Dear writing sisters,
Years ago, when I was in my twenties and just setting out on what would become a quest to recovery my voice from silence, I joined a peer counseling class. The theme of the class was women’s empowerment. In this class, we learned how to listen to each other deeply. We would take turns being the “client” and the “coach/counselor.” Our teacher would guide the “coach/counselor” by asking her what she heard the “client” say. In this way, I learned how to listen beneath the surface of what someone was saying, to listen for connections, for metaphor. To listen for silences. To allow space for silences.
The first time I was the “client,” our teacher asked the “coach/counselor” what she heard in my words. I no longer recall what I said. But I do recall the other woman’s response. She said with much empathy, “I am having a very hard time hearing anything. It’s like she’s saying words, but the words are not connected. It’s almost like she’s saying what she thinks she’s supposed to say rather than what she needs to say.” When the teacher asked me to respond, I said, “I don’t know how to put my truth into words. It’s like there is cement inside of me.” I put my hand on my chest at the base of my throat to indicate where the “cement” was. Then my wise teacher looked at the “coach/counselor” and said, “She just told you everything you need to know.”
This was my first experience of someone seeing me beneath the surface of my own silence and meeting me there, in the truth of my own experience.
This memory came to mind earlier this week. I’m in the process of opening registration for Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice: A Conscious Writing Program for Women Who Are Done with Silence. Setting up the online classroom, reviewing the lessons and readings and writing assignments, tweaking the structure of this program, I was reminded of just how deep and real—the word worthy comes to mind—the work of excavating one’s truth and freeing one’s voice from silence is.
This got me reflecting on how reclaiming my voice has been my life’s work. I used to think this work was not “real” work, that I should be out there doing—what? Something “important”? For sure, whatever this elusive “important” thing was, it was something someone else who was invested in my silence—the patriarchy itself?—wanted me to do.
Reclaiming my voice from silence has at times felt like breaking cement with my vocal chords. With my words. With honesty. With more courage than I thought I had. With my pen. Again and again. Every time I have a breakthrough in my writing, still, it is like breaking through another block of that cement.
While updating the Excavate Your Truth/Free Your Voice course description page, I came across this quote by Muriel Rukeyser: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” And I remembered the meme below that Lydia McGranahan, a longtime member of Writing Women’s Lives Academy, a breaker of silences, a phenomenal writer, and a dear friend, created several years ago:
I was struck anew by Lydia’s choice to put this quote against a photo of cement cracking open. At the time that she created this meme, I didn’t remember that I’d once used the word cement to describe the silencing I carried within. I see now that Lydia struck a universal truth with this meme. That she understood silencing beneath the surface and was able to capture it in this visual.
And isn’t this how we free ourselves from silence? By reflecting back to each other our metaphors for silence? In our words, in our art, in our voice, in our vision.
What is your metaphor for silence? Let us know in the comments below if you care to share.
Here’s to writing past silence and recognizing pieces of ourselves in each other’s metaphors.
Much writing love,
P.S. Want to hang out with a warm and supportive sisterhood of women who are writing past silence? Come join the Writing Out Loud Sisterhood, a free Facebook group hosted by Writing Women’s Lives Academy. See you there!