Today at lunch…

I mentioned my plans to transition out of K-12 and into reading/writing/teaching about women’s issues. I highlighted rape culture and sexual violence and fibroids by name, although my net is cast a bit wider than these. The woman who inquired about my goals made the raised eyebrow/pulled down lips/impressed face and nodded. “Wow. Good for you. What got you moving in that direction?”

Who knows?

It brings to mind a similar question asked of Angela Davis. In a lecture recorded as The Prison Industrial Complex, she discussed her activist beginnings: “What made you decide to become an activist? What was that pivotal event in your life? And for years and years I thought about it.” She went on to mention the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, and how she initially believed that to be the catalyst. Upon further reflection, she realized that wasn’t it:

Finally, after struggling with this for years, I decided that there really was no particular moment when I decided to become an activist. As a matter of fact, I grew up with the idea that in order to live in segregated circumstances… my parents basically taught us that we had to be critical of the way things were. Otherwise, we could not affirm our own humanity. And that we had to dedicate our lives to the kind of transformation that would make this a better world to live in for all of us. And so I’ve learned that wherever I am, whatever I happen to be doing at the moment, I have to fulfill that commitment that has informed my life.

Now, I don’t have years invested in feminist activism and advocacy, so it’s not like I have a long history to consider. Despite my brief affiliation, I’m hard pressed to supply a satisfying answer. In fact, today was my first encounter with the question; I’ve simply never thought about why. So I sputtered. In fact, I’m writing now, more as a think-aloud, than to offer a definitive answer.

I think it’s a series of dots that are just now being connected. For instance, I’ve practiced Nichiren Buddhism for 13 years now. Studying and practicing a life philosophy grounded in human potential and equality leans one ever toward more progressive and compassionate ways of knowing and being. Encountering Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy in graduate school 5 years ago is another dot. A huge one really. Unlike the constant flow of the water of Buddhism, reading Freire and studying critical inquiry pedagogy caused a fiery, seismic shift.

Then there was the class that wasn’t. The University of Georgia offered a course on Black women’s narratives. I attended the first day, but enrollment was low, and the class didn’t make. The professor showed Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on the Danger of the Single Story – which became seed as much as dot – and I eventually ordered all the books on her syllabus. I started my own class really, and began reading (and writing) when I could. Dot.

A series of shares in the Red Clay Writing Project’s Summer Institute led me to brainstorm a study on teenage rape narratives, and I wrote and studied my own as a pilot. Dot. An article here or there would move me to anger, tears, or elation. Dot. And suddenly, here we are. At the beginning, still. And like any other journey, each day is an opportunity for another step.

Onward.

Speak to me. #NaBloPoMo.

NaBloPoMo March 2013

Yesterday I touched on the risk of remaining silent. I have more thoughts on the topic, but I wanted to broach the other end of the continuum – speaking up. In this case, I don’t mean speaking out, per se, but rather truth-telling to yourself.

And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence
into language and action is an act of self-revelation,
and that always seems fraught with danger.
~Audre Lorde

Silence into Language
As a narrative inquirer, I investigate stories. I wonder what we can uncover when we treat stories as data; when we mine them and make sense of them. I encourage women to tell and delve into their own stories, to engage in deep reflection about the gems they unearth during this work. This is a liberating, yet potentially painful process.

I made brief mention of triggering. Studying your life reveals truths you had forgotten, weren’t expecting, or had even rejected. Suddenly, there they are, in bold relief, and you’re faced with a choice.

Language into Action
When I hit that moment of great revelation in my own investigation, I cried. These were the wrenching tears of a deeply wounded soul. My tears surprised me. I honestly didn’t know I harbored such profound hurt. But the crying and the subsequent feelings of relief did not mark the end of my work. They became the bridge to further learning and new steps.

I asked myself, now that I see this truth and better understand this part of my life, what will I do with this? What actions can I take to create a better outcome for me, or for others who may face similar circumstances? It wasn’t enough to give voice to my experience, I need/ed to use it.

If it’s true that past is prologue, studying my story gave me tools to construct a plot more to my liking. Rather than aimlessly bouncing to the next experience, I consciously authored next steps: learning vulnerability and inviting love.

And it was freeing. Scary. Difficult. Illuminating. Empowering. Risky. Painful. But freeing.

Speak.

My silences had not protected me.
Your silence will not protect you.

~Audre Lorde

The Risky Business of Silence #NaBloPoMo.

NaBloPoMo March 2013

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That speaking profits me, beyond any other effect. ~Audre Lorde

For years I’ve carried a story untold. Two decades. Thank goddess I finally realized the untelling was its own telling; my silence its own story. Like an ill-trained architect, my silence designed a life that might not have been. And I suppose it had my permission – my silence was consent. But as of late I have been telling the story, rereading it and writing a new ending…building a brand new life.

Silence wasn’t a strategy. Not a conscious one, in any event. I didn’t know I needed to tell it. I didn’t know there was even a story; that there was anything worthy of telling. So I didn’t. I didn’t share it with anyone.

Not even me.

I carried a story untold, never bothering to see if the heroine, teenager that she was, needed to share her version of events. I never checked to see if she wanted to claim her space. Lift her voice. I gave her shelter, but no platform. I thought nothing of it, and without so much as gut check, I muted her.

And with each passing year, her story was reduced to a chapter, a vignette, a scene, a beat. A moment that no longer mattered because it was all those years ago, and here we are in a new time, and space, with new characters. No need for digging up the old untold.

Lies.

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? ~Audre Lorde

There is a risk in the telling, yes, but the greater risk is in the untelling. In the silence. In the denial of your story. In the casual disregard of your truth. Voicing your story does not have to mean telling it out there to them, but at the very least, you owe it your life to tell it in here, to you. What truths are hidden in your silences? What love is lost? What life is secreted away, literally buried alive? Can you save it? (Tell it). What is the story that remains hidden so far in you that you barely recognize or remember it? (Tell it).

Funny thing about a story untold. We deny it audience, yet it finds one anyway. We hear echoes of characters past in the voices around us today. We recognize the scenery in our present circumstances. We don’t quite understand why the script, the players, seem familiar. It’s untold story, demanding recognition. When if we could just tell it and see it for what it is, we could get on with the very important business of writing the life we really want.

And of course I’m not promising that telling is easy. Sometimes storytelling is a dangerous, triggering business. But you are the author of your life. Name your reality. Share your story.

And then? Keep writing the rest.