I bet you didn’t know I was such a rebel, did you? My poem, ‘300, was included in the ninth volume of the Chaffey Review, which had a theme of Innocence & Experience. Though the volume looks beautiful, and includes some pretty striking art, the volume was stricken from the shelves at the college it was printed at, due to the graphic nature of some of the content- which relates directly to the theme in sometimes heartbreaking, and other times darkly humorous, ways.
Now, I’m not one who likes to tout the fact that I’ve been a part of a project that is deemed necessary of censorship. As a writer, I am keenly aware of the need for tact and sensitivity when it comes to the world of art. However, there comes a time when there is a line drawn between simple sensibility, and a kind of blind fear. Some of the things in this issue of the Chaffey Review are not exactly my cup of tea, and some of it is right up my alley. But as I am aware of my own preferences, I am also aware and respectful of the preferences of others. The theme, Innocence and Experience, relates to many people in many other ways. Some of us have been able to make it to our college years with our innocence intact- I’ve seen many adults and some elders are well who, by some virtue of protection, keep it almost until death. Some consider ‘innocence lost’ to be the moment when they couldn’t trust their parents to tell the truth anymore after they found out that Santa wasn’t real. Some consider it to be the moment when they were abused, or the first time they smoked a cigarette.
For my part, my poem relates a moment when I was deeply involved in a theological discussion with a Jewish boy who I was attracted to, and who had thought an instant soul-mate of sorts- that is, until he brought out a line of cocaine and snorted it right in front of me. I have had many other ‘losses of innocence’ in my life since that moment, including many that were much more violent and much more privately traumatizing (some of which I’ve written, and others that I never will), but for me this was the defining moment of the loss of my ‘innocence’- the loss of my belief in a moral black and white, a loss of my veil of ignorance regarding those suffering from substance abuse, and the beginning of my struggle to truly understand what it meant to respect God’s wishes for my life, and to discern how to best love my neighbor in a way that only I could. For me, this loss of innocence was a huge stepping stone to where I am today- asking the hard questions that I had been ignoring, and truly becoming invested in the people around me and seeing where I could challenge my beliefs, instead of blindly protecting them.
For the record, this experience did not make me stop believing in God, or in the goodness of people. I also didn’t take any drugs myself- the boy put the coke away as quickly as he had brought it out, saving me from the awkwardness of having to refuse it. It simply complicated my understanding of what I thought I already knew. It was an uncomfortable moment for me, to be sure- the fact that I’ve fixated on this moment, above many other moments, for nearly four-five years afterwards is testament to how much it really stuck to me, sometimes in ways that kept me up late at night, sick to my stomach.
For me, striking a volume like this from the shelves is a bit too much. That kind of censorship robs others who may never have the opporunities (or want to have the actual opportunity) to lose their innocence the way people like me have, or to gain the experience that we have through confusion and pain- but want to be able to empathize and open up their understanding in new ways. As I’ve seen reported, the volume was put back on the shelves with a disclaimer regarding the graphic content, which I think is appropriate. Some of the art in here shocked me as well, though I respect the experiences of others to realize that for them, it may be necessary expression of lived experience. I just skip over those pages, to be honest. No one can force me to see or listen to what I do not want to see or listen to.
So there’s the story about how a largely-religious poet came to be published in a censored literary magazine. I hope you all get the chance to read it sometime soon- I will probably be posting a video/audio recording of ‘300’ in the next couple days, if there is any interest in that.