On Writing And Authenticity

Slash’s autobiography has been on my coffee table for awhile. It’s a steal-borrow from Roycifer, who was done reading it. I kept the book there because indeed, I was reading it. And while I meant to finish it, the truth of the matter is that I’m simply not good at finishing much of anything. Now the book is an excuse for an edgy coffee table book.

Apparently, his story was meant to come back to me in some way. I had recorded the first volume of the HBO Documentary series The Black List, and he was the very first featured. I thought the documentary did a remarkably well job at bringing out the poignancy in each person’s unique black experience. Everyone talked about something different – whether it was about growing up or just one of many lessons learned at work – but the common thread they all had was that they talked about a moment or whole experience that really meant a lot to them. Perhaps instances that changed them in order to give them deep meaning or insight.

I can’t wait for the second volume; I hope there are at least four.

What Toni Morrison had to say (as many things she has to say) really spoke to me:

Writing is the only free place; it’s the only place where I’m not doing what somebody else wants or asks or needs. Writing is mine. So [after] winning the Nobel Prize, suddenly I’m in a different league – not just out there in the world but in my head. That sort of rivalry with oneself – that is not self-generated but generated outside. The necessity [is] for me to make sure my work [is] not somebody else’s version of what I should be writing about.
You know perfectly well that you’re pulling from the rest of the world of books. But what you want to make is this one little place, like the facet of a diamond. Just one little shape. And that’s where you live, and that’s yours.

I had the opportunity to attend a storytelling workshop held by Erwin during Terra Nova, an artisan/creativity retreat put on by Mosaic over Labor Day Weekend – if you must know, and things he taught about the compelling components in the art of storytelling were so reflective of simply reliving life itself. Taking someone else on your journey, and their wanting to actually be there with you. As in, what makes a life worth telling – from your perspective?

One of the points made was the fact that the audience is not drawn to your story because it is the beholder of truth. They can get that anywhere. It’s not a compelling enough reason to pay attention. What draws them to your story is that they sense that they can trust you. And part of that is sharing what you have in common with the audience without being common. It might entail sharing a common experience but giving your own unique perspective.

What happens when the things you share is simply playing lip service to what others expect you to say, do or even be? But I think far too often, we get sucked into that and don’t even realize it. And then where are we? We’ve lost ourselves and we’ve gained people whom we don’t even know would like our very authentic selves. On top of that, I think – people can see all of that. They can see the layers that are put there between your bare soul and your audience. While it will resonate with some, with others they will feel your reluctance to trust them with your real self. The search for surfacey acceptance is realized through writing instead of a deeper connection that is harder to achieve but is ultimately more rewarding when truly made.

The point of it isn’t that there is “no agenda” – everything that’s worth something has an agenda, even a trajectory or conflict and resolution – it’s the very thing that gives meaning to what you have to say. But we can share ourselves without imposing that which affects us on other people. To simply share can be that agenda – to share ourselves is a gift to others. A gift which they may or may not choose to take, and that in itself is a profound thing. And writing and sharing is the search for people who might read and listen.

In the same documentary (The Black List: Vol. 1), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – who has also had experience writing - had a moment where he was illustrating a point like this:

They say, “I’d rather be a lamppost in Harlem than governor of Georgia.”

Surrounding ourselves with those who are invested in expanding our understanding, together, while contributing to others’ stories in a positive way whenever we can is invaluable. It’s community; it’s the safe place where people who don’t understand aren’t there to disqualify your experience. Personally, I’m all the better because of writing. Everything that I’ve been able to externalize has been a practice of keeping a constant flow of thoughts forming and releasing, allowing new ones to fester before they get their chance at the same. It’s therapeutic and allows myself to live the life I’m meant to live, be the person I’m meant to be through that safe place.