In solitude, in community

Writing’s supposed to be a solo thing. Right? That’s what I signed up for anyway, something I could do while holed up in my room with nobody but my cat as company, when nobody and nothing else matters but me and the words I put on the page. Something that would go well with my affinity for taking myself out on dates, so that if nothing else I can take out my notebook in an attempt to prove that yes, I am a weirdo who wants to be alone.

But when I signed up I didn’t read the fine print, of course. The part that said that there are a whole bunch of other weirdos out there, and at some point, we will find each other.That’s the funny thing about writing, that it’s a solo activity that ultimately creates community. Like-minded folks find one another. People connect over mutually recognized parts of the human condition, aspects of life you thought only you noticed until someone else reads that line of poetry that makes you go, oh.

Something exciting is happening here in San Francisco these days. At events like Literary Death Match, Queer Open Mic and more, writers and readers and lovers of the written or spoken word are finding one another and creating community. There’s nothing like being in a room where a writer puts her heart on the stage and the audience reaches out to keep it beating.

This Labor Day I was lucky enough to spend time with some of this community at September’s edition of Quiet Lightning, a monthly reading series hosted by the fantastic Evan Karp and Rajshree Chauhan. The event began with a litnic (thanks to Matthew DeCoster for that term) at Dolores Park, where the weather was beautiful and the food was plentiful and the love of writing was in the air. And writers weren’t the only artists to find each other, of course. Musicians also came out to not only provide the day’s soundtrack, but also add to the sense of community that was coming together. Then, as evening set in, the group moved to the Mina Dresden Gallery for the reading. Folks like Andrew Paul Nelson and Katie May and Jesus Castillo (I’d really like to name them all, they were all so great) read back to back without introduction and took our collective breath away, so if nothing else our simultaneous gaps and oohs reminded us that we were in this together. It was really a marvelous day.

I’d like to blog more about these events, as I witness the creation of a community of writers, people who spend enough time alone with their own maddening thoughts (so maybe I’m speaking for myself here) that the chance to come together and share words is an inevitably explosive event. So expect more of these posts. Evan Karp, of course, always does a brilliant job of keeping up with these things at the Examiner, so when I miss out, be sure to check in with him there.

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 9:33 AM  Comments (6)  
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Another world possible through… poetry?

On art and social change:

I’ve always had this crazy idea that I’m gonna somehow change the world through writing. If not through my writing itself, then at least by helping others find their voices and discover the power of words.

I’ve also always thought, of course, that I’d have to be a little bit crazy to think this way. Of all the various kick-ass ways of going about creating social change, could sitting down and writing really be counted among them?

Some folks at the U.S. Social Forum certainly seemed to think so. Many led workshops sharing their wisdom and inspirational stories surrounding creativity, the arts and social change. There was much to learn, not only about creative practices but also about where I stand on their place in social justice movements.

So I’m going to start small. Rather than try to answer the bigger question of whether I believe in art as social change, I’ll begin with what I know. This I believe:

  • We can speak through writing when our voices are lost. Whether we’re forcibly silenced or held back by our own lack of confidence, writing can help us find and project our voices when we don’t have any other way.
  • Anybody can write (shh…). Now don’t let this one get out, because writing is supposed to be my thing, but I believe that anybody can write. No amount of talent or training (or lack thereof) matters when it’s just you and the pen, and you’re writing from the heart, telling your story like only you could. Don’t believe me? Get in touch with me, and I’ll help you dare to try.
  • Writing has made change before. There are countles examples from history, and I really believe that the world would not be the same if not for writers like the Beat poets or those of the Harlem Renaissance, who insisted on telling their stories in ways the world had never heard. If nothing else, the literary arts can capture a movement from the point of view of those involved, so that their stories will not be forgotten.
  • Writing can help communities heal, reflect and grow. I believe that simply by telling our stories, we can shake off pain and shame, celebrate our lives and communities, and learn to love ourselves and each other. Facing injustice, being constantly put down and out, we can feel stuck, and become unwilling or believe we are unable to take on the hard work of making change, even if it is for our own good. Celebrating and sharing with our communities through writing can help remind us that we’re worth it, deserving of a world in which we can thrive as we are.

So, I guess the answer is yes, I am crazy. Crazy enough to believe in the power of writing to create social change, and to not find the idea so crazy after all. What do you think? How do you see art as social change?

——————————————————————————————————–

I must write,

for I find the call of the blank page,

like the call to revolution,

irresistible.

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