A couple of weeks ago, Wanderer and I were chatting to guy who was passing through town and only there for one night. As sometimes happens, said guy (I shall call him Square) wanted to know what I do for a living. This is always a difficult topic, as I seem to baffle anyone above a certain age and anyone who has had or currently has a nine to five.
Heaven forbid a woman of my age trying to get by on what meagre talents she has.
Wanderer proudly announced that I write books and such, but Square seemed a bit mystified by ‘urban fantasy’ so Wanderer then said that I write zines and explained a little bit about what they are.
“What do you write about?” Square asked.
I replied that there are a number of different topics, but I have one series that is primarily autobiographical.
Square shook his head and announced that no one wanted to read about other people’s lives, to which I replied that I’ve loved biographies since I was a child.
“So what makes you so special?”
Wanderer must have sensed my growing frustration at that point, because he jumped in with the very cliff notes version of leaving everything I knew at barely twenty years old to travel halfway across the planet with some clothes and a laptop to start a new life.
Square was insistent this was not anything anyone would be interested in reading about, at which point we pushed the conversation in a different direction.
Who do you think you are?
What makes you so special?
These questions and questions like them are used so often to bring artists down. To somehow make artists ‘on the same level’ as everyone else.
Somehow, to create something is considered by some people – sometimes by the artists themselves – to be self-indulgent privilege that should only be granted to those who have been deemed valid by others. Some people seem to think a thing should only exist if they think it has value.
Fast forward a few weeks.
I sat in the little medical office while the nurse helped me to map out my health care plan. I was lost and confused with new chronic illness conditions to add to the list. I was intimidated by the idea of needing a ‘health care team’, and the term ‘quality of life’ rang in my ears.
She asked me a few questions, and I eventually had to confess that this was all new to me and that I was pretty confused about, well, everything to do with my new diagnosis. She nodded, understanding, and said:
“I have that condition, too.”
What? She did? This woman who was so different from me in age, employment, economic background, and countless other things that conversation didn’t bring up was also like me?
I wanted to know so much more. When was she first diagnosed? How? How long has she been dealing with it? Were her side effects like mine? Did we struggle with the same things? What lessons had she learned that she could share with me?
There were so many things I wanted to know about this stranger and her life. I wanted her to have written zines upon zines about her experiences so I could get them all and read them. I felt comforted by the fact that someone who had this big, scary diagnosis in common with me was so great at being a successful nurse.
And she had no idea.
One of the most beautiful feelings in life is finding out that you aren’t alone. That you aren’t the only one. But if we, as artists, were to stop creating, stop writing, stop putting our Selves out there for want of some sort of permission slip from the universe, there’s so much more pain that will happen because of the lack of our art.
Yes, this is a power that so many people who create things don’t realise they have. Whether you are sharing your story through paintings, zines, books, handwritten letters to penpals, and so much more, you are having an impact. You are changing lives, and you don’t even know it.
As a creator, you will touch another person’s life. Perhaps thousands for millions of lives. The only thing you need to accept is that you will never know the full impact you have. Only you have lived your life with your setbacks, your reactions, your failures, and your successes. Only you are fully equipped to share your story in whatever medium you feel most called to.
You should share your story because you’re the best person to share it, and you have no idea how many people could could help, comfort, and inspire by doing so.
Who do you think you are? You are a creator. You put things into the world, you give, and you damn well don’t need permission to do so.