How Words & Stories Will Save Us All
A real book with my name on it!
Stories can save lives. That may seem overly dramatic, but I believe it with my whole self. Artist/activist Pages Matam tells a story of a woman coming up to them after a reading and telling them that their poem made her not want to die anymore, that she'd been seriously considering suicide when she happened upon this reading and now she felt hopeful again. Now, most poetry readings probably don't have such a life-altering result, but I do believe that art heals and words give us a voice. Using that voice to tell and interact with stories like your own - or stories entirely unlike your own - can build a bridge, even a lifeline.
One writer I'm currently working with is writing a book about the healing and empowering potential of poetry and she's compiled tons of research and personal stories of writing help people cope with grief, increase self-confidence, and even connect to the outside world while incarcerated. Words and stories bring people together; they're how we communicate. As The Moth storyteller Sue Schmidt said in our prep for a recent storytelling event I did, "Stories are the gift that we're bringing to the revolution." Amen.
There's all kinds of research about how reading literature increases empathy. It helps us understand each other and ourselves, to look inward, as well as look out at a wider world (windows and mirrors!). This is what I hoped A Tether to This World: Stories & Poems About Recovery, a mental health recovery anthology I edited - out with Main Street Rag this week - would do. I hoped it would offer a "tether" - a connection, as well as the ability to see your own struggles and challenges reflected in others'.
Xuan Nguyen writes in the book about how they have no existence outside of fiction, that fiction is the way they see the world, the only way they are able to interact with others. Other contributors write about their worst days, their lowest, shame and fear. Stories of crises, hospitalization, suicidal ideation, trauma, loss. But also the joys they have found, the tethers to the world: writing, birds/nature, community, family, love. These are stories that need to be told.
M.D./Poet Beth Weinstock says, "[These] honest voices unflinchingly build a new community from the despair of isolation, and guide us toward a deeper and more compassionate understanding of mental illness. Stigma be gone; here is a portal by which we could reimagine our cognitive bias toward those who suffer from impaired mental health. Should be required reading for medical students."
Building community is exactly what I'm going for in my work, and with this book. Words make me feel less alone, have always been my comfort, and I want to share that with others, to offer a space to reflect and connect. It's been a year of isolation for many of us, a difficult year without our typical coping mechanisms and things we find joy in: a hug, a meal with a loved one, live music/events, team sports, live readings and book clubs and writing groups, etc.
This week, I talked with Shelagh Shapiro of "Write the Book" about mental health, editing, and my forthcoming essay collection (Holbrook House, April 2022), and we got to hear AE Hines read his poem from the anthology, "Swimming Back to Zoloft."
You can hear five other authors from the book read via Zoom on Friday, May 28, at 8:00 p.m. EST. Kim MacQueen, Mel Anderson, Steve Wilson, Madison Jones, and David Icenogle will be reading. Sign up here.
I believe stories can change the world for the better, and that these stories will. Thanks to all who have supported me and my vision for this project. Be well.
I'd love to see your photos of the book in the wild/your pets reading it/whatever!