Who has authority over my life, my body, my choices? I do, of course. In fact, “authority” is a wonderful concept to describe power over our actions. I’m a writer, and you may have noticed that a lot of metaphors I’ve used in this blog involve writing, such as when I talked about living in someone else’s script in “Inner Child,” and about erasing narratives in “Narrative Erasures,” and about the poetic images of loss in “Lost and Found,” to name a couple.
Most people tend to think of the concept of “authority” as something roughly equivalent to “law” or “power,” and that’s obviously a major aspect of the word. However, if you’ll stare at the word for a second, you’ll notice how clearly “author” is the core part of the word. Power and the ability to write are inextricably linked in this word so that just as serenity is the quality of being serene, authority is the quality of being an author, or more simply, “authorship.”
The reason this matters to me and to this blog is that for the longest time, I felt I needed some sort of external authority to heal me: a doctor, a relationship, a therapist, a family member. I didn’t feel I had sufficient authority to face my own demons and to make the change that was so desperately needed. I did not feel that I was authorized, which is to say, I did not feel as if I had the right or the power to be the valid author of my own life.
You can gain authority through academic degrees, self-study, trade guilds, apprenticeships, and a number of other ways that involve receiving power/rights from another party. But you can also self-authorize. Compare what I wrote about legitimacy and authenticity, and you’ll see that authority is a common thread that ties those two concepts together. Legitimacy often comes from others in the form of laws, degrees, certifications, and so on, but authenticity connotes a self-empowerment that doesn’t necessarily require outside influence. In the same way, authority may be conferred upon you and you may also accrue power (authority) to yourself. [See the end of this post for the dictionary definitions.]
When you’ve done this, you are no longer living in someone else’s script written about you, in which you’re a character with externally written motivations and actions. To come back to the first sentence and ask who’s got the authority over your life, you’re asking who is writing your life. You can let someone else write you, inscribing you with nouns that label you, adjectives that describe you, and verbs and adverbs that animate you and allow/constrain you to certain actions. If someone else writes your life, you’re an actor in their movie. It is far too easy to lose control of our own lives and begin to feel inadequate compared to all the normal people living normal lives inscribed by norms all around us. We feel out of control and we look at those norms and say, “that’s the safe route — that’s what society wants. I’ll just follow that script for a while, and then when I’m comfortable, I’ll return to my dreams.”
But when you take responsibility for your life, when you burn the scripts that write you from the outside and begin writing your own actions, you accrue power over your life. Like Adam and the beasts of the fields, you get to name yourself, to define the range of actions that put your character into action. Empowering? Absolutely. Frightening? You bet. Being the author of your life means you need to be willing to erase some bad lines, revise this paragraph because it’s just not working, reorganize your structure, consult the dictionary, do some research, and generally animate the process of creating your life-text.
That’s hard and trying business, but so is allowing someone else to write your life, the costs of which include the loss of autonomy, the feeling of helplessness, the fatalistic surrender to the script.
Should we throw away all the ready-made scripts inscribing us? Not necessarily. This essay isn’t a call to anarchy (in the form of self-creative-writing), but rather a call to re-vision — to re-view and re-see your life. Maybe you don’t need to rip whole pages from the script, preferring to scribble in the margins or add a sentence here, delete a paragraph there, to ultimately see writing as a process of constant tweaking instead of a firm product.
Having recently laid aside the pen in favor of the pencil, I feel wonderful about this process.
The authorities we see around us are empowered to write laws, to enact scripts that impact us, to determine right from wrong. In fact, take a quick look at the definitions of authority below, and you notice the overlap overlap between power and expertise. Let’s apply this same power and expertise to our own bodies and lives.
1. the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.
2. a power or right delegated or given; authorization: Who has the authority to grant permission?
3. a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency.
4. Usually, authorities. persons having the legal power to make and enforce the law; government: They finally persuaded the authorities that they were not involved in espionage.
5. an accepted source of information, advice, etc.
6. a quotation or citation from such a source.
7. an expert on a subject: He is an authority on baseball.
8. persuasive force; conviction: She spoke with authority.
9. a statute, court rule, or judicial decision that establishes a rule or principle of law; a ruling.
10. right to respect or acceptance of one’s word, command, thought, etc.; commanding influence: the authority of a parent; the authority of a great writer.
11. mastery in execution or performance, as of a work of art or literature or a piece of music.
12. a warrant for action; justification.
13. testimony; witness.