Monday, September 21, 2009

Writing for Myself vs. Writing for an Audience

How much of my fiction is therapeutic, and how much is meant to entertain? I can’t give up either aspect because I need both to live a happy life, but I hope to never confuse the two.

Here’s something which happened to me in college:

I saw the special on HBO a few months before the party. Greg is butchering it pretty badly, Chris Rock’s routine on which race has been fucked over in this country the most. I didn’t find it offensive coming from Chris Rock. In fact, I laughed my ass off. The problem is, beneath the jokes, Greg sounds like he believes what he’s saying. The other problem is that no one corrects him.

“You want to know how you know that Indians have it worse than anyone?” Greg says, “When was the last time you saw a group of Indians sitting at the next table when you’re at Denny’s? You never see a group of Indians eating dinner.”

The people within an earshot are laughing, sipping at cups from the keg, enjoying the show. Apparently, they’re not Chris Rock fans.

“I have,” I tell him, and by extension, his crowd.

“Bullshit.” Greg’s response is immediate and certain. He seems to think I’m trying to horn in on the attention he’s garnered.

“Every time I go home for Thanksgiving dinner,” I say. A few in Greg’s audience look me over.


“Yeah, seriously.” I look him up and down. He’s my height but much broader. “Have you ever seen a real Indian?”

“Sorry, dude.”

When I made this incident into a story, that’s where the truth and I parted company. I wrote venting the anger I didn’t fully express at the time. The story was too preachy to be any good, and like a lot of attempts at fiction, too limited by the reality of the situation.

I love Zora Neale Hurston because she didn’t subscribe to her fellow Harlem Renaissance writer’s racial ideology. “I’m not tragically colored,” she said. In her stories, whites are largely irrelevant. Her work is a lot more powerful and controversial than any Langston Hughes poem.

Meanwhile, decades after Zora Neale Hurston spurned commercial success in favor of personal truth, I was doing my best to be tragically-Red-colored. The reality is I need to announce my bi-racial heritage to not be lumped in with Miami’s Latino populations. On the reservation, some consider me nothing but a halfbreed. It was easier to hate than acknowledge my self-hatred of the identity which has keep me from a solid footing in either world.

Miami’s diversity has been good to me. Because I've lived somewhere where my difference doesn't matter, I can embrace that difference. The story you’ll never read called “Stand Up” helped me get here, but that doesn’t make it worth reading. That’s writing as therapy.

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