Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why Navel Gazing Isn't An Insult

Wow. Where Have I Been?
October of 2017 ate me alive and only recently has spit me back out.

So as I re-group and get my weekly blog schedule going again, I am going to just put this amazing powerful holy fuck interview with Melissa Febos right here for you to read...

Some juicy key quotes:
"It is a concern I have heard from countless students and peers, and which I always greet with a combination of bafflement and frustration. Since when did telling our own stories and deriving their insights become so reviled? It doesn’t matter if the story is your own, I tell them over and over, only that you tell it well. We must always tell stories so that their specificity reveals some universal truth. "

"I am complicit. I have committed this betrayal of my own experience innumerable times. But I am done agreeing when my peers spit on the idea of writing as transformation, as catharsis, as—dare I say it—therapy. Tell me, who is writing in their therapeutic diary and then dashing it off to be published? I don’t know who these supposedly self-indulgent (and extravagantly well-connected) narcissists are. But I suspect that when people denigrate them in the abstract, they are picturing women. I’m finished referring to stories of body and sex and gender and violence and joy and childhood and family as “navel-gazing.”

"I polled the audience—a room packed with a few hundred readers and writers. I asked for a show of hands: “Who here has experienced an act of violence, abuse, extreme disempowerment, sexual aggression, harassment, or humiliation?” The room fell silent as the air filled with hands."

"Who was I, a twenty-six-year-old woman, a former junkie and sex worker, to presume that strangers should find my life interesting? I had already learned that there were few more damning presumptions than that of a young woman thinking her own story might be meaningful. Besides, I was writing a Very Important Novel. Just like Jonathan Franzen or Philip Roth or Hemingway, those men of renowned humility.

“No way,” I told my professor. I was determined to stick to my more humble presumption that strangers might be interested in a story made up by a twenty-six-year-old former junkie sex worker.
Do you see how easy it is to poke holes in this logic?"
"Let’s face it: If you write about your wounds, it is therapy. Of course, the writing done in those fifteen minutes was surely terrible by artistic standards. But it is a logical fallacy to conclude that any writing with therapeutic effect is terrible. You don’t have to be into therapy to be healed by writing. Being healed does not have to be your goal. But to oppose the very idea of it is nonsensical, unless you consider what such a bias reveals about our values as a culture. Knee-jerk bias backed by flimsy logic and bad science has always been the disguise of our national prejudices."
"Acknowledging all of this will not get your book published. Being healed by writing does not excuse you from the insanely hard work of making art. There are plenty of mediocre memoirs out there, just as there are plenty of mediocre novels. I labored endlessly to craft my memoir. But after it was published, I still fielded insinuations that I had gotten away with publishing my diary. Interviewers asked only about my experiences and never about my craft."
"Writing about your personal experiences is not easier than other kinds of writing. In order to write that book, I had to invest the time and energy to conduct research and craft plot, scenes, description, dialogue, pacing—all the writer’s jobs, and I had to destroy my own self-image and face some unpalatable truths about my own accountability. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It made me a better person, and it made a better book.
Navel-gazing is not for the faint of heart. The risk of honest self-appraisal requires bravery."
"To name just one of many such statistics in a grossly underreported set of crimes: The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey recently found that 46.4 percent of lesbians, 74.9 percent of bisexual women, and 43.3 percent of heterosexual women have been the victims of sexual violence.
But we shouldn’t write about it because people are fatigued by stories about trauma? No. We have been discouraged from writing about it because it makes people uncomfortable. Because a patriarchal society wants its victims to be silent. Because shame is an effective method of silencing."
"It is about having abandonment issues.
This sort of admission might make you cringe. But white straight male writers are writing about the same things—they are just overlaying them with a plot about baseball, or calling their work fiction. Men write about their daddy issues constantly, and I don’t see anyone accusing them of navel-gazing."
"Don’t tell me that the experiences of a vast majority of our planet’s human population are marginal, are not relevant, are not political. Don’t tell me that you think there’s not enough room for another story about sexual abuse, motherhood, or racism. The only way to make room is to drag all our stories into that room. That’s how it gets bigger.
You write it, and I will read it."

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