“Your silence will not protect you.
I blinked at the bumper sticker on the car stopped ahead of me at the traffic light. I hadn’t heard or read the statement before, but if I had been walking or skipping down the road these words would have tripped me up.
I hadn’t read Audre Lorde’s powerful essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” from which the statement on the bumper sticker had been taken. I’m sorry to say that I’d not even been sure who Audre Lorde was when I looked up the quote on Google. But in the month or so since I had this fleeting encounter with soul-shaking wisdom at a Portland traffic light, these six words have more than once set my insides to quaking.
I have always been quiet. I am an introvert, and I am shy.
If you’ve read (or watched) my “Recovering Scaredy Cat” essay, you’ll know that as a child I was kicked out of a play for being too timid to speak my lines above a whisper, and that as a teenager I was too skittish to even make a call to order take-out. Finding that I had some skill in expressing myself in the written word was a saving grace, but I’ve still been (mostly) cautious over the years in what I’ve revealed, and how and when.
Certainly, I go through bold, brash periods on occasion?as evidenced by any number of postings on this blog. I’ve posted rather harsh details about my struggles with dysautonomia and a bit about my own financial crisis?but nothing like Nathan Rabin’s guest post on the Mental Illness Happy Hour: Why I?m Grateful I Got Sued By American Express and What You Can Learn From My Experiences.
The best personal essays take the reader behind the scenes into a topic or experience that the reader him/herself can empathize with but is unlikely to give public voice to. In other words, you may not want to talk about the intimate details of your own colonoscopy, but reading about someone else’s experience gives you important insight and maybe even a sense of real relief that you might not otherwise have had access to. We find kinship in these essays, and a certain amount of schadenfreude.
A writer’s life is his/her best fodder, even when expertly veiled in fiction and fantasy instead of in essay and memoir. Personally, I can do a lovely veil dance but I prefer to be more straightforward.
And yet. I still often think of myself as the biggest pussy on the planet. “Wussy” is actually closer in meaning to my self-judgement, but I like the alliteration of the other phrasing.
So we’ve established that I’m naturally quiet because I’m afraid, even though I’ve chosen a profession?of course!?that essentially demands that I bare my soul. Even in journalism, wherein I am telling someone else’s story instead of my own, my work is very public. And so, what am I afraid of?
I could tell you that I grew up in a family of secrets; alcoholism tends to have that effect. I could tell you that I experienced sexual abuse as a child, date rape as a teenager, and domestic violence in college. I could tell you that I’ve been stalked more than once, and that I’ve struggled with a number of other challenges I honestly wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But that’s not really an answer. Yes, I’m afraid that my past will come back to bite a big chunk out of my backside, even though when you get right down to it I don’t really have any deep, dark secrets that need protecting. I sometimes fear that those who’ve hurt me in the past will come after me again and try to “finish the job,” but that really makes no sense. I’m sure even the most villainous soul has better things to do than to bother with me.
So what is it? Am I afraid of being laughed at? Mocked? Judged? Disgraced by some unintentional yet fatal mistake? Well, of course. So is everyone.
But I don’t think that my thoughts or hang-ups or what-have-you are so important and special that no one else would understand them. Oddly, this year’s Blogathon has driven that point home if I’d been doubting it at all. For some reason, this year’s month of daily postings has pushed me in a way that previous years’ exercises hadn’t. The writing itself isn’t harder; neither is sticking to the schedule. If anything, it’s been easier this time around.
And perhaps that’s the point. Being quiet doesn’t get me anywhere. I don’t imagine I’ll keep posting every day for the remainder of my natural life, but I will post more often (yes, I say that every year). Being silent doesn’t protect me from judgement, because I still judge myself. And there is a kind of arrogance to be found in reticence. Who am I to remain silent? How dare I keep so much to myself? When I die, my unspoken and unwritten words die with me.
Don’t expect me to suddenly start spewing the dirtiest, most explicit details of my mundane life in this space. I don’t imagine that would be entertaining or educational to anyone, plus we all have better things with which to occupy our time. But I do hope to be a bit bolder, a bit less discreet, a bit louder. I will screw up. I’ll reveal something I’ll wish I hadn’t. I’ll probably even embarrass my family at some point, but then perhaps I’ll know I’ve truly done my job as a writer. 😉
Creative Commons photo: silence by eigirdaz.