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  • Writer's pictureSteph Shuff


At some point in 2019, I started writing my secrets down. I had no one else to tell them to, so I decided I would tell them to everyone. I changed names, dates, timing, identifying characteristics. I published them to my website, shouting my most private experiences into the most public squares, hoping to seen, heard, and above all, loved. At the time, I was lonely, sad, concealed, qualities that don't suit my character at all. I am someone who can be dark and graphic, sure, but I am mostly buoyant, transparent, and happy. While 2020 has been hard for most everyone, 2019 was the more difficult year for me in every possible way. It shows in my writing. Family members died, my self-esteem rose and dipped like an ocean swell, relationships ended in grand and dramatic fashion, my career shot skyward only to burst into flames at the last moment like a firework, or a bomb, raining chaos on the end of my year — the coup de grâce to one of the worst, weirdest times of my life.

Most of my writing from 2019 described dark, taboo, or even immoral acts from all angles. I was searching for the silver linings inside my worst moments and memories. I was exploring a lot of trauma, writing my way through all of it, and publishing it so you could follow along.

When I first started publishing my deepest secrets for anyone to read, I had a particular goal in mind. Oddly, it was intended as an act of love. It didn't work, at least not in the way I had intended. It did not inspire the person who didn't want me to want me. But I found true love all the same.

I found the love of people who saw parts of themselves in the things I had to say — people who had also struggled with the gray areas of life that no one tells us how to navigate, only that we must avoid them at all costs. People are funny creatures though, we head for them anyway, those murky waters where morality is relative and truths are also lies and the very thing you shouldn't do is simply the best thing you've ever done.

I also found a deeper love for myself in those confessions. I'm more proud of the things I wrote during that deepest, darkest, murkiest year of my life than of anything I've ever written, not because of where it got me in the end but because of who I became in the process. In writing through my struggles as if I had already healed from them, I healed from them. Writing was both the therapy and the home to which I returned at my discharge from that dark place.

I lost love, too, because of the things I had written. At least one lover decided that how I wrote or what I wrote or the pride I felt at writing it was shameful, embarrassing, or just simply wrong. In being seen, more than one person in my life decided that I was too much, or not enough. People acted as though my writing was personal to them, as if I had lived the things I lived and written the things I had written only to spite them, as if maybe, instead of being a fully-formed, scarred, tempered woman when we met, they would have preferred that I had just hatched, from an egg, like Venus erupting from her shell, perfect in my femininity by some divine and immaculate conception and not because I had come through the fire and been born into my woman-ness again and again, my body still perfect but my memories and past scarred and bruised in the battle for the kind of woman I am and refuse to let the world extinguish.

Have you ever tried to explain art to a non-artist? Have you ever tried to explain nonconformity to a conformist? Perhaps it is my well-seasoned disdain for the social norms meant to define me, but I have a hard time understanding how someone who would claim to love me could, in the same breath, make claims about my writing; not helpful claims about the form or the structure, not constructive claims about the devices or the tone, but damning, blanket claims about the content itself, otherwise known as my life experience, otherwise known as my healing, spelled out in black and white for me and the world to read.

Often, the people in our lives can be our biggest sources of inspiration, and also, the biggest blockers to our creativity. They hit their mark, those sharp, pointed claims. They cut straight through this armored artist to the fleshy, softer parts of me. Artistic blockages are terribly difficult things to untangle and this one has been no different. In the untangling, things become clear, but in the midst of the blockage the underlying cause is a mystery to the artist, as shrouded and intangible as inspiration itself.

What I am learning is that the artist is in an eternal cycle of blockage and inspiration, and over time we must learn the habits and meet the people who will help us during those darker moments when only the artist can save herself. I am in one of those moments now, again, for the umpteenth time, pulling myself, word by word, through a creative unblocking, clinging to the ideas and rituals and people that might help me along the way. My life is a cycle of these unblockings, just like any other artist. Am I getting better at recognizing the patterns, the signs, the bottomless pits to avoid and the hills worth climbing? I think so. I have written my way to healed before.

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