#3: Self Censorship and the Creative Writer (You Can’t Say That)

I hate it.  I wish it were not true, but whenever I have penned something delicious or exciting or in some way daring or brave, a series of questions begin nagging my monkey mind:  What will my students think of that? How will my mother react? Will my brother disown me? Will my wife want me reading this in public? Finally, is honesty worth the potential embarrassment or ridicule or backlash or anger in the service of art? To that last question I want to answer with a resounding, unequivocal YES.  And yet, a disconnect exists between the belief that the only art worth doing is the art that pushes an envelope and the realization that ultimately that envelope pushing will be attributed to me, and if there’s a piper to be paid, I will be paying the piper. Here’s poem #3 for NaPoWriMo, interestingly enough, in second person.

You Can’t Say That

and that’s why you write fiction

because it’s one thing to say what you mean
or to say what has happened
and it’s another thing, an easier thing
to attribute that meaning or happening
to an imaginary person
or an imaginary world.

These are not your experiences
or your crazy predilections,
this is not your philosophy,
this is not what you believe.
These are inventions, you say,
based on some studying you have done,
and that’s why the work is so convincing
because your research was painstaking
and meticulous, see.

You shrug at the question,
“how much of this is autobiographical”
in part because it’s a boring question
but in larger part because you don’t want to answer
 this is your story.

As a fiction writer you envy the
poet and the essayist
because they’ve put it all out there
and have not flinched
while your reality is disguised,
decorated, gussied up
for the first date
in order to make just the
right impression

Postscript:  I don’t know if I believe all of this–the jury is out.  While there is a part of me that sometimes distrusts the artifice of a novel, I know that some fiction tells the truth likes nobody’s business (Toni Morrison’s Beloved), while some poets might be just as likely to invent or to disguise their own reality in a persona poem or some other imaginative, symbolic way.  The essayist, on the other hand?  Here’s this bit by Annie Dillard: “The essay can do anything a poem can do, can do anything a short story can do; anything but fake it.” But still–the bottom line is this, at least for me: whether it’s an essay or a poem or a story or a novel, it’s always difficult to write about the most personal things, the things truly at one’s core.

Published by michaeljarmer

I'm a public high school English teacher, fiction writer, poet, and musician in Portland, Oregon

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