I’ve been reading some non-fiction lately. This is unusual for me. I’m not used to the patterns of the genre and one feature has stuck out: the lengthy portion at the start of the books devoted to convincing me that the book is worth reading, that my life/country/the world is doomed if we don’t know this, do this. I already have the book, I’m keen to get to the research, the process, the findings, the practical applications. But first I have to plough through pages and pages of ‘listen to me, this is vital, really, truly, trust me’. They start with the assumption I disagree.
At my old writers’ groups there was a rule: before you read your poem or story you were not allowed to give a disclaimer. No pre-reading explanation or apology. No “I just wrote this, it might not be very good,” and no “This is actually about an obscure historical thing/my grandmother.” And definitely no “This actually happened.” None of that allowed. The idea being, the piece had to speak for itself. The writer won’t always be there to explain that the mixed metaphors are supposed to reflect the character’s state of mind.
I used to be in the habit of disclaiming myself, over-explaining my point of view, apologising for taking up airtime in my unfinished, imperfect state. I started with the assumption people disagreed, or at least didn’t take me seriously.
But I’ve figured something out. If you get up and say something, without apology, people will accept it. And some people will hate it. But some people will hear you and find the courage to speak up themselves. It’s natural to fear ruffling feathers, but trust that your point of view is valid. No need to apologise, point out your limited understanding. So what if it’s only your opinion. There’s no only about it. Your feelings and opinions and art and self are worth articulating. You are not a waste of air-time. You’re allowed to have thoughts not fully-formed, to create things that aren’t perfect, to share your works-in-progess. We’re all on a journey, learning and trying, failing and negotiating. Becoming.
We don’t always need the disclaimer.