on storytelling

where do stories come from?

somewhere deep within? somewhere very distant? some rush of all external context & conversation & chance meeting & weather forecast? some communal well of pooled cultural knowledge and heritage and zeitgeist? some lucky collision of intent and happenstance?

who writes? who is heard? what stories do we tell? why do we tell them?

i don’t have the answers. i only have the questions. sometimes i think the point of a question is not to answer it, but to ask it, and keep asking. sometimes the point of a question is to remove the need for the question. or to provoke other, more important questions.

where do stories come from?

i haven’t a fucking clue. i couldn’t even begin to answer. how do you explain where your soul comes from? how do you explain that the universe is infinite? how do you explain the accelerating expansion of infinity? how do you explain dark matter? how do we explain absence when it can only be defined by presence? or presence by absence? how can we find words for everything and nothing? how can we make sense of the absurdity of worldly governance, of oppression, of grief, of violence, of joy, of the bizarre intricacies of daily life, of the strangeness of existence at all?

why do i write?

i think i have been writing my whole life.

my memories are patchy. i remember eyelashes, lemonade, dipping my hands in cool water, screaming, silence, salt. i remember spitfires, lost seashells, blue glass, bruises. i remember her smile. always i remember writing. i wrote letters on scraps of paper and tossed them over stair railings. i wrote letters to myself in alien handwriting because i was lonely and left them in the mailbox. i wrote on the walls. i wrote on my skin. before i could read i would write the words of beatrix potter in my head in time with that man’s voice and then protest when he would attempt to diverge from the familiar version in the hope of skipping pages. i wrote tiny staple-bound books for myself because already other books were inadequate. all my books were about death. tanya’s star. goodbye mog. greyfriars bobby. sammy in the sky. always stars, always skies, always moons, clouds, wind, flowers growing. always the world continuing to turn.

i wrote to make sense of the world. i wrote to make sense of myself. my first word i am told was “goodbye”. i wrote my name first i think. my nickname i wrote differently before my teacher corrected me on the spelling. distant relatives were not informed and continued to write birthday cards to a little girl who didn’t exist anymore. i wrote the names of my sisters. i did not know the name of my mother until several years into my existence, whereupon i was deeply embarrassed to discover something so fundamentally missing. i wrote my brother’s name and in doing so i wrote him into existence. names have power. his true name until he changes it is the one i gave to him with green crayon; not the longer version on his birth certificate which is followed by the name of the dead girl’s doctor. i am not sure if my brother knows that his name is spelt with a backwards “a”. somebody should probably tell him.

i write because of the world falling around me. i write because my people are dying. i write because of love and fear and fury. i write for queer youth, for the disabled person close to death, for the trans person who doesn’t know what they are transitioning from or to, for the chronically ill person searching for answers, for the hurt women, for the angry women, for the abused child who does not yet know they are being abused, for the person living in poverty trying not to disappear. i write for my younger self who needed to read what i now am writing. i write for my community. i write for all of my communities. i write for myself. i write because i cannot do anything else. i write for sagamihara. i write for leelah alcorn. i write for jess jacobs. i write for jerika bolen. i write for eli and martin manrique lutz. i write for lucy eames. i write for remembrance. i write for visibility. i write because of the imbalances. i write because of the weight my body has carried, the rapes, the bruises, the dislocations, the dissociations.

words are important. even if they do not take the shape of words they are important. when i write i pull something vulnerable out of myself and give it to the world. my words do not exist until they are read again. i do not exist until i am read again. i will always exist in the words i have left behind. i am the ghost in the text. whatever story i am telling i am always there, in some capacity, closer or farther away from the surface depending on what the story calls for. in article i am speaking very closely from my own life, in fiction i am speaking from the core of my life. in poetry i am speaking from everything in and around me. in the distance between non-fiction and fiction i sink deeper into the text. as a scholar and journalist i write from anecdote and lived experience. as a poet i speak from somewhere else. as writers we pull from ourselves and we pull from the world.

jeanette winterson phrased this beautifully in her novel Weight, a take on the myth of atlas and heracles:

autobiography is not important. authenticity is important. the writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. i believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. simply, it is real… [consisting] of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative.

…all we can do is keep telling the stories, hoping that someone will hear. hoping that in the noisy echoing nightmare of endlessly breaking news and celebrity gossip, other voices might be heard, speaking of the life of the mind and the soul’s journey.

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