Today, June 24, 2022 the United States Supreme Court overturned the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973. The Court’s majority opinion said that abortion was an issue to be left to the individual states to regulate in any way they choose to. Almost half the states have laws in place to outlaw and criminalize abortion and other forms of reproductive care. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said that two other Supreme Court decisions, Griswold vs. Connecticut which legalized access to artificial birth control and Obergfell vs. Hodges which legalized gay marriage need to be ‘reviewed’. ‘Review’ is a thinly-veiled code-word for potential decisions to be overturned.
I’ve known this decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade has been coming since the early 1980’s when I came of age under the Reagan administration and saw the rise of the Christian Right. The Christian Right has said since the late 1970’s that their goal was to outlaw abortion, access to artificial contraception, and outlaw all rights for LGBTQ Americans. The Texas Republican Party on their platform in addition to this also called for the overturn of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These people have been telling us what they were going to do and they got just enough voters along with a serious amount of dirty money from here and abroad to put enough Supreme Court Justices into place to over turn Roe vs. Wade and put the other laws in their crosshairs.
For forty years I was told not to make political or social issues personal. I was told I had to learn how to agree to disagree with people and tolerate them even if their beliefs were horrible and evil.
SILENCE IS A TOOL OF THE OPPRESSOR
Oppressors and abusers demand silence from their victims. Oppressors and abusers tell their victims that no one will believe them if they speak out against oppression and abuse.
The Christian Right are the oppressors and the abusers here. They have said for the last forty years they were under attack but that was NOT true. They have been on the attack against the rights of everyone who is not exactly like them: white, heterosexual, and Christian (only in name but not in practice).
Thirty-eight years ago, I began writing. Back when I started writing it was because I was in love with the magic of words. What I didn’t understand back then like I do now is this: I started writing to put my thoughts and feelings into words, to find words that didn’t hurt me like those that were said to me. Back then, I knew I wanted to say so many things yet I knew if I did it would not be taken well. I knew back then if I spoke out against things that hurt me and others the oppressors and abusers in my life would try to silence me. They did silence me by making me feel like I had no words that would break their power over me.
Six years ago, I came up with the idea of using writing to try and figure out why I thought and felt the way I did. I then added using writing to figure out what the hell was going on in our world and what we could do about it. At the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do with those answers. And I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to ask those questions and deal with the answers. Most of all, I know there are people in this world who don’t want to hear what I have to say. But my words are not for those that don’t want them, but for those that do listen to me.
Six years ago, I didn’t realize that I was going to do was break my silence. Back then, I didn’t realize how much silence I had lived with. I had retreated and hidden in silence in order not to be hurt by the words and actions of others. That’s a survival instinct but not a way to live. Running and hiding didn’t take away the pain inside of me, or the fear that if I came out of hiding that I would be forced back into that hidden place if I spoke out about my thoughts and feelings.
Right now, I know many people are feeling pain and fear at the rights being taken away from so many of us by our lawmakers and court systems. And they are asking what we can do to regain these rights. My first answer is BREAK YOUR SILENCE. Breaking your silence starts in your mind when you put your feelings into words and let those thoughts flow through you.
After you break your silence in your mind you can then find ways to break it in your daily life. It can be as simple as casting a vote that is the opposite of how you are being told to vote. And yes, I think it’s more than okay to lie about that if you have to because I understand the need for self-preservation.
If you can find the strength and courage inside yourself, you can then break your silence out loud. You can speak out against people who speak with hatred, contempt, and tell lies. You do not have to let hate-mongering and lying go unanswered. You can stand up for yourself and stay true to who you are.
I started by breaking my silence in my mind then I moved on to the written word like I am doing here. Now I’m getting ready to move on to the next stage of breaking my silence, which is creating a podcast so my voice can be heard out loud. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and like the other ways I had to learn to break my silence, this one involved a lot of hard work through fear and anxiety that created doubt and uncertainty in my mind.
But I keep thinking one thing: I have nothing left to lose. I have nothing no one can take away from me. I am a broke, middle-aged woman living on next to nothing. Yet I have found peace and happiness like never before in my life. I found that peace and happiness by finding my voice and breaking my silence. And most of all, I found peace and happiness by being on my own, not alienated and ostracized. I know I’m not perfect, but I also know no one else is either even if they profess to be perfect.
As a child, I found word could take me away to places far away from the lonely and painful reality I lived with. Then I found words that provided knowledge and showed me the wonders of the world. I found words that told of pain and suffering, and how to overcome that. I found words that provided comfort when I had no other form of comfort for myself. Most of all, I know my words and the words of others have meaning, and can be used for good, and can provide comfort and strength to those in need.
Today may feel like a dark day even though outside the sun is shining high and blazing with summer heat. And I know this day has been a long time in coming, and that knowledge is what has given me focus today and kept my heart from trying to pound its’ way out of my chest. Because I’ve lived with this knowledge for so long, I realized I have lived with the words inside of me, too. And now I have the ability to share those words and hopefully give hope to others, and to provide a plan of action.
BREAK YOUR SILENCE
For most of my life, a big thing in my life was being told not to speak ill of the dead. When I was a kid I thought that was because if you talked smack about dead people they’d come back and haunt you. As an adult, I realize that if the dead have a problem with how I talk about them now, they know where I’m at.
I wonder if that belief in not talking ill of the dead is because the dead can’t defend themselves. I don’t buy that argument because I wasn’t aware every discussion about the dead was supposed to be a group debate session. Now I realize this argument is just to shut people up in talking about things they have every right to talk about.
I’m going to hang myself out here with an opinion that might not be very popular: the dead don’t need their legacy preserved without honesty. A lot of people keep things to themselves because they don’t want to hurt people’s perceptions of their long-gone loved ones. I will respect anyone’s decision whether or not to talk about someone who’s dead but I don’t feel you have to venerate the dead for the rest of eternity either.
As I begin to write my book ‘Breaking Radio Silence’, I will be talking about the dead and some of what I write might not be ‘nice’. When it comes to my parents they would be the first people to tell you they weren’t perfect. They never claimed to be and even after they’d gotten pissed off and raged hard, they were able to apologize when they’d been wrong and said and done things they shouldn’t have. NO ONE IS PERFECT (I put that in all-caps here to make a point) so I don’t see any need to treat people as perfect just because they’re dead and gone.
My mother has been gone for twenty years so I’ve had twenty years to live without her. I’ve had to learn to live with memories and memory is a tricky thing because you want to remember good things but you also get the bad stuff with that. My father once said he chose to remember the good because the bad was always there. And he was right on the mark with that so that’s why I will talk about the bad stuff, the painful stuff, the stuff that’s taken me years to put into words. And if this makes someone uncomfortable, that’s on them and not me.
Many years ago, I heard people say that I was too comfortable with death. No, I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ at all. I just had to learn how to talk about it because I was watching it slowly advance on my mother first, then my father. And in death there’s a fair amount of paperwork involved so there’s that to deal with and if talking about that makes people uncomfortable then that’s on them.
Not long after my mother got her cancer diagnosis, my parents asked me to sit and talk with them about what to do when my mom died. I got up and walked out of the room. The thought of death slammed into me I couldn’t think or speak at that moment, but I eventually bucked up and started having those conversations with my mother and father. There was no comfort in those talks at all. They were just about working out the details that were going to need to be taken care of. And again, if anyone has a problem with that now, I’ll say to them like I should have said back then: go fuck yourself. My parents trusted me to take care of things for them because they knew how good I was at keeping my shit together and that I’d found the guts to face those damn details and get things done the way they wanted to. I’m not talking about this with pride, but I will not talk about it with shame or guilt either.
I know it might be hard for people to understand grief and pain when they haven’t experienced it themselves. It’s not an experience I wish on anyone though I know most people will have to go through it at some point in their lifetimes. If you haven’t gone through it, don’t judge people who have. If you have to, just walk out of the room until you can deal with it. My parents didn’t hold that walk-out against me in any way. They told me they’d understood why I had done that and knew that I would come and talk to them when I was ready. I talked to them because I knew that’s what they wanted me to do, and that they believed in me to shoulder the responsibility they were giving me.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in the process of working this book project here is feeling shame and guilt for things that I didn’t do wrong. I took on too much bullshit and insecurity from people I never should have. Every single person deals with things in their own way and anyone who insists on conformity in dealing with shit is an asshole. For in the end, there really isn’t any control over things. You just deal with them as they come and work through the fallout in the years after.
A couple of days ago I wrote that my writing is a window into who I am. But now it’s a doorway, an open doorway to who I am. I used to be scared shit-less of this because I always thought if I opened the door and invited people in, they’d either slam the door shut in my face and lock me inside myself. Or they would come in and trash the place all to hell and leave a huge mess for me to clean up.
That’s not going to happen because no one can slam the door on yourself. They can walk right back out that door or not walk inside at all. I respect anyone’s decision when it comes to dealing with me but I will not allow anyone to try and shut me up in silence. And I will not allow anyone to come inside and trash me all to hell because no one has the right to come in and wreck me simply because they can.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been dealing with the big thought that my writing is a barrier for people, a barrier that has kept people from getting to know me or even wanting to try. That’s not the case. I’m just a major social klutz who can do small-talk and conversations on a car ride but hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to do otherwise. So in reality my social skills are just severely limited through my own fears that people will knock me across the chops if I fuck up in some way though I’m human and will eventually do that at some time. It’s never my intention to fuck up and I know I don’t have a mean bone in my body because the thought of cruelty physically hurts me.
But in my writing, especially of late, I’ve let it rip. I’m beginning to put into words things that took me years just to hear inside my own head. And yes, I’ve been afraid of the reactions, and of my own simmering urge to get into a rip-roaring argument. I don’t want to argue because I don’t feel the need to. In the past, when someone started an argument with me they were relentless in coming at me until I gave in. I gave in way too damn many times and there was no reason for me to do so. It was like arguing with a brick wall that my head was being bashed against.
So now this is why if that ever starts up, I’m going to end with one thing:
“Ask yourself why you think and feel the way you do and keep asking until you find all the answers that you can. But I will warn you, you might like the answers that you find. And sooner or later, you will have to deal with them.”
In the past, saying something like this would get a reply of, “Well then I can’t talk to you about anything.”, or I would be accused of being too sensitive.
Neither one of those things is true. You can talk to me about anything but no one has the right to hammer someone into a puddle of tear-filled shit simply because they’re so convinced of their moral superiority that in reality is probably immoral at best, and cruel at worst. What I’m learning now is how to hold my ground and take a stand at the same time. And I’m doing that by saying out loud here my writing is an open doorway into who I am, good, bad, ugly, and everything in between. I’m a sloppy klutzy mess most of the time but that’s because I’m trying to put myself back together in a way that’s best for me.
My writing is something I love even when it drives me nuts and makes me hurt like hell. Because using writing as therapy is not easy. At times it feels seriously fucked-up and has had me thinking I’m nuts in trying to put into words shit that has been buried for so long. But my shit isn’t a corpse that’s supposed to stay buried. And my writing is not shit. And most of all, I’m not a human piece of shit because I write and over-think crap and come off as too damn sensitive.
When I conceived of my non-fiction writing projects six years ago, I had no idea what they would do to me. But as I’m fond of saying to myself and out loud here, neither did anyone else if they had known. I don’t regret for one moment starting these projects and all the crap they put me through. This is why I say writing isn’t easy for me and it never will be. It’s also why this project, ‘The Written Road’ may be the hardest of the non-fiction triumvirate as I call them (‘Breaking Radio Silence’ and ‘Stand or Fall’ being the other two here). I’m trying to put into words what comes to me quite naturally. I put my hands on a keyboard and once I find that first word I’m off to the races.
If I had to tell anyone how anything gets written I would say little by little. This was something I needed to remind myself of yet again in my life as I got knocked off track by monster fatigue which in turn shot my concentration to pieces. This in turn ramped up my anxiety and that bitch loves to run her mouth and lie her ass off to me whenever she gets an opportunity.
The big thought I had to work through was feeling like I couldn’t write at all, that I had to be doing something else though exactly what that was wasn’t clearly defined to me at all. This is an old thought I’ve dealt with all my adult life and frankly I’m sick of it. Its’ origins are in my past when I was trying to find time to write in the midst of a shit-ton of responsibilities. Back then I felt like a huge thief whenever I sat down to write and I felt even worse whenever I went to my writers’ group meetings or conferences and workshops though not from my parents (who paid my writers’ group dues, conference and workshop fees so I go to those events).
But my parents have been dead and there are no demands on my time other than my need to earn money to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly along with taking care of my dog and my cat. So why do I still feel this way? I blame imprinting on my brain that I’m having to remove like a tattoo. And that’s not easy because the imprinting is pretty deep, but also because I also have to remove a thought that taking time for what I want to do makes me a selfish bitch.
No, it doesn’t though for me writing has seen as something that is selfish and self-serving. And the worst part of that is then being told how to write by people who don’t write to begin with. How people find the confidence to spout off on stuff they have absolutely no real knowledge of is a mystery I don’t want to solve because the people who do this will never admit they have a problem in the first place.
This isn’t about talking shit back to the assholes in life past and present. This is to people who are writing or pursuing something they want to do. It’s about telling yourself often enough to imprint this on your brain that things get done little by little. Nothing comes out fully-formed and perfect. It takes a lot of work to get something to come together and anyone who says otherwise is full of shit.
I have had days where I wrote thousands of words and days where I wrote none (or deleted them all). On a good day I can average a thousand or more. The thing is, each writing project presents its’ own challenges and you have to work through those challenges in order to get things written.
For example, one big challenge with ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ is how emotionally-charged it is for me. I tried working on it over the weekend and it was like walking through a minefield. Emotions were going off hard inside me and I had to really work through them to figure out the root cause. Once I did I felt better and today I got another chapter started and another piece written outside of that chapter. All in all a good writing day in addition to this.
All my life people have told me what to do saying they know what’s best for me and that I don’t know what’s good for me. I think it was because they saw how overprotective my father was of me and also because I am a complete and utter klutz. But just because I’m a klutz doesn’t mean I’m an idiot or a weak-ass wimp. Because when the shit came down with my parents, I was the last one left standing shouldering all the responsibility. Once I realized this about myself I also realized I’m not an idiot and that my years of experience count. That experience counts more than someone’s dumb-ass bullshit to me.
I’ve never attempted or written a full-length book of non-fiction before but that doesn’t mean I can’t now. It’s not going to be easy but trust me, I know writing isn’t easy. And I don’t need anyone to sugar-coat that for me or get all over-protective and shit about it either. Most of all, I don’t need anyone storming off in a huff saying I’m rejecting their help. Unless you’ve got professional editing skills I can use later, I don’t need your help writing this.
One last thought I had over the weekend was this: I am a grown-ass middle-aged woman with nothing to lose and no need to hide any shit from the world. You’ll see this on Friday with a new blog feature I’m working on.
I know this won’t go over well with some people but my purpose in life is not to be quiet and please people with my silence. Read my words at your own peril and know this: my silence is broken.
When I began writing I felt like I had to hide it from the world. A lot of that was because my dad was a major jerk about his writing at times, especially to my mother. My father was like a lot of male writers in that he expected instant and unquestioning devotion and acceptance from my mother about his pursuit of writing, which she refused to give him because that was her choice. A lot of male writers succeed because they have a wife or significant other to take care of their day-to-day shit so they can pursue their high-and-mighty craft.
Female writers as I learned very early on don’t have that kind of support system and sure as hell don’t ask for it or expect it at all. For female writers, writing is something done late at night, early in the morning, and most of all, hidden away. From Jane Austen hiding her manuscripts under a desk blotter in the sitting room anytime someone came over, to Margaret Mitchell and Danielle Steele setting up their typewriters in the laundry room, to Jackie Collins and Nora Roberts writing on spiral notebooks in the carpool line, women write but feel the need to hide it until they achieve some measure of success or at least are able to make it pay for itself. But it’s a hard-fought battle to feel like you have the right to pursue your writing even though you’re doing your best not to bother anyone with it.
In my teens, I tried my best to keep my writing to myself. I didn’t really talk about it with anyone other than my father and I felt like I couldn’t because I hadn’t paid my dues. I wrote in between classes in school, and in class with my papers hidden under my textbooks (my teachers probably thought I was taking notes until my grades showed otherwise).
In my twenties during the years I took care of my mother is when the shit began to hit the fan writing-wise for me. I knew my parents took flack for letting me live at home rent-free and write when I wasn’t busting my ass taking care of much as I could so my mom didn’t have to while the cancer was slowly killing her. I’m forever grateful for my parents for their support of my writing at the time but knowing they were having to waste precious time and energy defending a decision that was no one’s business but mine and theirs still pisses me off now. Back then, that flack dug a fear deep inside me that took me over twenty years to put into words.
In my thirties, I tried to make it look like writing was a nice little hobby because I didn’t want anyone to use it to drive a wedge between my father and me. I was his sole caregiver and it was a choice I made knowingly and willingly, and without regret like the decision I made to sacrifice my own goals and ambitions to care for my mother.
But this sacrifice came at one hell of a price because it’s taken me close to a decade to see that I didn’t need to hide my writing, or justify it to anyone in any way, shape, or form. It’s taken me close to a decade to fully realize my writing is mine, and mine alone. And if someone doesn’t like that, that’s their opinion that they’re fully entitled to. Just as I’m fully entitled to respond to that in any way I choose to, like writing this here.
I wonder how many writers feel like thieves stealing time to do something that they think people will destroy if they find out how much it means to them. I want to say to those writers no one can take your writing from you or destroy you because of it. People who mouth off at you for pursuing something in silence and on your own time are just bullies. And the easiest way to get a bully out of your life is to stand up and call them out on their lies and bullshit then walk away and keep doing what you do.
Most of all, my fellow writers, don’t waste any time trying to figure out why people don’t want you to write or just don’t like your writing. You are not responsible for figuring out other people’s thoughts and feelings, or to work their bullshit. I spent way too much time in my past trying to do that and got nothing in return so don’t even take one step in that direction. Write, and keep writing and do whatever you have to in order to shut these naysaying morons out of your mind.
You don’t have to steal time to write. You have to find the time, or make the time you have work for you. But that’s not stealing time at all if you’ve taken care of your responsibilities.
Just write and keep writing.
I started toying with the idea of doing a how-to writing book around the same time as “Breaking Radio Silence” and “Stand or Fall” with some personal experiences mixed in. But then I had a thought one day:
My relationship with writing is complicated.
And as I asked myself why that was, I fell down another rabbit hole like with the other two books and had to take a whirl around the demented Wonderland of my past to answer that question. One answer that jumped out at me and knocked me back hard was this:
Did my father try to use writing to deal with his untreated mental illness?
All my life my father told me he had been diagnosed as manic-depressive, now referred to as bi-polar depression but had refused treatment. I can’t independently verify that diagnosis (as my father is dead and he had no proof to show me when he was alive). But after reading about bi-polar depression… let’s just say he would have checked pretty much all of the boxes for symptoms and behavior.
I was about eight years old when my dad blew an ulcer and in recuperation started writing. He wrote at first on yellow legal pads then hammered away on a typewriter in the bedroom next to mine late into the night. He was obsessive and a major pain the ass about his writing at times especially to my mother (who he raged at in incredibly-horrible ways). And when I began writing when I was about ten years old, I put myself in a precarious position of not wanting to be an asshole about my writing like he was but wanting to pursue it with the same passion like he had.
I’m sure people who knew my father, and even others who didn’t, won’t be comfortable with me referring to him in the ways that I will. But my father, and my mother (both of my parents are dead, by the way), would be the first ones to tell you they weren’t perfect. One thing I’ve read about bi-polar illness is the extreme mood swings people with that illness have and my father had those in full-blown stereo. But my writing journey is about me but he will be along for the ride just like my mother is along for the ride with my ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ project.
I was around twelve years old when I decided I wanted to be a full-time working writer. In junior-high I wanted to be a songwriter/lyricist but I couldn’t find an Elton John to my wannabe Bernie Taupin. Then I wanted to be a journalist, then a screenwriter, a filmmaker-director, then a novelist. When I graduated high school I just wanted to write and my dad went to bat for me with my mom (though my mom only agreed to let me live at home and write if I did chores and errands, which I did without a second’s hesitation). Then my dad had his first heart attack when I was nineteen and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was twenty-one. But all throughout my twenties when I was living at home and taking care of them (and later working part-time then full-time), they supported my writing. They paid my writers’ group dues, conference fees, and made sure I had time to write. This wasn’t a popular decision of theirs with other people in my life at that time but my parents asked me not to say anything and I stayed silent to keep the peace. But the damage was done (and a lot of it you can also read about in my book ‘Breaking Radio Silence’).
In the years since my parents died, I didn’t fully pursue my writing and creative endeavors due to the extreme bullshit of my twenties that twisted me into a huge knot of fear. Luckily I’ve worked through that shit and un-knotted that fear and am now pursuing my writing with a passion and determination like never before.
Most of all, I have never taken writing for granted and it’s never felt like a grind to me. And I will never let anyone try to make it a grind for me, or shit all over me for writing. Despite all the bullshit I’ve been through and the time away from it, writing has always been there for me. And yes, it’s been a form of therapy for me, too. My father kept journals that he destroyed shortly before he died so I have a feeling that writing was his therapy, too. Mine is just more public than his, and I’m also not prone to huge mood swings and raging paranoia like him (just anxiety I’ve learned to gain a significant measure of control over).
So I would say ‘The Written Road’ is a memoire of my own writing journey, a conversation with my late father, and any writing how-to I can work in.