Dangerous Words

I recently read the newest book by Haitian American author, Edwidge Danticat, entitled Create Dangerously (Vintage, September 20, 2011).  I read it before I ever started this blog.  It’s a book recounting multiple stories of immigrant artists (writers, musicians, journalists, painters, photographers, etc.) who risked their lives and the lives of others because of the work that they created.  It was one of the most profoundly inspirational books that I’ve ever read.  I wish that I could quote the whole thing on here to give a little perspective, but I can’t (there are laws).  So I would like to quote part of it:

This is where these writers placed their bets, striking a dangerous balance between silence and art.

How do writers and readers find each other under such dangerous circumstances?  Reading, like writing, under these conditions is disobedience to a directive in which the reader, our Eve, already knows the possible consequences of eating that apple but takes a bold bite anyway.

How does that reader find the courage to take this bite, open that book?  After an arrest, an execution?  Of course he or she may find it in the power of the hushed chorus of other readers, but she can also find it in the writer’s courage in having stepped forward, in having written, or rewritten, in the first place.

Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously.  This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer.  Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.

In her book Danticat also quotes a poem by Osip Mandelstam,

Maybe this is the beginning of madness…

Forgive me for what I am saying.

Read it…quietly, quietly.

Sure, I may not be risking my life for the things that I’ve written in this blog.  I don’t have to fear any evil dictators sending their assassins after me because of a negative word or two that I spoke.  So far, I don’t have to worry about losing my life.  But after a measly 5 posts, I have lost friends, lost financial support, and possibly lost some respect from a few people that I thought knew me well enough to understand where I was coming from.

Is it worth it?  I have had people tell me that it’s not worth it, that I’ve gone too far, that I’m causing more damage than good.  At the same time I’ve had even more people telling me that they’re relieved to see me writing what I have.  “Keep it up!”  They say, “The world needs to hear this!  Write what needs to be said!”

There will always be two sides (if not more).  My job as an artist is to not listen to either of them but to simply keep creating what I believe needs to be read, viewed, heard, understood.  To create boldly, fearlessly, dangerously.  My job as an artist is to challenge people’s worldviews and everything that they thought they knew to be true.  My job is not to reinforce their comfortable beliefs and encourage them to keep living their lives and interacting with their world the same old way that they always have.

I don’t ask everyone to like everything I say and I don’t expect everyone to agree with it all.  If we all agreed on everything I suspect the world would cease its spinning.  I do hope that anyone that reads my blog can do so with a clear understanding of who I’m writing it to represent.  I am not writing anything to represent missionaries, mission team members, expatriates in the developing world, donors, or anyone besides myself that isn’t from the country of Haiti.  If you fall into one of those categories, this isn’t about YOU.  It is for you to read so that hopefully you can understand my point-of-view and possibly that of some Haitians that have confided in me.  There are at least one bagillion other blogs you can read that talk about all the happy good things the people in those categories do.  I don’t need to make another one.  Even if I support the importance of many of those good things, I may disagree with the methods of some.  An artist doesn’t exist to regurgitate, he exists to create, so I’m not making another one of those blogs.  I also am not writing to represent the organization that I work for.  I hope that everyone can keep that separate.  The essence of an organization is that it’s made up of many different people all with different beliefs but a common mission.  It can never, or at least should never, be defined by the opinions of one single person.

Who I do write to represent, #1 Myself.  #2 Many Haitians who have shared their frustrations with me.  They are the ones who inspired me to start saying some of the things I’ve said because of conversations that they’ve had with me.  They don’t have a platform to share their opinions like I do with this blog and yet they’d like outsiders to their country to understand how they are perceived by some of their seemingly innocent actions and choices.  These Haitians want change too because they’re tired of the same old same old attempts by foreigners to improve things.  I’ve had a lot of feedback on my blog so far, but have yet to have any negative responses from Haitians.  Readers won’t see that because the Haitians send me private messages with their support of my opinions.  Because they are the ones reading quietly…quietly.  They recognize the danger that lies in the truth of some of the things that I’m saying.

So, for that reason, I will continue to write, and some of what I write will probably continue to offend some people although I may be more careful about the way I say some things.  I hope you will continue to follow along with me on this journey because I am still learning.  This week I think I’ve learned a lot.  But I am still not ripe.  Don’t throw a rock at me yet.

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One comment

  1. Lee, I have lived for many years believing one of my endearing traits is to have an opinion. Thanks for havng an opinion and being willing to express it. I haven’t completely digested your posts and by extension your Haitian friends opinions, but your willingnss to share honestly can only help me and other readers examine it all in relation to our own beliefs and biases. Opinions aren’t worth much unless I am also willing to listen and learn. I’ll continue reading/listening, so continue speaking. Maybe we’ll all learn something along the way.

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