Why? - A Poem Inspired by Bob Flanagan
Because it makes me happy, no?
Because others say it will make me happy.
Because I’m told that it should make me happy.
Because I’m taught that it’s the only thing that matters.
Because I learned that this opens doors for me, and anything else would be valued less.
Because I want to be valued and recognised.
Because I have been doing it for 16 years and I’m supposed to be good at it.
Because others say I am good at it and “you should always do the things you are good at.”
Because I don’t know what else I should be doing.
Because it makes me feel capable and smart.
Because I want to be capable and smart.
Because it proves that I am better than others.
Because I’m constantly finding things to prove that I’m better — scratch that — that I’m good enough.
Because I can.
Because it’s a privilege, therefore I should.
Because I learn a lot and “learning is good”.
Because I get busy and “busy is productive”.
Because I get stressed and “stress is a given in life”.
Because when I do it my heart beats fast and the fast beating of your heart shows that you’re alive and passionately so, no?
Because my heart beats fast and I get tired fast and I’m reminded that I’m living in the way I do not want to live.
Because I run to relieve my stress and then I relive my stress.
Because it’s weighing me down.
Because I want to live differently.
Because I have greater dreams and I want to fly but my wings are tied.
Because I want to be someone more than “just a student”.
Because I’ve lost sight of who I am and who I can be.
Because it makes me happy — no.
Bob Flanagan (December 26, 1952 - January 4, 1996) was an American performance artist, comic, writer, poet and musician. At a young age, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disorder which causes the production of extremely thick mucus that causes blockage in the pancreatic ducts, intestines and lungs, eventually resulting in death. Despite early predictions by doctors that he won't live past the age of 8 with this incurable disease, Flanagan lived well into his 40s. Born Catholic with this abominable illness, Flanagan was raised confined and tortured by nuns who tied him to hospital beds so that he wouldn't dislodge and remove the numerous tubes that were inserted into his body. This unbearable environment of immense pain and agony later on birthed his supermasochistic desires, where he learned to find pleasure in intense pain. In "Why", Flanagan described his tormented childhood and his lust for masochistic pain.
Filled with profanities, Flanagan's "Why" may make people uncomfortable. I really liked it though. I was drawn to its brutal honesty and candidness. How it was stripped of any pretence and artifice, how it was brutally honest and courageous, and how it was strewn with many intricate layers of emotion, pain, passion, and intrinsic humanness.
Flanagan's work inspired me to write my own "Why". This won't be the last. We ask countless "why"s everyday, and the "because" we either answer to ourselves or accept from others affect how we view the world. In turn, this also influences what we choose to tell ourselves and our children daily and how we tell them. Yet, if we ask more and more "because"s and just keep digging deeper, we may eventually find out the real answer we have been seeking for. Don't stop there because it's uncomfortable. Keep going because it's uncomfortable. And remind yourself that with every "because" uncovered, we are every step closer to reconnecting with what matters deeply to us.