Shenandoah was kind enough to publish one of my short stories:
A few readers have asked me questions about the motivations/inspiration for the story, and as I reflect on it, I realize that we writers tend to compose our work in an oneiric/dreamlike state. I find myself speculating, alongside these readers, what certain things in the story might mean. I put on my English major hat and try to make connections, every now and then hazarding a guess as to the “author’s intent.” When I step out of the role of being said author, I become an outsider to the work. It becomes no more or less transparent to me than it is to anyone else. My only advantage is that I most likely have read it many more times than other readers have.
I doubt this experience is unique to me. I suspect it’s quite common not only among writers but among artists in general. In fact, if you’ve felt this way about your own creative work, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Trying to answer questions from readers got me thinking about the concept of being an “insider” or informant who can speak to an experience–any experience at all–whether it be the experience of a writer or a physician or a woman or a person of color or the keeper of a certain culture or practice. I suspect that when anyone of us speaks about an experience or identity that we are “insiders” to, we act before the gaze of an outsider. We express ourselves in the terms and language that an outsider can understand. This can shape our own understanding of our experiences because we find ourselves encoding those experiences with the narrative constructs, myth-making tools, tropes, and even biases familiar to the outsider. Sadly, those who express their truth before a gaze that does not love them have often found it harder to love themselves. This might be especially so for those whose truth includes trauma, whether it be from war or loss or from the everyday evils and fossilized animosities that surround all of us. On the other hand, those who have the privilege of expressing their truth to an affectionate gaze have sometimes found themselves able to banish some of the fog of war we all have in the shape of the experiences we haven’t lived.
Perhaps ironically, this means that we are no longer insiders at the very moment that we occupy the role of the “insider.” We become spectators to our own experiences so that we can communicate them to other spectators. Gayatri Spivak has performed a theoretical exploration of the notion of the native informant. I find myself adapting (arguably too loosely) that concept to the artist’s experience in looking at her own work.