Brave. Courageous. Fierce. The readers of my recent writing have generously baptized it with these names. This has been especially true when I’ve written about women’s sexual power, rape, rage, or any state of being relegated to the shadows of our culture, unspoken, unsung. Deep in this cave, I swam in the cold primordial water, and knew it to be my original home. Diving in wasn't brave exactly; it was required of my soul.
I take these words about bravery as jewels and gifts, and I also take them in full light of this truth about art & risk: every time I’ve published one of these pieces, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in fear. Trembling. In these unspoken, unsung places, in these shadows, there is terror. In my humble opinion, the best writing wells up from that trembling place, from speaking what you’re not sure you should say.
This “should” is the stream of culture, the stories we know because we’ve heard them a hundred times: Romance. Happily-ever-after tales. Political intrigue. The humorous anecdote. The sob story. Every story that resolves and then lets us return to life entertained, but unchanged. There’s nothing wrong with any of these customary tales, except in the ways they can distract us and drown out the voices that could transform our understanding of our selves and our world. Is one of these dynamic voices yours? It may be that you have a treasure trove of stories inside, the ones that would change our hearts, the ones we’ve been waiting for. But, like me, perhaps you are trembling. I’ve put together my top five antidotes to the fear that arises every time I move close to voicing my truth.
I’ll be offering this medicine in 5 doses throughout the next week. Here’s #1:
Fear Antidote #1: Remember your context
When I’ve taken the time to dive deep into the fear I’m feeling, I’ve found that it often bears no relationship to the actual consequences of speaking my truth, in my life, in this time. Usually it feels like an ancient fear, a collective fear born-in to women (but not only women), stemming from historical trauma: witch hunts, exile, centuries of deafness to women’s wisdom and ways of knowing.
We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language… 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. –Audre Lorde
Understanding that my life, work, and place in the community will not be threatened by speaking my truth does not invalidate my fear. Despite my rational mind, this fear is real and ripe with power. And by power I mean this: by talking to myself about this fear, by gently reminding the scared girl in me that I actually do have the safety and privilege to speak, I open a secret channel for a roar like a lion to rise up through me. This roar is a burning desire—and even a responsibility—to write and tell the very truths that women have been barred from, ignored, or punished for speaking. Even now, even here in the West, there are consequences: maybe name-calling, maybe momentary discomfort, maybe the silence of those whom we wish would not turn away. But when I pose Audre Lorde's question, What’s the worst that could happen?, I understand that my consequences are less grave than for our ancestral mothers, and less grave than for our sisters in countries without freedom of speech. And the names I accumulate from speaking may be ones I can welcome:
If you have ever been called defiant, incorrigible, forward, cunning, insurgent, unruly, rebellious, you're on the right track. Wild Woman is close by. If you have never been called these things, there is yet time.
For myself, I have yet to be ostracized or face any negative consequences for speaking from the trembling place. To the contrary, writing this way has helped me meet allies, more wild women and artists and lovers like me who feel and resonate with these unsung stories. The ones I want in my corner. We give each other courage.