This is a summary/ transcript of last Friday’s rant. You can watch the video, or read the abridged version below.
Sonder: n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you…
This is a term in John Koenig’s Dictionary of Sorrows, and while it may not be in the OED (yet), it’s important nonetheless. Sonder is an important part of empathy, and it’s what I hope to share through my book.
It is so easy to take a person, their experiences, and their whole lived existence, and condense them down into a hard statistic: cause and effect. Before and after.
Don’t get me wrong: as a biochemist who dabbled in research and academia (before my creative side pulled me away) I still think quantitative studies are awesome because they can definitively show a correlation between two events (causation, however, is a different monster).
Coincidentally, Derek of Veritasium uploaded a vlog last week called Why Anecdotes Trump Data and showed that while (scientifically speaking) a longitudinal quantitative study with a large cohort is always more credible — sometimes personal experiences and strong, relatable narratives are more memorable, and carry more weight (emotionally speaking), even when the scientific evidence is not so strong.
While I would LOVE to do a longitudinal study on the long term physiological effects of corset wear (I’ve been saying this for a good 3-4 years now), I do not yet have the resources to do so. But every study starts with a proposal. And Solaced (the Corset Benefits book), while full of “anecdata” that may very well be pooh-pooh’d by some, will inevitably start a conversation.
The Importance of Empathy and Stories of Adversity
Through this anthology, over 100 writers have poured out their hearts and opened themselves up. Some have recounted past horrors and made themselves vulnerable to let you to step inside their heads and live vicariously through them for a few minutes.
Now, I know that normally “vicarious” is associated with something positive. A lot of the stories in this book are about adversity, and I would even warn that some stories may be considered triggering to some readers. But in many ways, stories of overcoming adversity is important too.
Not all of the testimonials in this book will necessarily have “happy endings” because:
- In a true first-person narrative, the end of the story is the writer’s true lived experience up to that moment. Therefore it’s not really an ending.
- “Happy Endings” imply perfection, and no life is perfect. The stories you will read in this anthology are far from a perfect outcome — but you will see where the writers have come from and where they are now. For some people, it’s not about perfection. It’s about a journey towards recovery, improved health, a highER quality of life than they once had. It’s inspiration and motivation to use the tools you’ve got (even if that tool is a simple corset) to get yourself to a better place.
The real question: why didn’t I write this entire book myself?
Well, gosh. That question sounds like I didn’t even do any work for this book. Even though there are over 100 writers who contributed to this book, I still put in a considerable amount of time and effort as the organizer, compiler, main editor, interviewer, and transcriber (for people who were too ill to write and sent in their stories through phone or Skype). I also consulted lawyers, made sure the writers were compensated (out of my own pocket), followed up on contracts, etc. — so it’s not like I had NO role in this book.
(On another note, I did write material and introductions to nearly every chapter, and soon realized that this book might be 2000 pages long — so, much of it was scrapped or stored for later for several future mini ebooks… One project at a time.)
Who cares about a book filled with the testimonials of strangers?
Please refer to the above statements on empathy. Also, there’s nothing quite like a true, first-person testimonial straight from the source — even though a quantitative study is strongest form of research, the sworn testimonies in this anthology will always be stronger than me referring to a “friend-of-a-friend-who-claimed-blah-blah-blah.” It is more credible and more “clean” than a game of broken telephone.
I’m flattered that some people care so much about the content I write that they prefer to exclusively read my work, and are less excited about reading the experiences of others. But I feel it’s important to remind you that I do not pull knowledge out of the ether! I have useful research skills and have done my own footwork, yes — but a lot of what I know is because of people in the community just like these writers — because of YOU.
I am indebted to others for freely sharing what they know, because that is how we collectively grow. Knowledge is power, and it is meant to be shared — and everyone deserves a voice, not just myself.
So for those who object to this anthology, I think we’re focusing on the wrong question. Instead of asking “who cares about the stories of strangers,” the question should be: “Given that these ‘strangers’ granted me this platform in the first place, what good is my platform if not to give leverage to those voices that would not otherwise heard?”