Category Archives: Social Justice
This is the beginning of a series examining the power of truth-telling in life and art.
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
Do you hide parts of yourself, locking them up inside away from the world?
Do you keep them hidden out of fear, out of a sense that they are nobody’s business but your own, out of shame, or because you don’t even see them?
What would it be like to share them?
I have been explicitly thinking about the things we don’t talk about ever since seeing the title of Azar Nafisi’s second memoir, Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories.
There is a power in claiming our experience as true and sharing it. Not only for ourselves, but for each other.
Parker Palmer, in his article Now I Become Myself, excerpted from his book Let Your Life Speak, wrote, “It is a strange gift, this birthright gift of self. Accepting it turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else.” He goes on to point out that, “In families, schools, workplaces, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”
One of the ways we betray ourselves is by keeping silent about our experiences.
And, one of the ways that we redeem ourselves is by bringing those secrets into the light.
If we dare to be ourselves, we set ourselves up for our own mental health. But more than that, by revealing our weaknesses and our struggles, we allow other people to see our humanity, to be touched by our stories, and to take healing power from our stories.
In this series, I will be reflecting on both the things that I have kept silent about and on the relationship between truth-telling and art. I hope you will join me.
“[T]he fact that every life counts is built into the work we do.”
Roger Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing
I spent the morning of September 11th at the monthly breakfast meeting of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. James Dewar read an excerpt from his poem about the attacks ten years ago, but otherwise the anniversary was not on the agenda.
The featured speaker was Ian Brown, who spoke about writing The Boy in the Moon, his memoir about raising his severely disabled son, Walker. Walker suffers from cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Among other issues, Walker has extreme developmental delays, compulsions to hit himself, and an inability to speak.
Two ideas in Brown’s talk resonated deeply with me. First, he spoke of how the severity of Walker’s condition forced him to face the reality of the world rather than his hopes for the world; in return, he got ”a refuge from the survival of the fittest.” Secondly, he described the job of writers as “to celebrate the individual in the face of doltish generalities.”
Celebrating the individual and providing a refuge from the survival of the fittest for myself and others are two of the needs that drive me to tell stories, whether on stage, on paper, or at InterPlay workshops. Knowing this is crucial to my identity as a creative person.
In the face of traumatic events like the attacks of September 11th and the enormity of the damage that to the national pysche of the United States in the wake of those attacks, the question of whether storytelling is valuable pops up, uninvited and unwanted, but inevitable. And my answer is Yes.
Stories matter. Fictional stories that allow us to imagine alternatives to a world that is otherwise paralyzingly bleak. True stories that allow us to see individuals as whole people with feelings and families rather than as personifications of Otherness. Simple stories that allow us to connect with the lived experience of another human being. Mythic stories that allow us to create a moral compass. They matter. All of them.
Without these stories, we become less vibrant as individuals and we become less able to function in community. Fear and isolation run rampant in North America these days. Compassion, interdependence, and community are in short supply. Stories have the power to open our minds and our hearts, sometimes even against our wills.
To have stories in the world that can work their magic, there must be storytellers.
And so, I raise my proverbial glass to all the storytellers of the world. We are the magic makers, the meaning makers, the humanizers, and the beautifiers, and the world needs us.
For much of my life, my need to tell stories has been filtered through theatrical performance. But fiction was my first love. Like too many sensitive children, I let an English teacher kill my passion for writing with a few flicks of her red pen.
When I finally decided to get over it and write anyway, I addressed the power of her comments creatively. A character with her name was the first victim in the first novel in my ″never going to see the light of day″ pile. Killing her comments off symbolically was a surprisingly powerful act and was the beginning of my adult journey to writing from my own imagination.
In reigniting the passion in this one area of my life, I have triggered other dormant passions to rise up and demand attention. My lifelong interests in justice, art, and play are combining with my compassion and care for human beings and driving me to write non-fiction about issues I care about. And, I am being driven to do more than write, to connect with others and to advocate in many forms for the issues that matter to me.
Watching my bright children make their way through a world where their intellects and sensitivities are not always appreciated has reminded me of the issues that bedevilled my childhood. I have taken up the mantle of advocacy for gifted child and their needs.
I have developed new online connections with InterPlayers and other people who care about play and playfulness. They remind me daily of the power of play. Because of their inspiration, I have returned to the advocacy of play as a crucial element of human growth and development. I am looking to lead InterPlay workshops and am building a website to promote play around the world. More information about the website A More Playful Life will be coming soon. In the meantime, follow A More Playful Life on Twitter for play-related news and inspiration.
In my life, I have trained as a lawyer, a minister, an actor, a director, and a play facilitator. Now, in a stream of energy and power, all this training is coming together and pushing me into three distinct areas: fiction writing, gifted advocacy, and play advocacy.
My fiction writing is my place of personal deep play. The other activities are forms of engagement with the wider world on behalf of myself and others. The heart of them all is the knowledge that through playful engagement with myself, I create energy that I can direct towards transforming the world. My power is where my passion is.
Justice, art, and play are my driving concerns and they are driving me forward with great energy now. I am not sure where the ride will take me, but it promises to be thrilling. I hope you′ll join me.
Today′s shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson, Arizona is a tragedy. There is no doubt about that. My thoughts of compassion are with all those who have been touched personally by this event. I feel a need to address the public reaction to the news. And, despite the fact that I live in Canada, I am an American and have responded as an American.
There are people who have their hearts breaking today. Some have lost a loved one. Some are waiting with bated breath to hear about the condition of loved ones. And some, presumably, have seen a loved one commit a horrific act. My heart cries out with compassion for all of these people.
I have chosen not to watch or read more than the basic news about the event today because the responses are dishearteningly predictable. The media are trying to tell a story before there is enough information to support more than a brief recitation of facts. Politicians are making public statements of compassion. Pundits are weighing in on possible motivations of the shooter. Accusations of culpability are being thrown around, without regard to merit. People are distancing themselves from rhetoric that appears callous in light of today′s events. A lot of people are busy talking, making judgements, interpreting the circumstances in ways that reflect their prior understanding of the way the world is.
I am not ready to engage with any of that. My heart has been touched and I must grieve.
I grieve for the people who have been touched today’s events. I grieve that the world is one in which people do horrible things to each other, for whatever reason or lack of reason. And I grieve that we cannot simply let our feelings be our feelings. The commentary, the PR spin, and the blame-throwing so soon after the event diminish the experiences of those who weep out of love. It is too early to analyze. This is a time to stand in company with each other. And, as facts are gathered and the circumstances understood, then there should be reflection and analysis.
Like many people, I want never to hear news like this again. Like many, I have ideas about how social institutions might be modified to increase such a likelihood.
But, I fear that without taking the time to experience our emotional responses, we head into a preordained game, where each of us interprets this event as reinforcement of our preconceived ideas. Our psychological defence mechanisms will kick in to prevent us from seeing alternative ideas or facts that suggest our initial views might be narrow or even wrong. In the conversations I witnessed before shutting off my connections, I saw too much of this happening already.
Yes, I have ideas and hopes about political conversations that might emerge eventually, but I don′t want this event to be political before it is witnessed as deep individual experiences. Even if we end up with the same political divides we had this morning, allowing ourselves the time and space to have human emotional reactions and to acknowledge that there is common ground between people at the level of our human physical experiences might allow respect to bubble back into that divide. I fear it is already too late.
Posted in Social Justice