This week I have been working on my artist statement for the Hedgebrook application. The process has been (as writing personal statements always is) alternately onerous, provocative, and satisfying. Onerous, because much as we all like to talk about ourselves, unless prepared, we can offer little real intelligence or insight about this topic. Provocative because, having realized this, we understand that we should have something to say. And then it’s satisfying when we finally figure out what that is.
The prompt for the artist statement is as follows:
Tell us about you and your writing, and the impact you envision your work having in the world. Say a few words about what you’d hope to accomplish in a 2011 Hedgebrook residency.
This prompt forces me to confront questions I usually leave unarticulated: Who am I, as a writer? What are my writing goals? These questions are loaded, because to answer them is to first face down the implicit questions: Are you a writer at all? Do your words matter? As I learned at VONA, many of us artists have taken our cue from the world at large, training ourselves to regard our art as something to be hidden, downplayed, until publication or public acceptance. It takes courage to say “yes, I’m a writer,” “yes, my words matter,” before the rest of the world acknowledges it. A prompt like the one above is scary because it takes this leap of faith for granted.
Steeling myself to remember that I am a writer and my words do matter, I considered the prompt. A few drafts later, I realized what I wanted to say. I write because all my life I have felt like an outsider, and yet I’ve never felt alone. Wherever I’ve gone, whatever I’ve done, I’ve connected with people so strongly that they almost feel like family — and yet my own family is the only place where I truly feel like I belong. I write because I think that to some extent, this must be everyone’s experience; we’re all so unique, how can anything made for others really fit us? I write to strengthen those random bonds that tie us together, and I write so we can all claim what makes us different and individual.
I guess this has always been a major concern of mine, because in 2007, I drew the following — which also went through several iterations before the final image:
I plan to write at least another couple of drafts of the Hedgebrook statement before I’m done with it, but this is the kernel of it.