It's Okay NOT to Write About It
The recent news cycle hasn’t been the easiest thing to handle. Going on Facebook has become a redundant disappointment full of Kavanaugh, and other problematic, old, white men, disregarding the humanity of women’s existence, in the United States and the world in general. How am I, as a 21 year old woman, supposed to feel in the face of blatant disregard for my trauma and those of so many other women like me? If I feel this forgotten by the so called “leaders” of my country, what are all the young girls growing up during this moment supposed to think? Are they supposed to be complacent about the fact that the highest United States justice system supports a man’s rant about his love for beer, during a job interview FOR THE SUPREME COURT, rather than the woman sitting across from him who is actively trying to protect our country whilst receiving threats to her own life?
I could spend the entirety of this article ranting about how the current state of our nation disturbs and disheartens me. However, if anyone wanted that they could scroll down their own social media feeds and get it. That’s not what I want to do.
What I want to do is talk about how, as a writer and artist in general, I can’t use my trauma to fuel my art like so many others can — and that’s okay.
I recently read a Lifehacker article that stated "For some survivors, the flood of stories is only horrifying. But for others, there is some satisfaction in seeing the scope of the problem made public, getting real proof that they’re not alone, and watching experiences that might have been downplayed, denied, or ignored in the past get some degree of recognition.” It really made me reflect on my own experience. I’ve heard over and over again how when something bad happens to you, you should write about it. Every fellow playwright/writer or artist I know has been told this at some point, right? “Thanks for the heartbreak I need it for my art” etc., etc. What this Lifehacker article really helped me put into perspective was that even though it may help so many other survivors to come out on social media with their own #metoo or #whyIdidntreport stories, it doesn’t mean I should feel guilty about not being able to do the same.
On top of it all, I kept asking myself these terrible questions; if I opened up about my trauma, would my art only be appreciated because it was made by “a survivor”? Would my success be based on my statistical value instead of my name? (i.e. “For Just the Third Time in 117 Years, a Woman Wins the Nobel Prize in Physics”... Her name is Professor Donna Strickland if you didn’t get that from the title of this New York Times article.)
For a while, I’d scroll down Facebook and see so many of my friends opening up about their assaults and yes, it did make me feel better, in some capacity, to know how not alone I was. In another way, it made me feel absolutely terrible because of how not alone I was. Then I started to feel guilty that I couldn’t come forward, too. I started to wonder, am I a bad activist because I can’t share my stories on the internet? Is it wrong for me to keep quiet as the numbers grow? If I’m an artist whose work focuses on social change, shouldn’t I share what I’ve been through with the world?
The answer to all of those questions is: No. I don’t have to.
My trauma is my own and if I can’t share it with the world, then I do not have to, and I shouldn’t feel guilty because of that. Sure, the posts may feel like a “trend” I should be jumping in on in many senses, but they’re not — they’re a revolution.
So, this is for the artists like me – those who have felt guilt about not being able to share because it’s just too hard. You are just as much a part of this revolution whether you can voice it or not. You do not owe your story to anyone if it means sacrificing your own mental health or is just too traumatic for you to handle. Publicizing personal information, whether in a status update or in a full length play, is not easy. And even though I know that, it’s still hard to remind myself my trauma is not invalidated, or less than, just because it isn’t shared.
I find it’s very easy to sacrifice myself and my needs as a person for my art, and in some ways, that’s made for some of my best work. Great drafts can be written between 1:00 and 5:00am. However, a recent thing that my coworker, Christopher Reyes, said has been repeating itself in my head through all this;
“I’m learning that sometimes what I need for myself as an artist is not good for me as a person."
How simple a statement, and how badly I needed to hear it. For us writers, I think it’s a fairly universal knowledge that writing is therapy. We use plays and poetry (and even blog posts like this) to get us through some of the toughest times, to help us understand things we don’t, and to speak the words we can’t say ourselves. So it’s only natural when something major happens we think, “should I write about this?” And most of the time the answer is, “yes, how else am I going to deal with it?” But other times, a simple “I can’t.” speaks louder than any two-act play could. We are artists, but we are humans above all, even if we don’t think so all the time.
Playwright Caitlin Saylor Stephens says “Writing has always been my glue. It’s my vehicle for self-expression.” and I think that rings absurdly true. She follows it up with “But writing about a terrible event for forensic purposes was not easy. It was not easy recounting the horrifying plot points and climax of a night from which I still live in a fog of fear, shame, and rage that may never lift.” And I have such admiration for her strength and commitment to writing anyway. But that doesn’t have to be all of us. I am no less of a writer because I can’t write about this specific thing. I am a human being and I am scarred. My personal plot line has scenes I wish I could delete but can’t — and so they’ll stay in my drafts folder for as long as I need them to be there. Whether that’s a few weeks, a few years, or forever – I do not owe anyone that play. And I’m alright with that.