By Dain Michael Down
Just days after I wrote the first draft of this essay, my local news ran a story about an 11-year-old girl taking her own life due to what her parents say was bullying. It is something we can not get away from these days. It is not a cycle, it is a straight and constant line.
Bullying in the media ebbs and flows like any other hot button topic. The stories roll in of hatred and bodily harm, and they roll out with the next foreign terror alert or political sex scandal. Bullying does not stop just because the news moves on to something else.
It is said that as artists we are historians. We retell the events of the past not solely by way of linear fact stacking, but by conveying the emotional tone of a time gone by. Pain and art are inextricably interwoven throughout time and culture. Winston Churchill said “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.“ The trope of the “tortured artist” is a well worked device.
When the last big wave of bullying-related media reached the populace there was outrage, there were petitions and protests, there was legislation. It started, for me, in March of 2010 when six teenagers were charged with crimes related to the suicide of Phoebe Prince. This wave reached its apex six months later when Tyler Clementi threw himself from the George Washington Bridge after a tryst with another man was recorded in his dorm room and shared via social media by his roommate. For months afterward movements and foundations were started, monies were raised, slogans coined and the stories of children of all ages taking their own lives slowly started to fall deeper and deeper into the news cycle until finally, a child killing themselves after suffering at the hands of their peers was no longer national news. It was happening so often, it was just no longer interesting to the media.
There are many people who claim that bullying is a necessary evil. Some artists and comedians claim that bullying is part of what makes artists and comedians. That suffering is key. But epidemics are never necessary. Torture in the schools, the homes, the playgrounds and the internet are not necessary.
I was raised by a single mother in a small town. My first fist fight was sometime around the 4th grade and they only increased in frequency and violence from there. I found myself learning to care for bruised ribs and bloody lips far earlier than maybe I should have. Being the fattest kid in school made the next 8 years of my education one dodged punch, one side-stepped “titty twister,” one ignored oink/fart/back up beeper after another. I don’t imagine I would have survived in the age of social media.
My work as an artist draws a lot from my time in that small town. It draws from the bruises and the hurt feelings. But I also suffered from an eating disorder, clinical depression, and no father in sight. I was not short on inspiration.
Pain might be a common muse, but it does not need to be forged at the hands of our peers. It should not lead to our deaths.
Bullying is never going away, but that is no reason to ignore it, to not fight it. It is often just acknowledging the act of bullying that emboldens the bullied, it is a sign that someone is paying attention.
We are not going to run tragically short on artists should we wake up tomorrow and bullying be magically gone from society. There is more than enough pain in the world to inspire us and it is a dangerous notion to justify bullying for the sake of creativity.
Dain Michael Down is a storyteller, poet, and advocate. He is originally from New Jersey and has just three continental states left to visit. He has self-published 3-1/4 of his own chapbooks, been included in several online literary journals and the zombie-themed anthology, Aim for the Head, from Write Bloody Publishing. He currently resides in Columbus, OH, where he is editing a poetry anthology on the subject of bullying tentatively titled “Seeing the Unseen,” due out in the fall. Several of the pieces in this series will also appear in the anthology.