For anyone who lived in New Mexico in 2001, you will remember the “Madonna in a Bikini” controversy. Artist Alma Lopez depicted the Virgen de Guadalupe as a real woman wearing a bikini of flowers.
Many Catholics were offended, and even the Catholic Church protested, claiming that Lopez had turned the Holy Mother into “a tart.” Reactions were violent and hostile. Lopez received threats, and the image was later censored.
You can read Lopez’s words about “the Controversy” and how she responded to it. Clearly, this event shaped Lopez as an artist — perhaps as a person.
Artists and writers take risks all the time. They mix sexuality and religious iconography. They divulge family secrets. They make political statements.
Natalie Goldberg, in her rules of Writing Practice (paraphrased in red Ravine), tells us to Go for the jugular. In her book Wild Mind – Living The Writer’s Life, she describes it this way:
If something scary comes up, go for it. That’s where the energy is. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your time writing around whatever makes you nervous. It will probably be abstract, bland writing because you’re avoiding the truth. Hemingway said, ‘Write hard and clear about what hurts’. Don’t avoid it. It has all the energy. Don’t worry, no one ever died of it. You might cry or laugh, but not die.
Going for the jugular is one of the ways writers take risks — your version of Madonna in a bikini.
When I was in my mid-20s, living in Granada, Spain, I drew the most outrageous pictures. I look at them today — more than 20 years later — and I know what I was trying to say.
I took so many risks then. Moved to Spain alone with $6,000 and no plans to return. Dropped out of the local university, which provided at least some structure in my life. Sat in a small, hot room and drew. Drank wine. Got depressed. Wrote every day, not even knowing that what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was to write and make art.
Where is that person now? I want to hear from her.
I want you to hear from the bold person inside of you. Take a risk with your writing. Go for the jugular. Be controversial, if that’s what you have to be.
Set your timer for 15 minutes. At the top of your page, write this: I take a risk when I write about… Then go.
When you’re done, if you’ve only touched the surface of what it is that puts you out there, write about it again. And again and again.
Take a risk with your writing every day.