In this series apprentice, Imari Berry selects essays from Jessica Conoley’s archives. Imari shares why the essay resonates with her as a newer creative, & Jessica’s original essay follows.
I chose this essay because: This essay resonates with me on so many levels. The need to write is really like the need to breathe air; you have to do it to live.
Initial publication date: 02/16/2016
“What right do you think you have [to write]?” The radio host’s question dangles in the air between us, “Or how do you get the confidence to believe in what you do? How do you feel you have the right to do it?”
It’s times like this I know that the world of Jessica is a tricky place to exist. I have one second to respond, and many of my realities threaten to come forward at the same time. The hard part is finding the miniscule island, on the Venn diagram of my brain, where these circles converge. If I answer from the island I will get the question right.
Reality: I am a colossal liar. My job is to make things up. Because I lie on paper and call it fiction it’s (a little more) socially acceptable. When I do my job well I bend the waves of existence and lie until the reader believes they are living in a different world. The more I fabricate about that alternate world the more people believe. When I lie to the best of my ability people completely forget about their own reality, their own problems, and their own existence. They escape. I can tell a very convincing lie, which is the safe way of getting out of revealing anything private about myself. Sometimes I lie at parties, it makes them more fun.
Reality: I tell the unabashed truth. My job is to show the genuine. Because I write the truth, people pause for a moment and read; candor is a novelty in our current society. When I do my job well people stop to think about what they just read. I know the truth can be too scary to face in our real world, but through the pages of a book, truth feels like less of a threat and more like your slightly dangerous friend who got you drunk the first time. Sometimes I tell the truth at parties, it makes them more awkward.
Reality: I have faith in science. Evolution has brought us into an age of specialization, and I have an ideal role to fulfill. My brain evolved and was stimulated by the environment in which I was raised. Tests reveal my brain is 90% more analytical than the average individual. My next highest-ranking traits are in divergent thinking, resulting in a high rate of flow of ideas and high levels of foresight. Combine those skills and I am hard wired to see multiple outcomes for a situation and organize narratives in a logical manner—excellent traits for a writer. It is our obligation as a species to pursue our individual optimal functions, in my case this means working to become a better writer. Millions of years of natural selection, evolution, and environmental factors have molded me into the creature I am today.
Reality: I have faith in a higher power. I trust there is a being that wants me to succeed and be the best person I can be. I believe this being pushes me the right direction when I stray too far from the path predestined for me. They afford me opportunities to earn the tools needed to complete my mission. I can choose how I want to proceed, but I am happiest when my decisions align with this power’s path. Thus far, all paths have led to writing.
Reality: I live in America. The Declaration of Independence and 19th Amendment gave me the right. These legal rights separate me from a large percentage of women in the world. I do not have to hide my vocation and have the freedom to pursue happiness through writing. I incur no danger by seeking out the written word or pursuing an education. I live in a country that values me as an individual. It’s my duty as a citizen to utilize those rights to the best of my ability.
I breathe in air from the island of my convergent realities and open my mouth: “It’s not that you have the right, it’s that you can’t not do it… I had to do it for me in order to be a functioning human… People respond to following what you are compelled to do innately. I have the right because I don’t know how not to. If it’s that hard wired into you I don’t know how you can deny yourself. It’s like stopping breathing. You can do it for a little bit, but you’re going to die if you don’t, and you’re going to turn into someone else. You have to have faith. Writing is a huge act of faith.”
If you want to listen to the whole interview you can click here for Part 1 and Part 2.
By Jessica Conoley