Write With Your Courage
By Jayrod P. Garrett
“The root of the word courage is cor — the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different meaning than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.’” — Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
One of the hardest lessons we have to learn as authors is the courage to be ourselves in the field of writing. We come to this profession from so many different places, ideas, and cultures. Some write for the love of words, some write for the love of stories, some write to put food on the table and pay the bills, and some write to create visions of the world not as it is but as it should be. No matter how you cut it, though, the work of writing requires courage.
Normally, a blog on this site would give you tips to create more courageous writing. But that’s not what I’m here to do. “How-to” turns the process of becoming courageous into a mathematical function that you always get correct, if you take the steps. Courage doesn’t work that way. We learn courage through choosing to give up false versions of ourselves or our writing to find our truth. We don’t get to courage in our writing any differently than how we get to fantastic writing; courage requires practice.
Naturally, this leads to, “Well, Jayrod, how do I practice courage?”
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how you should practice courage. I can only tell you how I practice courage. Thus, allow me to tell you a couple of stories.
It was 2016. That year, I lost my childhood faith, got a divorce, and began grad school—a trifecta of pain I would recommend to exactly zero people. During this time, I learned about myself and my own blackhood, and for the first time in thirty-five years, I began to fully explore it. This led me to seek out and join the movement Black Lives Matter locally, and organizations focused on the liberation of all identities of people.
For all I had lost, I didn’t know rock bottom was still quite far away.
My father, an older white man who had adopted this black man when he was twenty-four, came over because he said he had something to tell me. I can still see him walking down the steps that October afternoon, holding a box of every single gift I had ever given him. I only knew what he planned to do because my mother had disowned me multiple times in the same way. He knew that, and that hurt the most.
I looked him in the eye when he told me he was disowning me. He said he couldn’t believe how far I had fallen from the LDS faith in such a short time. I’d not spoken much with him about my faith transition (I knew how much it would hurt him) so that confused me.
“I cannot be the father of someone who has joined a terrorist organization such as Black Lives Matter,” he said. Then I knew why he had declined to come with me to multiple Black Lives Matter events and protests. Why he denied every request for learning about other cultures, I knew it wasn’t about my faith, but about no longer assimilating into white culture for his comfort or that of anyone else.
This was a defining moment for me in my life. I could get angry at him and speak to the betrayal he had chosen. I could sob uncontrollably because that was the end of having dependable parents. I could sit in silence and stare at him, make everything so uncomfortable he would just leave. I did none of those things. Instead, I chose compassion for him. I let him know I understood and that I was sorry he felt that way. I took the items from him and walked him out of my home calmly. And because I knew he suffered by seeing me, I told him that I would never visit him again and that he would need to block me on Facebook. He cried, but I could not. Tears would say to him I had sorrow over the choices I made. I was clear about who I chose to be. And a moment later, he drove out of my life.
That began a new rippling of loss. Within two weeks, I lost my job, later I lost my confidence, and in the end, I dropped out of grad school. By April 2017, I had moved back in with my ex-wife and found work at a clothing store locally. And even then, without confidence in myself, I still believed in my poetry and shared it locally at an open mic in Ogden weekly known as PoetFlow. There I shared my rage, my love, and my belief that tomorrow would be brighter.
After one open mic night, I spoke with a friend of mine, Alicia Washington, who runs the only professional theater in Ogden. I told her about my life and how things were, and how I had been on the stage throughout middle school and high school. She offered me a role in a play she was producing called The Mountain Top, where I would be playing the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. The only catch to joining the production was that I’d have to give up my job and the only stability I’d found in the past several months (in black culture, jobs are more stabilizing than a place to live). The pay from the role would be little, and I’d have to figure out how to survive in the meantime. I do not know how the vulnerability of this didn’t overwhelm me; I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
During that time, I learned so much about being Black, real liberation, and who Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was. Despite all that, the most critical learnings were about my own ability to grow and learn.
Three weeks after speaking with Alicia, I performed as Dr. King on her stage. My sense of loss gave me the courage to speak the truth as he did and offer my whole heart to the role. I cannot recall ever risking everything that way before, yet I knew it wasn’t a gamble from the beginning. I walked away from that role knowing myself, knowing how I would show up in the world, and that being and doing good meant more than being stable. I met my wife, Melissa, three weeks later.
The story of my mind is one of vulnerability, compassion, and goodness. To write with courage, you must know what message you are telling with your story. Maybe that sounds backward to you because message media isn’t something we should be doing. We are storytellers, not messengers. No, we cannot do the work we wish to in storytelling without being both. A story without a message is noise, and a message without a story is a sermon. Nobody likes noise, and increasingly few like sermons. Our readers do not read to get a sermon; if they wanted that, they would go to church.
Remember, you can’t engage in real courage without speaking your mind and revealing your heart to the world. You need to know what you want others to walk away from your story knowing and feeling.
I participated in April’s National Poetry Writing Month, and I wrote a poem a day all month long. Each day, I determined my topic and how to speak about it utilizing my truth. Not every character in my poem believes as I do, but I make certain my narratives come back to speaking of being good to each other, that human cruelty is always wrong, and that by standing together, we are more than when we stand alone.
Only you know the values you hold dearest above all. The stories we put out into the world should always reflect how to be our most courageous powerful selves. This cannot be achieved by following a how-to; it only functions as we practice it each and every day of our lives. Long ago, I heard from my teachers of fiction and poetry that only when we dared to be completely honest with ourselves could we tell our most powerful stories. So I leave you with the charge to live courageously, love courageously, and write courageously. It is the only way we can leave a legacy behind us worthy of our hearts.
Jayrod P. Garrett
Jayrod P. Garrett longs for a world that sees each of us as human beings. His goal is to create art that moves us away from the caricatures that our biases and systems determine us to be and to a place where we see each human being for all of who they are. He is a poet and aspiring author that graduated from Weber State with his Bachelor of English in 2014. An Ogdenite at heart, he currently teaches at DaVinci Academy of Science and the Arts; and he lives with his wife and two kids in Bountiful, Utah.