When words are not _____ enough

Something I have always loved about strong visual art is how it travels beyond traditional language; how generally, no one has to translate a strong image for it to communicate. What message the viewer receives is up to them, of course, both subconsciously and consciously, and is often shaped by their own opinions, experiences, and journey in life. Still, this image — especially with the internet — can reach millions of people across borders, oceans, and cultures. Visual art speaks to different processes in the brain than verbalized language, making the impact faster and often more efficient.

I was a writer before I was anything else. Even before I could physically write, I would create little poems, jokes, and stories using words I could vocalize. Words have always meant something priceless to me, and once I did start physically writing, I did not stop. I started writing poetry more seriously when I was ten, and it was emotionally charged, and about experiences few people admit to having. I remember even in psychiatric wards, fellow patients asking, “How do you know what I feel so well?”

But my writing has helped more people than it has helped me. My relationship with words is love/hate, filled with treachery, pain, and frustration. I’ve been persecuted for what I write, and even though the most memorable experience was only at the small scale of an elementary school, a school to an already traumatized and sick child can often feel like a prison, particularly when its personnel tries to effectively silence that child. I was told to stop writing my ‘dark junk,’ and my notebooks were confiscated and shredded. I was forbidden to write during the school day, and the counselor tried to get my mother to eradicate deep, emotional literature that I loved from our home for the sake of my “emotional safety.”

In junior high, a contest entry I submitted was called into question because “How could a seventh grader have written this?” and instead of being made into a prodigy, I was made into a pariah. My words have been doubted and misunderstood since I could form them. Exercises in writing are exercises in futility, because while I try to express my core self through them, others see themselves in them. They see their own pain and suffering or their cynicism or flaws, but they do not ever see the writer behind the ink. They either relate to my writing, are repulsed by it, or they block it out. To be concise and direct, it is always misunderstood.

Don’t misunderstand this, either: It is beautiful and I am thankful that what I communicate can help others. I remember receiving feedback from a 16 year-old girl who was addicted to crystal meth and had suffered traumas in her life that I could not imagine myself, “Thank you so much for saying what I couldn’t. You have no idea how much it means to me that someone gets me.” She said this about a sestina I wrote, depicting a dying woman recalling life events that led her to a heroin overdose.

I have never used illegal substances or even substances illegally, (except maybe a sip of wine or two on New Year’s before 21.) I also had never experienced some of the other problems that I had written about in the poem. But even at 14, I understood trauma, despair, regret, and other deep, complex, emotional issues. I had been through many of my own traumas by 14, and my personality type is keen to understand other people. But, truthfully, I did not write that poem for her or for people who have been where she had been. I did not write the things I wrote for other people, nor do I now. I never did.

I wrote them to communicate.

I wrote them to communicate and express my own pain in ways that I could better process. It wasn’t until I was perhaps 17 that my writing became more directly about my own experiences, but even then, people only saw themselves in my writing, and never me. It became frustrating, all of these people who would tell me how great it was that I put their pain into words, and then if we would continue talking, they would not understand a single piece of the puzzle that is who I am. It took me a long time to realize (and I realized this bitterly) that art is never about the artist but about the audience. When I would be told by therapists, “Writing is a great way to cope!” and I would have to make my rebuttal, “It’s actually painful for me — like chewing glass — but I have no choice but to do it,” they did not understand, either. “Why don’t you stop?” Because, I guess, I still have plenty to say.

As a kid, I loved taking photographs. I used disposable cameras as a child, mostly photographing my cats truthfully, but always noticing composition and light before I really at all understood their importance — to photography or to me.

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