Putting feelings into words is harder than it seems, because so very often they don’t make sense. Sort of like when I start talking to my friends and I switch languages in the middle of a sentence and it ends out coming out as gibberish.
Recently my English teacher showed us a video about a poet who struggled to find her own voice, and struggled to figure out what she wanted to say in her poems. Her quickest solution was to make lists about things that she knows to be true about herself. Our assignment was to make a list about things that we knew were true to ourselves.
These are things I know to be true about myself:
1. I can eat at least five apples a day.
2. Whenever I’m not eating apples, I can eat cereal breakfast, lunch, and dinner (especially Nature Valley cereal, you should really try that one).
3. I am incredibly opinionated about everything.
4. I have a little bit of a temper and I can get easily upset and frustrated.
5. But just as I can get easily upset, it is incredibly easy to make me laugh (whenever I’m not eating boxes of cereal, I am probably laughing).
6. However, I don’t believe in cheap humor; wit is the most important element to a good joke.
7. I know every single Taylor Swift song in existence (I haven’t decided if this is something to take pride in, but it’s still something that I know concretely about myself).
8. I love a good mystery or romance story.
9. If I could have a superpower, it would be healing powers.
10. I admire the art of storytelling and I will defend it to my last breath.
Everybody can make lists, I bet you all my money, that you could write a list like this in less than five minutes.
So why is it so complicated to talk about ourselves?
Wouldn’t it be so easy to make lists like this about your emotions? Concrete. Crystal clear. Straightforward. But it doesn’t work that way. Because not everyone has the ability to talk about their feelings so easily.
Talking about yourself can make you feel incredibly vulnerable, especially when you have to be honest. Creating stories with fictitious characters, yeah sure that’s all very fun and comes off easily, but talking about yourself and make it seem coherent, that’s art.
I think it all comes from the common mindset we all share of “I have nothing to say,” or “I just don’t have a talent.” That’s a lie. We all have a story to tell, we just all have different definitions of what makes a story interesting.
The thing is that our personal truths, the very core of who we are, cannot be googled or made up. Digging into yourself is uncomfortable because you have to deal with truths that you don’t even want to see, why would you want anybody else to see how vulnerable you really are, am I right?
At the beginning of the school year, my art teacher gave us the assignment to come up with a fake artist and create an artwork as if we were that artist ourselves.
I suddenly became Rachele (pronounced Rajelle) Ayn Locatelli. A Jewish young woman, born in Spain with Italian parents (listen I could make this story as wild as I pleased, and I did). Her ancestors moved from Israel to Italy to run a wine company that was highly successful, until WWII came and they were forced to flee their vineyards before the Nazi’s imprisoned them. They landed in Valencia, Spain, although declared neutral during WWII, they had to hide their religious beliefs. She was born with the gift of healing, therefore her works of art are soothing and connect with people to their core in order for them to heal.
It was surprisingly easy writing someone else’s biography, and creating an artwork as if she was real was a really beautiful experience, because it is how I imagined she would respond to the world around her.
Art class suddenly got a lot harder when I had to come up with pieces where I had to respond as myself.
I had nothing to say.
I have nothing to portray that hasn’t already been portrayed.
And a worry that’s been eating at me lately: when I apply to college, how am I, out of a thousand of artists, going to stand out?
That’s when you start making lists of things that are true to yourself.
The more you know who you are, where you come from, who your parents are, who your grandparents are, then the more interesting stories you have to tell. But I mean really know, and it all comes from your willingness to accept truths that have been hidden for years that may cause pain.
That’s how you stand out, by telling the stories that only you can tell. No matter how mundane you think you are because you live it every single day. When we look in the mirror and stop at our reflection, we forget that there is a whole world and life that we have been responding to with every breath, and that our reflection is only the result of it.
Storytelling, or any form of artwork, has no place for insecurities, no place for lies, for hiding, or for pretending. Storytelling demands vulnerability and accuracy.
It is a blank canvas and all it’s asking you to do is to be honest.
So pull up a sheet of paper and a pen, and write a list of things that you know you are. No gray areas, no uncertainty, just truth. Even if that means writing down your flaws. Nobody else has to see that list.
Only you can know the person that you truly are.