I had a creative writing professor who used to tell us that if we were having trouble getting words out, to pretend that we were writing a letter. Letters, he said, are where all people become artists. Something about writing directly to another person makes people feel at ease enough for their words to truly flow, which is why so many letters sound like poetry. I wanted to share part of a correspondence between myself and a wonderful young man, Alex*, who contacted me to ask how I am able to share such personal stories . As we were emailing, I realized the things we discussed could be valuable for anyone to see, so with his permission, I display some pieces of it below:
Email From: Alex*
Wanted to say that I am impressed with your ability to share your life in such an authentic manner. Few have the gift to express the trials of life with authenticity. Even fewer have the courage to do so.
Admittedly, I must confess that I am envious. I’ve been wanting to put my life into words and share it with others. However, I am terrified of doing so. I worry that potential employers would come across any writings if I were to release them to the public. The challenges in my life have to do with disability. Employers are rather unfriendly to the disabled, especially those with mental illness (depression) and development (autism.) So I stay quiet. I don’t want to risk my chances of finding work.
How do you muster up the courage to write as you do?
Anyway, wanted to let you know that I admire your work. Also, I will try to be extra vigilant about not making assumptions about straightness. I think I do an okay job. But it’s best not to get complacent. I’ll try to remember to keep things gender neutral when asking a person about his or her dating life. (I.e., “are you seeing anyone” versus “do you have a boyfriend.”)
Email From: Molly
Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so glad you enjoyed reading my posts, and I appreciate you reaching out. I completely understand how you feel right now because it is how I used to feel every time I used my writing to share something deeply personal with others. It is not easy, but like anything, the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become. You will realize that in reality, the more honest you are, the more people respect you, at least the people who matter.
I studied Creative Writing in college, and that is where I first learned to be comfortable bearing my soul on the page. Writing workshops are some of the most emotional places I will probably ever find myself–writers reading their pain out loud and sitting in silence while others critique it is an experience unlike any other, one that immeasurably helped me realize how much stronger my voice can become when I let myself be completely honest. Writing workshops are a great place to find support and find your voice. They are offered in many arenas, not only through schools, and I think finding one could be a great place for you to start.
There is a trait I believe all writers share, which is a willingness to expose so much more of themselves through the written word than they would ever actually divulge to someone in a conversation. I certainly would never sit down with most people and tell the stories I tell in my blog, yet for whatever reason I am comfortable displaying those stories for anyone who wishes to see. It doesn’t make sense, but it is how I operate. Writing is my outlet, and sharing it with others is part of the way I process the feelings I convey.
It feels paradoxical, but I have found that the more specific I am about my life and the things that have happened to me, the more people relate, and that is one of the reasons I go into such personal detail about everything. Speaking in generalities doesn’t really do it for people, and if you really want to reach your readers, you will have to dig deep and say the things you’re afraid to. Once you do that, you’ll see that so many people will be grateful and proud.
Now, the Internet is filled with some horrifying people, and if you are planning to put yourself out there, you have to be prepared for them, too, prepared to drown out their pitiful voices and remind yourself that people who take the time to write negative comments about somebody’s personal struggles are not any people worthy of getting upset over.
I would never try to pressure someone to share something they didn’t want to, but it seems to me like you do want to, like you are craving for the world to hear your story, and I don’t think you should let fear stop you. The only way to make that fear eventually go away is just to do it. It won’t stop being scary until you take the plunge. For 23 years, I was afraid to be myself, afraid to be gay for reasons I cannot and possibly will not ever be able to articulate, and coming out turned out to be the best and least scary thing I have ever chosen to do, so not scary that I went from a lifetime of not being able to admit it to myself to blogging about it for the world to see after just a few months.
Mental disability is something we do not talk openly enough about these days. It is something we are still afraid of, something we still judge people for, and something we refuse to see as a true illness. Too many people are ashamed of their mental disabilities, and people like you have the power to change that, just like people like me have the power to change how we perceive coming out and being gay. It can start with one voice. It is possible you or I will make a difference, and it is possible we won’t. But how will we feel if we never try?
Of course there are things we must surrender in order to incite change. With this blog, I have surrendered a lot of my privacy, and I have surrendered the innermost workings of my heart to the world. But to me, it is absolutely worth it if that means I can help someone else feel less alone or be less afraid to be who they are.
I completely understand your fear about potential employers. I have felt that way, too, with this blog. Sometimes I fear not even just that someone unaccepting won’t want to hire me but also that it could be very awkward to be in a professional setting with a group of people who could know such intimate things about me and who could judge me or see me differently as a result. But when these fears hit me, I think, well, I don’t want to work for someone who is not okay with who I am anyway. All I can do is own who I am, and if people have a problem with that, I don’t want to be around them. Now, I am lucky to have an incredible support system, so it is easy for me to sit here and say that I can be flexible about searching for jobs. I hope you can be, too, but I don’t know, I just feel like the only way to change those kinds of things, to help employers stop treating people differently just because they have a disability, is to put yourself out there and make them see why it is wrong.
Something that has really helped me is music. The songs on the bottom right of my blog are those that are currently inspiring me. Use those or find your own, but I truly find songs like Follow Your Arrow and Brave to propel me forward. Blast one of them next time you’re in your in the car or in the shower. Scream the lyrics along with the singers and let them empower you.