Hear Me Roar

b9fde5c69ef544f4ab7daa8607721921Exactly six months since I offered my first online writing group with a well-timed push from Shawn Fink (thank you, amazing Shawn), this morning I decided to figure out how many individuals have participated.

I counted 79 people altogether (not counting returners), another 45 who have done self-paced writing prompts, and 42 members in the ongoing Get Your Muse On group (newcomers always welcome!).

Then I went through a ton of surveys and put together five ten-point, single-spaced pages of testimonials. I have no idea what, if anything, to do with this amazing document, but reading it over kind of floored me, in the best sense.

All of this got me pondering women and self-promotion, and the conventional wisdom that “we” collectively abhor it. I thought back on this interview with Tara Mohr, which I came across a few days ago via Marianne Elliott. Marianne wrote these words with the link on her Facebook page:

“I think it’s time we all agreed that women have to be in the business of promoting their own work, or the world will keep missing out on all the great work women are doing. So let’s cheer each other on when we get over our own discomfort and do the work of promoting our work.”

If self-obsession is abhorrent, being of service isn’t. And I think after many years of searching, I’ve stumbled into a way to serve others using the things that bring me the most joy: Writing, photography, connecting, and creating community.

But wait. Why “stumbled”? Would a man say he stumbled? Well, maybe. Depends on the man.

I check my own language, struck by some internalized passivity as if this happened to have happened. Reading through all of those testimonials today didn’t “kind of” floor me “in the best sense,” “I think.”

No. Reading them floored me. Period. And while I might not be sure yet how to integrate them into expanding my work, is it really true that “I have no idea”? Also no.

While I’m at it: Maybe I didn’t stumble. Maybe I worked my ass off, and listened hard and struggled and surrendered, and got up at dawn and went to sleep way too late and tried to keep being an attentive mama and loving partner. Maybe I paid attention when I was feeling lonely and disconnected and craving community last fall. Maybe I saw that my salary alone was not enough to support us right now, and found a way to earn more money doing something I love. Maybe I took creative risks, some that fell flat and others that are paying off in wonderful ways.

And now, let’s revise this paragraph, without a single “maybe,” and see how it shifts, how it feels to read:

I didn’t stumble. I worked my ass off, and listened hard and struggled and surrendered, and got up at dawn and went to sleep way too late and tried to keep being an attentive mama and loving partner. I paid attention when I was feeling lonely and disconnected and craving community last fall. I saw that my salary alone was not enough to support us right now, and found a way to earn more money doing something I love. I took creative risks, some that fell flat and others that are paying off in wonderful ways.

Yes, better. Did you feel that?

According to this week’s Capricorn horoscope, I have no control over the situation! Well, that’s a relief.

AND, we have more control about what our lives look and feel like when we decide how to represent ourselves. Enough with the “stumbling” and the “maybe” and the “I think” and the “kind of.”

Just own it, already. How old do we have to be before we stand up and say our work matters, whatever that work may be?

The fifteen-year old in me who had her mind set on going to Barnard and the 36-year old in me who came roaring out of the closet and the 41-year old in me who is sitting here typing these words as fast as they fly out from mind to key–it’s all one me, one life, this crazy unfolding, this mish-mash of privilege, intention, luck, drive, passion, doubt, and patience.

When I decided to share that 79 number, I didn’t realize I’d end up writing a feminist statement on semantics and self-promotion and the light and language we hold ourselves in. It was going to be a short Facebook update, but as soon as I typed it, I noticed my discomfort and the familiar questions: How would it sound? What was my intention? What would people think? 

I come back to an underlying core belief: We are here to see each other, and to affect real change in the world. We talk about showing up. As women, this means seeing and revealing ourselves with honesty, forthrightness, and ownership–of what goes into making a living, shaping a life, and claiming ourselves worthy, powerful, capable, and successful.

And I also circle back to the words we use to describe and share ourselves. They matter. All the nice cushion-y words we add to soften what we fear might sound like (god-forbid!) self-promotion are superfluous ways of not taking up too much room, of insisting that we’re still not sure. I know a lot of women who are a whole lot more sure than they let the world know, myself included.

You may or may not ever write with me. But the question I’m asking tonight is: Who wants to roar?

20 thoughts on “Hear Me Roar

  1. Lisa Sorensen says:

    Woo-hooo! I hear that roar and love it, Jena! I’m thrilled. I’m empowered. I’m enriched seeing you remove all those ‘maybes’ and stand right up to speak your honesty, your heart, your strength, your wisdom. I’m drinking deep, I’m feeling grateful for you, I’m uncertain I’m worthy and yet I’m roaring right with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jean Greaves says:

    YES!!!!!! Exactly what you needed to write and I needed to read. I use way too many cushion-y words and not just in my writing. That whole “I will die a thousand deaths if you don’t like me” thing. I loved how visceral and clear the difference between the two paragraphs. We are afraid to be powerful and sure, for no good reason. Thanks for standing up and owning it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jena Schwartz says:

      Jean, “for no good reason.” I love that you named that. The “why” of this was on my mind as I wrote, and in the end, was so not the point. Here’s to not dying a thousand deaths or even one before our time–and to writing. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kristi Campbell - findingninee says:

    I want to roar! And yes yes yes! Why oh why is it too dang easy to insert the “kind of’s” into our sentences? Why is it second nature to not self promote and what is second nature anyway? Maybe first nature is to roar? And second is our inner critics needing duct tape on their mouths? Yes? Yes! So happy to be a part of your world. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  4. deeeharper says:

    Jena, it took me some days to find time to clear my email inbox, but this is wonderful. I haven’t paid enough attention to those linguistic tics that can undermine our efforts. I will now. And please know that I’ve appreciate each and every piece of your communication, whether or not it’s self-promotion: you offer me opportunity, you inspire me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jennifersekella says:

    Me me me!!! I want and need to Roar! I’ve been a small part of your number, but have plans to get involved again! I was talking yesterday about how it’s been suggested that I try to “kill (the office bully) with kindness.” To hell with that! She’s the weak link – her insecurity makes her attack others and for some reason people allow it. I won’t! I’m fighting my own fight – building my own self – I’m not pretending respect just because she’s a bully. Pffftttt! Hear me ROAR! ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Megan Pincus Kajitani says:

    Oh, yes, love this!!! So timely for me! Just the other day I sat on the beach with my friend, talking about how maybe our 40’s is the time to stop trying to be so damn zen and nice all the time and claim our messy space and our messy opinions more — maybe so! ;) (Same conversation, BTW, where we talked about that old bully, and letting all that go… Hmm, I see connections…) Love what you are doing, in all ways, and so happy to be a part of it!! :)

    Liked by 1 person

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