Friday, August 7, 2009

Stop wasting time trying to live. Just live. And write.

As much as people want to claim life experience as a necessity for truly being able to express deepness of perception and emotion, I've always, and secretly at times, believed that this notion is a crock of shit. I was reminded of this recently after having read a blog entry from The MFA Chronicles.

But I was dwelling on this even before that, during the Michael Jackson memorial when it first aired. I took particular interest in Smokey Robinson's take on 10 year-old Michael Jackson's performance of his own song, "Who's Loving You." He basically heralded him as wise beyond his years. Said Robinson:

"I thought to myself: Now they have pulled a fast one on us. Because This boy can not possibly be 10 years-old. This song is about somebody who has somebody, who loved them but they treated them bad. They treated them so bad, till they lost them. And now they are paying the price of wanting somebody back that they treated bad and lost. How could he possibly know these things?"

Now, I don't want anyone to believe that I am attacking Smokey Robinson, especially for praising at their own memorial. I am not attacking him for what he said, but rather, trying to focus on an idea we seem all to have heard over and over again. That it takes great heartbreak to express great heartbreak, great sorrow to express great sorrow. And what is there to argue? It makes sense. Robinson went on to say:

"I did not believe that someone that young could have that much feeling and soul and know. He had a lot of 'know.' You had to know something to sing a song like that."

Perhaps Robinson is right. Maybe Jackson, even at age 10, had the 'know' to sing that song. Lord knows that MJ was forced to grow up much faster than any child should have to in an environment that doesn't absolutely require it.

But maybe, instead, an artist is sometimes able to adequately put themselves in the life experiences of another person through empathetic outreach, and not because they need to have lived through tragic heartbreak, feelings of desperation, or any of the other things we so love to read and hear about.

Drug use, too, is often seen as a gateway to something like this life experience we writers feel we are required to have lived through. How can we really open up our minds if we haven't gotten trashed a couple dozen (or hundred) times? How can we really SEE colors for what they are if we haven't tripped acid?

The fundamental truth that we are all alike is one that anyone who claims any sense of egalitarianism must believe in, in some part, and which Americans should be familiar with even if they don't always practice it. If this is true, then it is not impossible to surmise that given enough thought, one might guess what it feels like to feel heartbreak, or to be addicted to drugs, or to be suicidal, even having never been in those situations.

Perhaps I have never been chained to a drug, but I have watched people who are victims to substance abuse. I have spoken to them about addiction, and I know what some of the things they feel are like; helplessness, gnawing desire, despair. And the other emotions too, the ones that have nothing to do with their drug dependency.

There are writers too afraid to write about things they haven't lived, and I'm telling you: Yes, there is some kind of universal truth to be found in human suffering. In deep depression, for instance. I know. I have been depressed, though I don't always choose to write about it. In fact, I rarely do. But I don't expect or wish for anyone to reach that dismal state. And it would be a shame to lock up a truth that another writer is fully capable of expressing, just because they haven't lost everything yet.

Keep writing. If the experiences on your page ring false, question the validity of what it is you're basing your words on. But don't hold yourself to some imaginary life gauge that your elders have used to justify their own past suffering.


  1. Very good post! And great advice. This actually rang very true with me.

  2. Thanks, Kim! Glad to meet you! :P

  3. Loved this: "But maybe, instead, an artist is sometimes able to adequately put themselves in the life experiences of another person through empathetic outreach"

    YES! I'm with you on this 100%.

    Saw you over on The MFA Chronicles. Good luck with your apps!

  4. Thanks! I love that blog, I'm following it pretty frequently now.