Strangled Roots and More Than One Kind of Silence

Photo: Kyle Ellefson

So often I begin with morning light. Today, I began with Facebook video calling me — after I had snoozed the alarm. A 14-hour time difference makes scheduling calls with a writer in Australia an interesting challenge; my client was in her bed, sleepy after an evening meditation, just as I was leaping out of mine to throw on a robe and pour some coffee.

One of the things that struck me most in our conversation was this: Too many of us wait. We wait until we feel more confident, more qualified, more ready. We wait because we’re afraid that not everyone will like what we have to say or write (they won’t). We wait because there are other people saying and writing these things better than we ever will. We wait, and in the waiting, our insights, our observations, our wisdom, our lived experience, our questions, and our ideas all stay in our heads.

I picture roots in a too-small pot, growing around themselves. While some plants prefer to be pot-bound (my mom told me this recently, when she stopped by and saw the succulents she’d transplanted years ago, thriving in their original pots on my windowsill), others will eventually suffer from confinement, strangling themselves rather than having room to grow. I imagine the same may be true for what is inside of us. At what point do thoughts need to be transcribed, translated, shared, and explored outside the container of inner exploration?

Never, perhaps. There’s no rule here, no should.

But this morning, I’m considering the very real possibility that the gnarled internalization of self-doubt is a form of collective gaslighting, particularly among groups who’ve experienced outer oppression. If you’re told enough times that what you have to say isn’t true, what you’ve experienced isn’t real, and that when it comes to what you see happening all around you, you’re overreacting, little by little, you’re bound to start questioning your own voice. What could you possibly have to contribute?

* * * * *

As the masks come off, as the veneers chip away, as the statues come down, and as the ugliness around us is more and more exposed, it’s inevitable and necessary to face the ways in which we’ve unknowingly swallowed the poison and internalized beliefs that hurt us and each other.

As a white woman, this means looking at my own racism — the thoughts, beliefs, and actions that may be so unconscious and so subtle that I would have denied them altogether in the past.

It means looking at the fears I’ve had of speaking up, the way my own nervous system goes into high alert in the fact of perceived conflict. It means acknowledging that I have experience I can trust, and also there is much I don’t know. Both are true.

It means acknowledging and writing from the truths of my own intersectionality. I identify as queer, and I see and feel on a daily basis the ways this sets me apart from heteronormative expectations and status quo. I am self-employed. I have no boss. I answer to myself. It was during a brief stint in the private sector that I was more aware of my gender that in any other job; women in positions of leadership were undermined in ways both nuanced and overt but difficult to call out. (It’s also the one time I’ve been laid off).

I’m acutely aware of the ways in which my people have internalized trauma and also have assimilated and benefited from being white immigrants, thus perpetuating a racial divide even while seeking to heal it.

I grew up with economic and educational privilege, and there are ripple effects to not embodying previous generations’ norms. That said, my lineage is both a gift and a burden, one I’m continuously examining and delving into more deeply. What wisdom do my ancestors have for me, and where must I peel away? When is a diversion actually a form of continuity?

Jewish tradition, in particular and in my estimation, embraces the relevance of context — culturally, politically, sociologically. We look to tradition as the basis for change, rather than as a too-small pot in which our roots slowly suffocate.

* * * * *

Privilege is being able to opt out: It doesn’t affect me. It’s not my problem. That’s awful for them — whoever “they” may be. Sometimes not saying anything is easier, sometimes safer.

There are plenty of situations where silence is self-preservation, and I feel compelled to say as much. But that’s exactly why people who benefit from systems of oppression need not only to listen to those who’ve been silenced, but also to speak up.

I’ve read a few articles lately about “call-out culture.” Last night, I found myself reacting to a post by a coach — not someone I know personally. The implication was along the lines of “we create our own reality” and that pain can be the basis for healing. My immediate reaction was, THIS IS EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH WHITE FEMINIST SELF-HELP CULTURE.

I read it to Mani. I’ll admit that it felt good for a moment, the self-righteousness. But rather than leaving it at that, I decided to learn a little more. Something happened as I read more of her copy: I saw myself. I saw the ways in which I, too, am working with women to dismantle the ways we’ve internalized the patriarchy.

And I had no choice but to ask myself: Where are my blind spots?

Calling each other out — or in, if you prefer — is critical. And we also have to keep asking ourselves hard questions. The former is just a performance without the latter.

* * * * *

There are 10,000 threads here. This stops me from starting at all. It’s too big, I tell myself. I’m all over the place. How is this helpful? I’m just another white woman taking up too much room.

But therein lies a place where the roots need to grow. On the one hand, the myth of too-much has been used to silence women. On the other hand, as a white woman, I DO need to be quiet — not because my voice doesn’t matter, but because the voices of women of color matter, too, and have been strangled, smothered, suffocated, and suppressed in ways that mine hasn’t.

This is intersectionality. This is complexity. This is not a binary of privilege and oppression nor is it a hierarchy of suffering. It’s a willingness to outgrow small spaces, to risk writing and inviting conversation even if not everything I’m saying is fully formed and perfectly expressed. It’s saying: This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of the reality we are ALL creating — and perhaps more importantly, undoing.

* * * * *

Am I choking on my roots or are they propelling me to grow and thrive? Who is watering the plants?

* * * * *

I have no neat and conclusive way of ending this post, except to say that I’m hearing more than one kind of silence. The fearful kind, that tells me to be careful — there could be repercussions. The complicit kind, that doesn’t want to rock the boat, get it wrong, or look at the ways in which I’m responsible for this mess we’re in. And the listening kind, where I acknowledge how much I have to learn and unlearn.

Which one do you relate to most — and if you take the time to listen, what do you hear?

The Roar Sessions: A Good Week to Start

Do you follow The Roar Sessions, the weekly series of guest posts by women of diverse voices and backgrounds? This would be a good week to start.

Today’s guest is Cristina Spencer, whose piece I’m Not Really a Waitress begins with a big fuck you to Donald Trump.

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Before leaving for New York City I decided to go to the nail salon on a whim.  The salon staff moved in short dashes from here to there, bustling through space in their black uniforms.  I turned toward the wall of polishes and for the first time in the sixteen years I’ve been married, I was struck by the urge for red.  I considered the rows of tiny bottles, colorful and perfectly uniform like a kick line of Rockettes from Radio City, and picked up a bottle of shimmering garnet.  The name of the color was “I’m Not Really a Waitress,” which seemed to suggest a rouse or a mystery—the woman associated with this color was more than she appeared.  I brushed a small swatch of it on my thumb, admired how it contrasted with my pale skin, and made my decision.

A few days later, a photograph of these nails appeared on the internet.  It was late at night and they were giving Trump Tower the finger.  The caption read: Trump’s Tower, Cristina’s finger.  Within an hour or so, the image had generated as many likes and comments as anything I ever posted on Facebook, but still a backwash of nerves and shame at having posted an image so lacking in decorum convinced me to pull it.

This is the story of the woman who pulled that image, told by the woman who put it back up online. 

Continue reading here. And be sure to “follow” The Roar Sessions to receive a new post every Monday morning (just scroll down to the bottom of the page to sign up). And if you’re ready to roar, please consider submitting your words.

Angel Posse Meets Story Sisterhood

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They don’t mind my writing about them and I don’t mind risking sounding like a religious fanatic or a woo-woo nut job.

I just spent the last hour writing a story about my angel posse, for one of the prompts in The Story Sisterhood. This new membership group of The Inky Path will dive deeply into a single theme every three months. For our inaugural theme “Gotta Have Faith,” already a group of really wonderful women from around the world has assembled to explore our stories, one week at a time, alone and together.

Though I’ve written about my angels many times before, today I wound up writing something brand new, something I would probably not have sat down to write had I not had some reason to do so. While this itself is a gift for me, such a huge part of the writing is also in the sharing and the connections that opens up between me and other humans.

So many factors at play. So much responsibility to bear. The whole “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” thing? I wasn’t sure I was buying it.

So when I say things like “I hope you’ll join us,” it’s not an empty sales pitch. Whether I’m referring to the writing groups I lead privately or the ones I co-create over at The Inky Path, what you’re getting is my heart, my whole self, and an expression of my deep and genuine desire to share some of my stories with you and to get the deep privilege of reading yours.

What you’re hearing is borne of awe at the alchemy of memory, writing, and witness.

And they are tough as nails, too. They never back down and they always have my back. My angels are my best friends. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

I don’t know what I’d do without you, either. My writing posse. This beautiful and ever-expanding community.

If taking the time and creating the space to connect with your own stories inside of a truly supportive community of women calls to you, I hope you’ll join me and my inky partner-in-crime. Cigdem Kobu in The Story Sisterhood.

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Registration is open through the weekend, then will close until late summer.

“This sisterhood is unlike anything I have experienced. It has unleashed many words that needed a meadow to romp in without fear.” – Terri Jackson

The Roar Sessions Has a New Address & You’re Invited

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Were you forlorn this morning, looking for a new Roar Sessions post and wondering why there wasn’t one?

No?

Well! Whether you noticed it or not, The Roar Sessions has moved into its own place — and you’re invited to come on over.

That’s right. In case you missed it, this weekly series that has grown dear to my heart — and maybe yours — now has its very own website. And today’s post is as powerful as they come.

“23 years since they said this. You can’t come back. Someone has to leave and they’ve been here longer and he is our pastor, so you have to leave. But hey, we are paying for eight counseling sessions for you and we wish you all the best, now leave, please, but let us pray for you before you go, and we really hope you will be okay. We feel so very sorry for you, and you really need help, but we can’t be the ones to help you because we have others who are more important than you to help. Go on now, troubled young woman. Leave. Let us get on with the Lord’s work, we don’t need women like you in our midst. You might rub off on us. And besides, didn’t you know it is really all your fault?” – from “Silent Roar” by Anonymous, this week’s guest

In addition to continuing to publish guest posts every Monday by kick-ass, courageous women of diverse backgrounds and experiences, there are few other pages for you to check out:

  1. A complete archive since the series’ inception on June 7, 2015.
  2. submissions page.
  3. Sponsorship opportunities, because writing “for the exposure” is passé and we deserve more.

As always, this space will continue to be home to my “Art of” Series, poems and other rambling posts, dates and details about all of my writing groups, and opportunities to keep growing as a writer and human through individual coaching sessions.

Thank you for being part of the first year of The Roar Sessions here on my blog — and for hopping over to follow the new site.

See you in all the places!

Happy Birthday to The Roar Sessions

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Psssst!

The Roar Sessions is coming up on its first birthday!

To celebrate, I’ve given this weekly series a room of its own on the internets.

Thank you, thank you, to each and every contributor and reader who has breathed life into what began with a single post one year ago this week.

Please be sure to “follow” the new site if you enjoy receiving Roar posts in your inbox.

Come on over!