Last week, I wrote about my peach-bruise experience in fiction workshop. That bruising experience quickly spiraled into a full-on writer’s crisis, which entailed a panicked conversation with my (vet med) boyfriend who was supportive but probably a little panicked himself since panicked writers can be a bit of a terror. I’m growing into my writer’s skin piece by piece so those “peach” moments happen less frequently, but the reality is that writing is often synonymous with questioning yourself– questioning who you are, why you write, what you write, how you write. Sometimes those questions can invoke a little easy bruising when others ask them, too.
I am in a continual process of understanding the identities that contribute to who I am. Sometimes, it’s terrifying to delve so deeply in to the “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” etc. questions, because they get right to the heart of your very existence and why you do what you do… but they’re important to ask. It’s important to understand who you are, why you’re here, etc. because that’s how you understand the person you are and understand how your identity fuels what you do.
As I examine my identities (specifically for my advanced fiction class), it can seem as if my place in the world is painfully simple– middle-class white girl. That oversimplification of my identity led to my writer’s crisis, because I was suddenly terrified that I had nothing important to say. What could a college white girl know about anything? Probably a fat lot of nothing, was all I could think. I seemed to be forgetting that yes, some of my identities are vantage points of privilege, limited viewpoints that require further research into identities other than my own… but everyone has those limited viewpoints. Many writers– many people– have identities that intersect with privilege in our society, but that does not necessarily make that identity unimportant or uninteresting. Sometimes, it is exactly from those places of privilege that we can do the most good and speak the most powerfully. It’s in how we take note of and use our privilege that its effect on our identities is shaped.
I often oversimplify when I look upon myself and try to answer that “who am I” question. The identities I see are the ones that are hardest for me to work with, because I only see the places where privilege has made many journeys less difficult. But I, like every person, have identities that challenge a smooth journey forward. I have experienced situations where privilege has been allocated elsewhere, and it is often in these experiences that I have grown the most as a writer, person, and woman. It is from these experiences that I can understand the damaging effects of privilege vs. non-privilege, and work to utilize my passion and my identity to expose the privileges I experience and work to “make the world better,” cliche as it may sound. I write to make an impact, and I am learning that the identities of privilege that can sometimes make me uncomfortable are exactly the ones I should employ to make the biggest impact.
Becoming a writer and grappling with my identities has been an enormous part of finding my voice, both as a person and as a writer. Understanding the place from which I write, the passion from which I write, and the voice with which I write is teaching me that my voice is important. I have always struggled with questions of if I’m good enough, smart enough, valuable enough to speak loud enough to be heard– but as a writer, you don’t have a choice. When you write, you are being heard, perhaps softly at first but louder with each word you put on the page. As a writer, I choose to voice my identities in the stories I tell. In order to inspire meaning in those stories, I must first inspire myself as a human being… after all, if I’m not invested in the stories I tell, who else will be?
For my first non-fiction assignment, I wrote a memoir about my experiences with sexual assault. It was terrifying, personal, and difficult to name those experiences and expose myself on paper in that way, but it was also comforting, rewarding, and empowering. I consider that piece one of the best things I have written to date, because it challenged me to take a strong look at a source of profound pain that has truly shaped me as a human being. It questions my identity framed in two experiences in which a large piece of my identity was taken from me without my permission. It is in my experiences that I have found my voice and my truth, and taking ownership of them– the good, the bad, and all experiences in between– is what has made them meaningful and powerful.
There is no place for fear in a writer’s heart. Sure, it’s incredibly important to ask yourself the tough questions and never get so comfortable in a way of thinking that you forget to listen to the stories around you, but you must be confident that the voice you speak with and identities you speak from are just as important and valuable as anyone else’s. We are all harboring our own singular collection of human experiences, no two compilations exactly the same. We experience the confusions, joys, questions, and answers that come from the identities we claim, and we all have something to share. Speak now, because your words deserve to be heard. Speak now, and use your words to inspire human connection. Speak now to fight for change where change is due. Speak now, but don’t forget to listen.
I am Katlyn, I am a middle-class, white, female, American, survivor, feminist, artist, writer, lover, daughter, girlfriend, best friend, cat owner, chocolate-enthusiast, pizza fanatic, and so much more. I am me, and this is why I write. I am the occasional culprit of an identity/writer’s/existential/human crisis, but what’s important is that each time I as “who am I?” I move a little closer to the answer to “why am I important?” Not everyone will like my stories, but that does not mean they aren’t worth telling. I am finding my voice, and it is a voice worth hearing. I am complicated, flawed, wonderful, confusing, smart, and many things in between. I experience privilege in many ways, which I fight every day to be aware of and to use positively in the world around me, and I also experience non-privilege, which I fight to keep from holding me back. I am not a simplified sample of my identities– I am many, and I will always write. I will speak now, because I have stories to tell.