"I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear." ~ Joan Didion
In my latest release, Hummingbird Tales, I compiled both fiction and creative nonfiction, or short essays, and produced them as a collection, intertwining both in one another in a way that blended truth and falsities, what is real and what is not. I suppose I did this for two reasons: 1) I wasn't yet ready for the world (or a small handful of people) to see inside, to take me as I fully was, and 2) in writing, sometimes the truth bleeds into the fiction or hides behind a weak, malleable mask.
When I began reading creative nonfiction, I was deeply entranced by it. How these people allowed themselves to be so vulnerable in their writing... it simply boggled me. They opened up about their depression, their trauma, the things they loved and feared most, and presented their unique outlook on life, and their life itself, for us to take in and enjoy as entertainment. We soaked in these essayists' raw selves, and I noticed that, for a while, I naturally read these "stories" as fiction. My mind was so uncomfortable, felt so intrusive, reading real events and thoughts, that I tried to believe they were made up. If this makes sense.
It was then when I realized I have been vulnerable in my writing for most of my life. In fiction, yes, but also in my blogging.
The only difference between my blogging and creative nonfiction pieces was the fact that when I blogged, I hid, behind a catchy title, the generalization of tips and advice, and, well, the advice itself.
I don't know much about life. But, I love to learn, and I learn best when I put my words to paper, when I write, and the feelings materialize on the page before me. In some strange way, by writing blog posts, formulating useful pieces of advice that have personally assisted me through a foggy period, I can see a little more closely inside. Then, I would tie all of these shards of myself up in a neat little bow that was "10 ways to be a happier human", that idea manifested from the fact that at the time of writing, I was unhappy.
I've explored a lot about blogging, self-help, and myself throughout my college years, as presented through my posts such as finding yourself is impossible and why NOT blogging for 2 months improved my life (both rather hot takes, perhaps?). It's been a strange, unsteady journey for quite some time now. But, all of my struggles have narrowed down to one single idea: people really don't know anything.
Okay, not anything.
But, life is meant to be explored, taken as it is, as it comes. Life isn't supposed to be masterfully figured out. And this, in my opinion, is the key that separates creative nonfiction from typical blogging. Blogs posts oftentimes read off as though the writer has everything figured out, and here are the ways to solve these problems whereas these tips may have only personally helped them one-time last week or long ago, it's all up to interpretation and solely depended on personal experience; so is creative nonfiction, but where it differs is the idea that life is messy, and journeys are challenging, and very rarely are hard times cleared up easily before our eyes.
For example, I recently read To Shake The Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins, a memoir of Jenkins' journey from Oregon to Patagonia via bicycle. In this book, he explored sexuality, race, life for young adults, mental health, religion, and so much more, but not in a way that hinted he had everything figured out. No, he was far from that. Jenkins was brutally honest in the way he wrote, (he was 30, and yet, he still came across as immature, like a child seeing everything for the first time) and his journey made me realize that, well: we think these journies will give us clarity, new knowledge. And while they can, assisting us in growing up and overcoming obstacles in our path, we will embark on a new journey, and then another, climbing new mountains every year, every day sometimes. In short: nobody has everything figured out, and nobody ever will, because we're supposed to keep learning. We're supposed to keep living.
Creative nonfiction is terrifying in the sense that you cannot hide. Not really. You are exploring your thoughts on the page and there's nothing to separate you from the words, the truth. There's no barrier, no shield. It is just you, cracked open like an egg, yolk spilling across ink, swelling into the pages. The world will know that you're a "fraud", that you don't really know anything. Not at least to the extent that you think you do. You're just a human, traveling this vast world alongside everyone else, with your own battles to fight, your own journies to embark on.
But, through creative nonfiction, I have now understood the power of vulnerability in writing. The power in being honest with the world. The power of not feeling the need to hide behind pieces of advice, but to implement those pieces to tell stories. You don't have to hide behind fiction to tell a story; there are stories in all of our lives.
This is not me saying that creative nonfiction is superior, however; I am still a fiction writer at heart. Yet, I couldn't help but chase this idea that vulnerability in writing makes us uncomfortable. And I wanted to know why that was. So here I am, pouring my curiosities onto the page to be sorted out by my widening irises.
When we're vulnerable in writing, unafraid to showcase our own scars, we create a new connection with readers. We tare down that barrier (we're just people, too) and create a pathway, a bridge, from human to human. We relate to these stories, to these people from across the other side of the book, the essay. And we don't like relating to the hard things.
We don't always like being seen for who we are.
Of course, I may pick up pieces of advice along the way, struggle to contain my newfound knowledge, desperate to share my theories with y'all. I will still, certainly, hide.
But, there is a beauty in being honest. In knowing that you are equally as intelligent, as emotionally in-depth, as wise, as anyone else. No one should instruct you on how to live life. We should simply live it, side-by-side, together. And now that I'm diving back into writing, I realize this now. I recognize the importance of being authentic or being real.
Until I find something else to ramble about,