What’s beneath the nakedness

As a result of the ping-ponging of posts between a couple of fellow members and myself from an online writing community http://diymfa.com I'm a part of, the subject of "nakedness" in writing came up. The self-exposure and vulnerability required to write, even in fiction since we write what we know, can be enough to scare away even the heartiest of us. It got me thinking (which is sometimes dangerous but...) what in particular is so darn scary about appearing naked in the limelight?

I tend to be a visual person and so I couldn't help but picture a naked body (no one's in particular!). What came to me was that it's actually what's beneath the nakedness or the skin, that causes the discomfort. So what's underneath the skin? Organs like the brain and heart. What we think and what we feel.

Wielding a pen as our scalpel, we carefully make our first incision, peeling away the outer layers to uncover what's underneath. I may have watched one too many episodes of Grey's Anatomy when I originally conceived of this blog post, but the surgery metaphor for writing does carry some truth to it. Writing can be painful and quite invasive. I'm certainly not the first writer to come up with this idea. Ernest Hemingway said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." But let's not also forget--invasive procedures like writing (and surgery) can be life-saving and worth all the risk.

A note of gratitude

Writing a novel can seem like a huge, daunting undertaking, almost impossible to achieve. With the help of a devoted mentor, it’s still huge and daunting, but certainly not impossible to achieve.

It is with a note of gratitude in my heart that I write this. Without the guidance of my mentor and friend, Sarah Lovett, https://sarahlovett.com Lullabies in Bedlam could not have been written. Her support, encouragement, and wisdom have helped immeasurably. Thank you, Sarah.

A poem that has always been close to my heart

The One-Woman Play She Never Saw
by Leslie M. Levy

typewriterShe turns her head away
and casts her eyes to the floor,
but I know she sees him:
gray hair matted into dreadlocks,
yellow eyes alive with visions,
grinning mouth in perpetual motion.

He performs a one-man play,
a monolog of grunts, laughs, and chatter
that bring forth no applause from her.

My daughter and I sit in a booth together
at Burger King.
My back is towards him,
his voice as constant as the smell of grease
and the avalanche of crushed ice tumbling into plastic cups.

My girl, scared to look the man in the eye,
hastens over to my side of the booth.
There she stuffs herself with chicken tenders,
no time to swallow,
no time to chew,
she abandons her lemonade
and forgets to wipe the ketchup off her chin.

I grab her hand on the way out,
sure of the answer already I ask:

“Did he scare you?”

She nods and need not say more.

“He’s not well,” I say
and as I drive us back home
the tiny thread of kinship
I share with the man,
a dim spark of recognition,
makes me thank God
that the one-woman play
I acted in years ago,
my own eyes filled with visions,
was one she never saw.

 

On the issue of self-stigma

I hope you enjoyed my poem. I wrote it several years ago, when I was not yet familiar with the term “self-stigma.” Self-stigma occurs when one with a mental health diagnosis internalizes the negative prejudices of the public (including children–even my own!). This phenomenon can have the unfortunate consequence of generating shame and effecting one’s self-esteem (among a myriad of others). In the case of my poem, those beliefs may go something like this: There’s something dangerous or scary about people who are mentally ill. Therefore, since I identify with someone with a mental health diagnosis, I might feel bad and/or ashamed of it.

In my novel, Lullabies in Bedlam, the protagonist Ursula grapples mightily with her own shame and guilt, partly because of her own actions, but also because she has internalized what others have to say about her.

For a scholarly article on self-stigma, I am providing the link to Patrick Corrigan’s article, On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change
By Patrick W. Corrigan and Deepa Rao
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3610943/