Saturday, March 3, 2018

The One With The Power of a Shared Experience

This month, I'm participating in the Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post or you can head on over there to check out other people's stories and follow along with the fun. For more information on what a Slice of Life is about, you can go here

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Yesterday, in my post The One With Noel Quiñones, I blogged about watching spoken word poets perform as a form of mentor text as I learn more about spoken word in general. I shared a beautiful performance from Noel Quiñones. I wrote a little about his form and how he deliver the line breaks and uses the numbered outlined to deliver his message.
I also talked about his vulnerability and honesty in connection with my first post The One With a Love of Poetry where I mention Drake Marin's post that talks about the importance of emotional power in poetry and in spoken word performances. 
Emotions. People feel emotions. Sometimes we don't want to feel or address our emotions but we still feel them, they still manifest in us in some way. The power in writing is that we can intentionally use our words to elicit emotions in people...and in bringing forth certain emotions, we invite our readers to feel with us. When we feel together, we come together. Truly, this is why I believe so strongly in the power of stories to change lives. Through stories, we find ourselves. Through sharing stories, we connect to one another. 
Stories are humanity. 
Today I'm thinking about Noel's message and the content of what he shared in 8 Confessions of My Tongue. I can relate to Noel. Even though my experience isn't the same as his, I know what it's like to not entirely feel part of one culture or another. I grew up in the United States but my mom grew up in Guatemala and most of her family is still in Guatemala. I always felt connected to relatives who visited from Guatemala or even to Guatemala itself because of my mom. I didn't get the chance to visit Guatemala until 2016 when I went for the first time with my husband and two kids. 
Even though I speak Spanish, there are lots of stories and poems and jokes that I don't understand because of the more intricate nuances of the language or multiple meanings of vocabulary. While I adored my grandmother, I still felt like I couldn't 100% understand her all the time and in this sense. I didn't feel like enough. And while I do speak Spanish, there are times when I don't feel 100% myself in American culture because I didn't grow up seeing myself in books and movies and on television. Noel's words speak to me. 
As someone who closely relates to Noel's message, it speaks to me. It brings tears to my eyes because he is telling my story. He is speaking to my experience. He is making me pay attention to those feelings I walk around with but don't examine or acknowledge. He is slowing down, holding those feelings out, asking me to experience them fully. 
Not everyone is going to be as moved or as connected to this message as I am. BUT I wonder if everyone feels connected but at the same time subtly disconnected from their culture in some way at some point in their lives. Whether it might be to do with generations or places or beliefs or customs. I'm not sure but I would imagine someone has felt some, if even slight, disconnect or dissonance at some point in their lives. This is why Noel's message works to effectively. It speaks strongly to someone like me who can directly connect to his words but it also speaks to someone who can relate in a different way. 
In watching his performance again, it reminds me to pay attention to our shared experiences as humans in my writing and especially in poetry and in thinking about spoken word. It also reminds me of Maya Angelou's beautiful poem Human Family, Derek Barnes' book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut with illustrations from Gordon C. James, and the soon-to-be-published book Drawn Together by Minh Lê with illustrations by Dan Santat. 
While writing about unique and specific situations is important, finding shared experience that everyone might connect to truly allows writers to elicit powerful emotions in our audience. Most people can relate to the experience of getting their hair cut. Most people can relate to having a grandparent, whether you have a relationship with yours or not. 
In choosing to talk about language like Noel did, he focused on something most people have experience with but he slowed down in order to be honest and vulnerable about his experience with language and that's what it means to access emotional power in our writing.

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