Back when I was young, I was very angry. Anger was my default emotion. I suspect I had many good reasons to be angry but the anger also blocked me from the other feelings that rolled about beneath the hard crust of my emotions--sadness, pain, loneliness. The anger was personal directed mostly at myself but also at those close to me. My anger did not do much for me but it was familiar.
And then I got a job in the Women's Studies Center at UMF. At the time, I did not see it as more than a job in what seemed like a cool place. I spent the summer transcribing the then director's research which I enjoyed. I also began to develop a newsletter for the office. It was a job but an enjoyable job. At the end of the summer, the current director moved onto a new job and the new director came in...at first, I was a little scared of her. She was lovely. Tall, slender, graceful. She was a poet. My fear I suspect arose a bit out of jealously. She was what I had often wished myself to be.
But as time rolled on this woman became a direct route to how the personal does bubble up into both the political and the public. She introduced to my best friend who became like a sister to me. She helped me become a better, more thoughtful writer (all grammar mistakes can not be attributed to her). But perhaps the most important thing she did was taught me a new way to think about that anger that lie inside me. I began through her classes to learn that what I needed to feel angry about was systematic oppression and that this anger was a better fuel as outrage. Lee did not give me a cause rather she taught me how to articulate the causes that were already deep within me. Through Lee I learned why I was angry, what needed to be changed, and the power of one's voice. And slowly over the years, I began to heal because once I had a place to direct that energy, that anger, I opened up places that were full of pain, hurt and sadness. Instead of wanting to be Lee, I started to want to be myself. I don't know if I could have the life I have now if it weren't for Women's Studies at UMF.
And now I find myself, someone who believes that one must live in the present, raising a ghost. A good kind of a ghost. That girl back then who was so passionate. So loud. So unafraid.So not silent. Well somewhere along the road she got lost. She got quieter. She would tentatively offer opinions but she was also afraid of offending others. Of hurting others. She was leery of asserting herself in terms of political opinions...she spent a lot of time erasing posts off Facebook because she didn't want to argue.
Then Jude happened. At the same time, there was big push against undocumented workers. And there were policies being pushed against women's reproductive rights. And suddenly, it was clear that she need her voice, that voice from the past, needed to be resurrected. Through some arcane ceremonies built on the back of love, she began to emerge into this tired, middle aged self. She rose from the ashes of a self-conscious apathy. And once she was here, inside, it was clear she had always been there...there was no lying to rest of a ghost. She was me. My voice. Just waiting for that push, that incantation to bring it all back. Circles not lines. Borders between what was and what is.
“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.... What are the words you do not yet have? 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? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language."So I ask myself, "What is the worst that can happen?" I will lose friends, I suspect. I will anger some people. Others will think I am amoral, unethical. But I will not die. And if I did die, would it not be better to put those words forth? Not out of anger this time but out of love. Out of a demand that my child is human. That the people we seek to oppress are human. And I will be called angry but I know better. I know that anger will kill you slowly. It will poison you. I speak out of outrage. I speak out of love. I speak out the knowledge that my silence will not protect me. And I know this because I have lived it before, and I lived. I did more than survive. I danced. And damn it, it's time to dance again. But this time, I am older, a little wiser, and a lot more wily. This time I am not carrying the burden of self-doubt and an anger that I can not touch.
I began to ask each time: "What's the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?" Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, "disappeared" or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.
Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end.
And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
― Audre Lorde