When I lived in Chicago and would tell people at a party that I was writing a memoir, there would always be one person who’d ask, “What makes you think your life is so special that anyone would want to read about it?” It was almost always a guy, and although this person wasn’t trying to be a dick, it was clear that he really believed that a random person’s story probably wasn’t that special.
I’d tell my inquisitor that I had survived a stroke just a few years before; learning to walk again, do math, drive, FUNCTION, had been a challenge. I wanted to offer hope to anyone who had gone through some similar setback, I’d say. A “Whoa,” or a “Hmm, I’d probably read about that,” would often follow.
Creative writers, especially memoirists, can be labeled as navel-gazers for writing about themselves. Any one of us who writes about life’s experiences could be seen that way, I suppose, if we impart our own spin or understanding on the experiences we’re writing about.
But I’d argue that even if it is not as polished as it could be (like this blog!), writing about the human condition and one’s experience can shed light on something in a new way for a new reader.
Today is day 6 of the poetry challenge I’m participating in, and I’m thinking about all this because of the poem I wrote for our prompt. Descort was the form, and “downtown” was the word of inspiration.
Here’s my crack at it:
My favorite schizophrenic
rode the Red line
with me Mondays and Wednesdays.
The people around us,
the many voices,
to the cacophony of the city.
Oh, how I loved that Chicago grit,
you could be
alone in togetherness with so many.
After writing this, I started thinking about “my favorite schizophrenic.” This man would often be on the train when I’d get on in the morning, and he’d ride downtown with me. Somehow, we frequently rode in the same car, and fascinated, I’d watch him have conversations with himself.
Today, I feel so naive whenever I think of him.
Until my time in Chicago, I didn’t understand the depths of mental illness and its correlation to the homeless population.
My only experiences with the homeless were in Bogota, where my mom would always yank me away from staring or trying to give a homeless person a few pesos. Even though she would become a mental health counselor, she never offered any lessons on why the person conducting an invisible orchestra might be homeless.
So as I think about the man, a character in real life, and a person in a poem now (I also wrote about him in grad school), I hope that anyone stumbling across this post takes a minute to learn more about mental health, homelessness and their connections.
These resources are a good place to start
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Healthcare for the Homeless Council
Mental Illness Policy Org
Posting a few websites is not much, I know. And drawing on my memories to write a poem to fit this “purpose” of completing a challenge could probably be looked on as appropriation by some. But I believe that art can make a difference for others while also allowing the artist to gain something new.