I have learned through the wonderful The Seattle Review of Books about the wonderful Seattle organization Artist Trust and they are offering wonderful grants for artists, writers too (Jesus, that's "wonderful" used three times in a sentence, kill me), from $1,000 to $7,500 to $15,000. "Hey," I thought, "I should apply." I went to their office and read the winning entires' writer biographies and resumes and artist statements and got a bit spooked by the quality of writing samples and the amount of awards and prizes they won and the strength of their statements but you encouraged me to go ahead and apply and so I'm doing it (and if you're in Washington, I encourage you to do it too).
Today I have written the Artist Statement they ask for. It should be 4,000 characters or less (including punctuation and spaces) and it should "include information about how the work developed and its underlying concepts and structures, the artist’s influences, approaches and philosophies, etc." It also says, "have a peer or colleague review the support materials before submission." So here you go, my peers and colleagues. Tell me what you think.
The first stories I wrote, I wrote in my head. I was five, maybe six. At the time I didn’t know that’s what it was called, “writing stories.” I was escaping reality. I got very good at it, so good that I could stay in my head for days while my body performed whatever it needed to perform, or was hurt, or was neglected. Later, in my teens, I started writing a diary and in it, poetry. It was a way to express pain that drove me to thoughts of death and suicide and that I couldn’t tell anyone lest I’d be laughed at so I kept them to myself.
At eighteen I became a mother and forgot all about writing and returned to it nine years later. My grandmother died. I was breastfeeding my son and my international passport was outdated and I couldn’t leave US to go to Russia to the funeral and the grief, the helplessness of it all was agony. I had to get rid of it somehow so I wrote a story about a little girl and her grandmother getting lost in the woods and the grandmother dying and the girl finding a tree of life. I turned it into a screenplay and directed and produced a 20-minute movie. It was bad. Screenwriting wasn’t my medium. I put it aside and got busy being a mother.
Six years later chronic pelvic pain and doctors’ bafflement as to what was wrong brought me back to writing. My therapist told me to journal, to write out the memories, to reprocess them, to put them to rest. I did, and it opened a flood. Perhaps I was finally ready to face the horrors stored in my head. They were always there, carefully hidden. They wanted to get out. They insisted. I acquiesced.
I quit my career, sold everything of value I owned, and started writing full-time.
My first trilogy deals with teenage suicide. It gathered considerable interest but in the end every agent turned it down due to the dark and often explicit content. I self-published it and wrote three more novels, self-published them, and am in the process of writing my fourth, fifteen more outlined to be written in the next seven years.
Writing became my lifeline.
In my trilogy I left my e-mail and a plea to anyone who thinks of ending their life to contact me, talk to me. Many readers—many of them teenagers—did. Still do. Every time it happens, my heart sinks, and I ask them for their stories and later write them into mine to let them be known, fictionalized, of course. Always. Always anonymous. That is the purpose of my writing, the philosophy, the underlying concept or drive or whatever other fancy word is appropriate here. I’m still clumsy with fancy words, still having trouble with my abstract expression in English, it being my second language, but I seem to have no trouble expressing my emotions that often come with isolation, suppressed anger, trauma, split personality as a way of dealing with abuse, numbness, the desire to self-mutilate, depression, and detachment. My books became not just my lifeline. They became the lifeline for others.
That is why I write.
I have found a way to make beauty from ugliness, art from pain, happiness from darkness. I have found the will to live after badly wanting to die. I only wish that when I was five, or six, concocting those stories in my head, that someone guided me, someone explained to me that what I was doing was called “writing stories.” And so it is my hope that I can do this for others, for those who are lost and hurt and disillusioned, those who have no trust and no faith and no love for themselves because all they know is self-hate. If I manage to turn around at least one life, it’ll be worth it for me to have decided to continue living and to spend the rest of my life writing, giving voice to those who gave up on it, and encouraging them to start writing on their own.