HOW I DEFY A SINGLE STORY AND ADD
TO THE SWELL OF STORIES THAT DEFY STEREOTYPES
-IN THE MIX-
How much simmering does it take for you to write a poem, a story, a blog post, or even a tweet or a response to a FB post? How much anxiety? How much shame?
Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, 2009, “The Danger of a single story,” states: “The consequence of a single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
As a MFA student in a Creative Writing program, I often felt suffocated and angry because I felt there was only a single story being perpetuated: of what you needed to learn to be a writer, what you needed to write to be a writer, who you needed to be to be a writer, and who you needed to embrace (not contentiously disagree with).
“The consequence of a single story is this: it robs people of dignity.” The story when I attended graduate school was not inclusive. It didn’t include my story. It offered shame. I was told “they didn’t teach me how to write.” Perhaps not, but I wrote, and I graduated with a 4.0. Yet, I experienced that my story was a thorn in the single story.
As writers, we all have our particular story(ies). In How Dare We! Write a multicultural creative writing discourse, LHP, 2017, we can read 24 particular stories. These stories defy a single story; they embrace difference and for some of us, similarity.
My story as a writer is that I don’t write every day, I may not write in a month or even a year. I don’t write to be a writer. I didn’t go to graduate school to be a writer; I went to prove to myself I was smart enough to earn a graduate degree. What I write has more to do with finding myself, understanding myself/my mixed identity-and when I write is when I write, period. And I didn’t go to graduate school to become a teacher. I became a teacher because someone gave me an opportunity to be one and I accepted because I needed the paycheck. I wasn’t a particularly good teacher, just like I’m not a particularly good writer-but I persisted: 1) because I needed the money, and 2) because, apparently, I was born to tell the truth, whether it served me well or not. But persistence doesn’t define pace, and for me, persistence, didn’t mean I was or am prolific.
I am not one story. My story is not a true story unless it envelops race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, etc. My story wanders in and out of time and situations. Currently my story is a story of aging. It’s one of contemplation, of consideration. I have written a few poems; poems that I didn’t write because I had to which is always the reason I have written in the past-out of urgency. And I am writing a picture book, a gift to my grandson (and his parents) who is nonverbal and was diagnosed with autism at an early age. I am imagining, by observing, what he might have to say to grandmas, to parents, and to caretakers. I don’t have to write this book, I want to.
My story is many stories; it could never be just one story. And my many stories are just a drop in the swell of other writers’ stories. I pray for dignity, not shame, for all of us who write whether every day, or whenever; who are published or not-who want to be or couldn’t care less; who are expert grammarians, or like me not so much; and who have not only the heart and determination, but the words and a way to articulate them to engage purposefully in social media-again, I’m not so skilled or articulate-or brave. It’s all okay.
Adichie says “stories matter.” I’d like to add, your story as a writer matters. I remember being told a writer should take risks, not be a copy-cat, that to be unique is what really counts. There might be some truth in that, depending on what your goals as a writer are/or are not, but maybe it’s not about taking risks, but just embracing who you are.
I think I’ve written this story before. Sometimes I have to remind myself.
What is your story as a writer? Feel free to share in comments.
Sherry Quan Lee, September 8, 2018