This May Be a Lie by Jana McCall
Built to Spill -
“I lie on accident, trying to explain”
I hate writing.
I mean, there is that rapturous moment when a body of work is finished, cradled in my arms all shiny, plump and ready for its unveiling. And it doesn’t get more transcendent than those moments when the words are rapidly released with no internal censor to hold them back or cut them short.
Mostly, though, writing makes me unbearably self absorbed and cranky.
All the places I write from are fucked up places. No one likes revisiting the sinkholes that nearly sank them. But time and again, the past, like a pack of demon hounds released to track and kill the fox, will require my full attention. And so, I'll keep writing and creating; searching for resolution, absolution or some kind of truth.
I was asked to write an essay on creative authenticity.
I've had, throughout my life, what has been deemed trauma. I suppose we have all had some kind of trauma. Each of us has most likely experienced something that hindered our ability to remain intact. But almost more impactful than a crappy childhood was a thing as unnameable and elusive as the smell of summer. Perhaps it was my authenticity being shoved down into a tiny box labeled heteronormative female victim.
So powerful were the patriarchal ideals and dogma being cemented into my every crack and crevice, that I- starting as a teeny tiny, bud-lipped girl who became a full blown c-section-scarred woman- never came to fruition. So often I expressed, in words or otherwise, to anyone who got in my way, 'Fuck you' , when what I should have done was declared to you, father/mother world, that I was not going to be your miserable bitch, I would not be your kind of girl. But you are tricky, you planted ideas from birth that the world is violent and unpredictable; and in more subtle ways, that other women were the enemy.
I quickly learned how to judge harshly every thought, action, and moment, and how to throw up impenetrable walls.I learned to turn attraction to and admiration for other women into competitiveness and disdain and to hate the word 'feminist, which inevitably led to me hating myself. And I kept moving. Seducing as many men as possible, looking for my power, looking for my truth. I said: "Take my body, force me to exist.".
But power and truth would evade me. I tore myself into pieces that were tossed to the dogs until, over the course of my adulthood, I discovered the cathartic powers of visual arts, songwriting and poetry.
I remember my first painting. It was ridiculous. I didn't yet know how to let things come out from my deepest wells of human experience. Making art meant attempting to recreate what others were doing, and to not show all my cards, i.e, my heart. Just like in relationships, I devised ways to only give a little so as not to be too exposed. At points, I delved deeper and brought up much darkness to splatter onto canvases, melodies and pages. I noticed how uncomfortable this made others, so I kept tempering my truths to make them more digestible.
When I look back on things I've made, music for instance, I have a hard time acknowledging whether or not the songwriting was truthful. It's difficult to connect with the person who made that music. I believe I meant each note, word and melody, I believe they were honest, but I can't guarantee it. Because I look back on that person, and she is gone.
And where do I begin with my expertise of writing? I know nothing about writing except how to do it for myself. I could never tell another person how to do it. Writing either moves me or it doesn't. I have nothing else to say about it and I'm not interested in a writer's emotional or intellectual intent. Is my work authentic? Is your work authentic? I have no idea.
But I suspect that authenticity is forever shifting like energy itself and that ,no matter who or what we are, every act, every moment, every creation, is an authentic one. If I create something because I'm convinced it is what others want, or simply because I can't crack through my own hard shell to get to the meaty insides, is this creation still not some form of authentic?
I wish I had no regrets. I should have faced the world with boldness and heart. I should have poured every ounce of pain into all that I created and not been shamed back into silence. I could have discovered safety and acceptance in the arms of another girl instead of flinching whenever somebody female physically touched me. But now I know that all of that resistance and deceit was my truth.
And so,I propose this: if a person has written something shitty (and by shitty, I mean anyone who's read it besides their husband or mom, thinks it's pretty bad) but it's only shitty because the writer hasn’t discovered their true self, the fact remains: it's still authentic, it's still shitty.
Wherever you go, whatever you purge from your thinnest skin to your deepest soul, there you fucking are.
That first awful, contrived painting in art school made by me, the miserable bitch, was not a lie. It sucked bad, but it came from me; I am reclaiming it as authentic.
And that hot summer night, at the age of 16, when a vile,drug dealer dripped sweat onto me while he fucked me in the back seat of his Trans Am........ that really did happen. That girl was me, I existed. I am reclaiming it as authentic.
And yesterday, as I sat with my 3 year old under a birdsong filled tree while the warm sun dried our lazy bones, boundless love and gratitude oozed from every cell in my body.
That moment was as pure a moment as any I have had, and so I added it to my collection of 'authentic'.
Dear father/mother world: Fuck you. I will not be your miserable bitch anymore. I will make art when and how I want. And I will love who I want, how I want. I am no longer your girl.
Now, I’m ready to show all my cards. Now, I will not flinch.
Jana McCall lives in Seattle with her children, cats, and spouse. She has never won an award. She collects useless things and piles them all around. You can find her combing the Washington State beaches for radioactive debris.