Does anybody really want to be private anymore? Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and their many future and inevitable iterations would say otherwise.
The idea that each of us can express opinions on a mass scale and actually be heard – well, read and seen, which are close but not exactly the same thing – feels revolutionary. Rather than shouting in the wind, or to your family and friends, one can literally shout at the world these days and it is entirely possible that a person or mass of people that one’s never met will see, hear, perhaps even listen… but most importantly RESPOND. Of course, not always kindly. File that under be careful what you wish for.
Still, one could argue the situation these days is a lot more preferable than it used to be. There was a time not so long ago that one could die in frustration with one’s inner thoughts or angry outer thoughts that the world too often turned away from. Certainly not everything one has to say or voice is important to the world but what is certain is that it is very much important to that person.
We all, each of us, have at least one thing in common and that is the desire to be heard, and in turn, hopefully, understood. By someone. Or many. Why? Well, it varies. Sometimes it’s on an interpersonal issue with someone we know. In other more existential moments it is on larger topics and what we believe about ourselves. about the world, and about humanity. And in loftier but no less meaningful moments it is about a pressing desire to proclaim what is RIGHT AND WRONG in ALL of the aforementioned orbits.
When we can’t stop shouting about an instance, an argument or an issue, it’s more than pressing. It’s crushingly personal. And we can’t shut up about it no matter how much we try or don’t attempt to. This, in particular, is where a 2017 life comes in handy. Even if one doesn’t receive a direct response (DM) there is a feeling that somehow, somewhere, someone listened. And might act on what was said. By US.
Oh, and by the way and on a very much-related topic – this – more than anything else – is the dirty little secret about being a WRITER. (Note: Though certainly, not the only one).
On a recent and quite brilliant stand alone episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s emerging writer Hannah Horvath is summoned to the breathtakingly gorgeous and sprawling apartment of a famous writer played by The Americans’ Matthew Rhys. It seems Hannah has written a think piece for a feminist blog about this man, one of her all-time literary heroes, and his misadventures with a series of four different college age women he mentored and taught with whom he had unwanted or perhaps manipulated wanted, sexual relations.
Hannah tells him she wrote the piece as a means of support to thousands of young women who are forever scarred by a situation of abuse at the hands of someone more powerful. But the writer makes a powerful case that although her words are brilliantly executed by someone with rare talents, they only tell a partial story of what she merely chose to see based on second and third hand accounts that she read. For to be a true writer, he tells her, is to not only respect all sides but to dig deeper into one’s subject and understand reality, motivation, connection and situational circumstance in order to truly determine what constitutes the truth.
At which point, Hannah and the author have their own new interaction that EXACTLY mirrors one of the aforementioned circumstances, leaving it to the audience to determine who was right or wrong. Or if, indeed, such a thing even exists at all.
There are all types of writing and each has their individual demands. But what they all have in common are two very specific things:
1. The truth
2. What the writer believes the truth to be.
Of course, there are few absolutes in the world outside of math and science and lately even those have been brought into question. Which really only leaves us with #2 and brings us full circle.
As both a writing teacher and someone who annually reads numerous works of writing from all over the country for various grants and scholarships, it becomes joyously and sometimes painfully obvious to me that when reading a writer one learns as much about that person as one does about the issue or subject being presented. Often more.
You can’t help but begin to wonder – why of all the subjects in the world did this person choose to concoct a story about homeless LGBT youth? What happened in their background that provoked this individual to pen a story about a 1930s honkytonk in the southwest with such fervor? Who would choose to devote years to telling the tale of gnome who appears to a young lad in the middle of a cornfield at turn of the 20th century Midwest?
I choose these because in the last year all three have been among the most outstanding student and professional pieces I’ve read from young, unknown authors. And in the cases of at least two of the three (Note: I do not know the author of the third) I know the writers revealed quite a bit more about themselves than they ever intended. And to their great credit.
I’ve quoted it before but it bears repeating that no less than six famous writers are credited with having once famously stated (and I’m paraphrasing because five of them most certainly did): Being a writer is easy. Just open a vein.
And add to that in less witty parlance: There is no other way to get to the truth.
Perhaps (?) (!) that was what Margaret Atwood was doing in the early eighties when she wrote the now famous A Handmaid’s Tale – a work of fiction in a dystopian world that not only went on to become a best seller which has since never been out of print but has spawned both a feature film and an upcoming Hulu television series where Ms. Atwood herself makes a cameo guest star appearance.
In her story, a Christian fundamentalist movement takes over the United States -which reeks of pollution and sexually transmitted diseases – and installs a totalitarian regime that subjugates women and forces a particular class of them to serve as the term vessels of unwanted pregnancies to a more powerful group of men forcing their wills on them for what they believe to be the ostensible survival of society.
Well, of course this is a work of fiction!
So much so that Ms. Atwood herself penned a piece several days ago for the NY Times explaining where she was and what she was thinking when she first wrote her perennial bestseller.
As well as what she could offer as to it’s meaning in what has been promised to be a new and improved United States that will once again be great again.
It’s a curious position to be in – addressing the real possibilities of a fictional story written in the past of an unimaginable dictatorial future some believe we are headed towards in the present. But like any great writer she demurred on how prescient she was, attempting to be vaguely encouraging without providing answers. In the age of what we’re constantly being told is instant communication, it’s up to all of us to draw those conclusions in the present. Loudly. For our futures. Revealing not only where we stand but real parts of ourselves. Before that is no longer a possibility.