by Michael Fotos
In kindergarten, I sat on a rug as every student discussed what their favorite color was. The room was silent save for one voice at a time--green, black, yellow, orange—normal. And then something happened when I spoke the word pink. My favorite color was pink and before the adjacent child revealed his favorite color to be the enchanting color of blue, everyone laughed. He likes pink, Ha! And I cried.
What is it about our world that says that blue is fit for a boy and pink belongs to girls and that if a boy likes pink it is worthy of ridicule? What of makeup, heels, skin tight dresses? What happens when a man plays the role of woman, when a man enters the genre called being a woman? I would argue that entertaining this genre and many others has benefits for all people, especially writers.
Entertaining an unfamiliar genre has the potential to enrich life experiences by providing perceptions of the world. By disrupting what we believe is normal, disruption becomes possible. We explore truths we are not used to, and explorers of truth must think outside the box, and consequently, prove to be excellent writers. Writers who challenge the normal create original works that transcend prose and poetry. Writers who only adhere to genres fall flat.
Often, genre heavy pieces feel lost, as though they are missing something important. When I was a child, I played with Hot Wheels given to me as Christmas presents that weren’t aligned with my lists to Santa. My interest in plastic wheels and artificial chrome was not as strong as my interest in plastic legs and synthetic hair. And yet, when I traveled to my sister’s room to play with Barbies, I was turned away. When I was denied exploring barbie playing, I was limited to hot wheel playing. I could only adhere to the genre hot wheel playing and so I felt like I was missing something. There was an exploration I was denied and thus, who I was as a person and a writer was limited.
There are many writers who needlessly limit themselves. Many feel as though their interests aren’t what audiences want to hear about and never explore them. Other writers do not explore an idea because it is too weird and are fearful of what others would think of them if they were to produce writing with such a strange theme. These writers will not make lasting impressions, but more importantly, they will not further themselves and their capabilities. They will continue to do they same work over and over again, trapped in a genre. I have experienced this captivity in my youth.
I tried very hard to be a boy, adhering to its conventions including video game playing, collecting cards, looking at women as they passed by. My captivity in that genre limited explorations I was interested in. I often felt like I was missing something as a child, like I didn’t know who I was; a broken winged bird wobbling about, staring at all the other crows sitting together on telephone wires.
I desperately needed to change my genre practices, to disrupt the normal way of being a boy. When I began my explorations, I started living life, gaining new ways to appreciate myself and new ways to express who I am. This was possible by struggling with new genres, trying on unfamiliar conventions that I was not able to react to and learning new truths in the process.
Living and writing within a genre one isn’t familiar with forces writers to work on projects without the ability to rely on conventions they have already mastered. When writers work on projects outside their comfort zone, they are faced with decisions they have never considered before. The decision making skills that develop when you write in unfamiliar ways adds to your repertoire of methods and styles of writing.
Suppose one is writing a novel. In order to develop skills that will produce a fresh and successful piece, the writer must explore more than novel writing practices. The writer must explore poetry, for how ever will that person be able to write poetic prose with concrete images and lyrical language? Writers must actively engage in challenging their normal way of writing and their normal writing style, otherwise they will be stuck in their practices and stuck writing the same limiting genre over and over
Bland writers do not dress up their work in drag. They fail to write in practices across mediums and genres. Instead, they normalize writing, normalize text. Writing is treated as stagnant, as an unchanging truth; but active engagement could promote further exploration of not only style but of life and its meanings and truths. Engagement in challenging the normal has the potential to create new styles, voices, and interests in our writing.
Coat your writing in makeup, set it in heels, and strap onto it a large wig. Dress your writing in drag, in what is not normal and just like a drag queen, you will be able to stimulate your audiences.