Today, I’m sharing a texting conversation with a friend of mine, Melissa McClave, who was kind enough to let me use her real name for this post. I was home sick when she sent me a link to a blog post by a woman who walked out on a speech by author Lionel Shriver.

Below is our conversation about what we are “allowed” to write about. I write about…whatever I am compelled to write about: Denouement is about four characters who have committed suicide, which I have obviously never done, and The Flower Wars is a story about a modern-day Aztec empire, which doesn’t exist. In other words, I’m not writing about my own experiences, at least, not on the level of subject matter. I wrote both of those stories in part to explore ideas and dilemmas that I wondered about, especially aspects of the human psyche that I find fascinating; they were very long answers for myself to my own questions of “what would it be like if…?” I have found this type of work more worthwhile than recounting my own experience in a literal manner or than delivering morals in a pedantic way.

And here you go:

Melissa McClave:

https://medium.com/@yassmin_a/i-walked-out-of-the-brisbane-writers-festival-keynote-address-this-is-why-78a4d8c4b7ac#.tlvg6muoo

 

Jesse Rutherford:

The sombrero thing is different from writing good fiction. That’s a logical fallacy on the part of both the blog post author and Shriver.

 

But to respond to the main point, I’m tired of the argument that exploring other experiences through art or academics is off limits to anyone with more privilege than the people who are depicted therein. There is nowhere to draw the line and it’s oppressive to do so out of hand. I personally find myself writing more and better work about experiences outside of my own because I wonder about those experiences more. This isn’t to say there’s nothing unfair about that. But what do we do, tell people to stop making art because they’re white or straight or male? Or that they should depict only the white, straight, male POV. Art has no rules.

 

I totally acknowledge that it’s also unfair that someone can profit off others’ experiences. Shitty when it happens. But again, what’s the solution?

 

This is akin to feminists saying that only women should be gynecologists because only women know what it’s like to have a vagina. That’s silly; no one says oncologists have to be cancer survivors. What matters in medicine is being a good doctor, and not everyone has the same criteria for what “good” is.

 

And what qualifies as good art is also open to interpretation. I did not like The Little Bee because I thought it was a bad story (I think that’s the novel she’s alluding to in her post).

 

Like many bloggers, Yasmin is great at recognizing something negative in the world and complaining eloquently and righteously about it. It’s not useful information to tell people what NOT to do; tell people what TO do. I would tell her and those other bloggers what anybody in business would tell a young person: don’t point out a problem unless you’re coming to the table with a solution at the same time. No one has time to listen to you complain. And in her case, she clearly has the time and privilege from which to write, so here’s my advice: write your own novel. Maybe then you’ll find out that it doesn’t matter what color the people in it are, what matters is a good story that contains universal truths that we can all find value in, regardless of our color.

 

Melissa McClave:

Can I quote you?

 

Jesse Rutherford:

Fix my missing question mark in the second paragraph after POV please and then yes, go ahead

I’m home sick, that is why I have the time and privilege to write a “minifesto” today. Otherwise, I’m a poor underprivileged single mom with a full-time job who can’t possibly compete with white men to make good art.

 

Melissa McClave:

Of indeterminate ethnicity.

 

Jesse Rutherford:

I’m trying to find an interview with your fav guy Sherman on this very subject and I’m not finding it

 

Melissa McClave:

I said [to a Facebook group about the post] if you don’t like something get up and leave.

 

But don’t let your freak flag fly and bash other people’s art.

 

Jesse Rutherford:

I heard it on NPR less than a year ago and he basically said some of the same things I did

 

Yeah art bashing ain’t cool. Doesn’t sound like freedom of speech to me

 

The opposite of oppression is not trying to rise to the level of oppressor. It’s getting outside of the whole cycle.

 

Here is a topic of related theme: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/09/493267919/after-facebook-censors-iconic-photo-norwegian-newspaper-pushes-back

 

And this is my favorite news story of the last few months: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-university-of-chicago-safe-spaces-letter-met-20160825-story.html

 

Melissa McClave:

The Facebook censorship thing is going crazy because FB doesn’t use human editors anymore. It’s all based on algorithms and user complaints.

 

Jesse Rutherford:

Ohhhhh

 

Melissa McClave:

Yeah. So I Love GMO and Vaccine FB page keeps getting put in FB jail because the other side keeps sending in complaints.

 

Getting rid of human editors is biting FB in the butt right now.

 

Maybe they will find a way to manage or maybe they will need to hire humans back.

 

Jesse Rutherford:

Found it!!! http://earbud.fm/episode/why-do-you-always-write-about-white-people/?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20160227&utm_campaign=%25%25__AdditionalEmailAttribute1%25%25&utm_term=%25%25__AdditionalEmailAttribute2%25%25

 

Melissa McClave:

I love A tiny sense of accomplishment.

 

A great podcast focusing on writers and writing.

 

Jesse Rutherford:

I made this for you:

[Image of T-shirt with “Consider This Your Trigger Warning” printed on it]

Melissa McClave:

You feeling up for a little Cards against humanity tonight?

 

Jesse Rutherford:

No but thanks. Just hanging on the couch.

 

Melissa McClave:

Figured. Get well soon.

 

Jesse Rutherford:

Thanks