessness and much more by telling stories from her own life. Her stories were not comfortable and reassuring. They touched on her own distressing experiences, being molested as a child, losing her mother as a young adult, being broke, unemployed, and succumbing to substances of abuse. Yet from these disturbing tales she was able to fashion messages of encouragement and hope, challenges to those who solicited her advice not to give up but to embrace life in all of its messiness. Very brave, I thought, to put yourself out there like that.
At the time when she was publishing those letters (in a blog), she was anonymous. Perhaps that gave her the courage to be so open, so unguarded with her own life. Yet she has since published a selection of those letters under her own name, and has spoken openly about her interesting life. Most of us are not that comfortable revealing all of our secrets, we like to keep our own struggles close to our chest.
In the immediate surprise at the death of a literal icon, the artist formally and currently known as Prince, it is interesting to think about how he lived his life. He was openly and flamboyantly thought provoking, he took stands that were controversial and challenging, and through his art encouraged conversations about sexuality, independence and corporate greed. He gave few interviews, preferring to let his music speak for him. He was eccentric and opulent, yet he stayed in the city he grew up in. In addition to playing every instrument on many of his records, he wrote, arranged, directed, and produced them. They say he could write a song a day. And yet do we really know him? Did his public persona represent the very private person behind the scenes?
Once, after observing an interaction between a mother and her daughter, I was told: ‘I suppose I’ll see this in one of your messages’. My response was that I have enough mother-daughter material of my own! My one daughter was always too much woman for me, even as a small child! My relationship with my own mother was very complicated. In fact I often joked to myself that once my mother died I would be able to write all of those things I would have been uncomfortable with her reading. And yet…I even had a title for such a book: The half never told. In that book would be all of the stories, the experiences, the life adventures that I could not share with my mother.
And yet. How much courage does it take to put your whole life out there? I often admire those who have been through extreme trauma and tragedy, who then throw themselves into activism, forcing themselves to relive and retell the most painful moment of their life. It is so much easier to lock it down, to bury it, tamped down under the weight of everyday life. It is so much easier to gloss over the feelings, to hide the pain under a mask of acceptance. Which of those approaches is healthier?
The author I spoke of above (Cheryl Strayed) was able to use the experiences that could have crippled her to generate not only a livelihood, but also a means of helping countless others. By making her own pain public, she shed light on topics that are often hidden. Secrets revealed may be the key to freedom for those who are disabled by the fear of discovery.
For a writer, it can be challenging to know how to write your truth without revealing the secrets of others, or embarrassing your loved ones. One way is to disguise your truths in the form of fiction, weaving actual stories through the pages of a novel. But it may be challenging to make sure they are disguised. I heard of one Caribbean author who wrote a prize-winning novel set in her own small island. Her neighbors, friends and family recognized themselves in that novel, and were not pleased! Secrets revealed without the permission of their owners can create quite a ruckus!
So Mum, you can continue to rest quietly, I am not ready to unleash a host of tell-all secrets on the world. Not just yet! Perhaps I will have to create an anonymous blog, or publish that almost finished novel!
On this Friday morning I hope you are not burdened by secrets which are holding you back. I hope you can release yourself from bad bargains, promises which stifle your creativity and potential. I hope you get to dress outrageously, sing out loud, and party like it’s 1999! Get out and celebrate Earth day, so that it won’t (as my grandson told me) ‘rain garbage’!!
Have a wonderful weekend Family!