I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me
must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk
of having it bruised or misunderstood.
Writing and speaking are all about risk. It is risky to commit one’s thoughts to a public audience. It is denuding, often frightening, sometimes exhilarating, and there is never a guarantee that readers/listeners will respond with any measure of kindness or understanding.
What would induce someone to leap into the center of that sort of risk? For myself, I know that I used to take great risks as a teenager and young adult in self-disclosure, poetry, speaking my mind. It felt urgent and essential, the only possible release in the repressive settings in which I found myself. At a certain point (in my mid-20s, or thereabouts?), the risk assessment seemed too high: the burden of loneliness, the bruising and misunderstanding, the exhausting exercise of self-expression. I was weary. I was wrung out by depression and anxiety, wanting to belong somewhere, to a group of people, or a job, or to some shining cause that could lay out a template for me to follow, rather than having to single-handedly forge a vision for myself by rubbing a few sticks together. I was supposed to “grow up,” right? I was supposed to assume the mantle of responsibility, to find a niche, to achieve things like a career, a family, a respected position in the community.
I am finding myself laying out these expectations before me, with my little dissection kit of words. In my mind, it looks a lot like the dissection kit I had for my anatomy and physiology lab, when we would use the sharp scalpel and the probes to dissect cats, to separate the fascia, to trace the branching, vividly-dyed arteries and veins, to identify the heart and lift it out and look inside. I am here to cut to the truth of the matter, my truth, and sharp implements are needed, words with honed edges.
Silence is a destroyer. Audre Lorde knew this. She was “othered” all of her life. She could have accepted the demand to keep her head down and her mouth shut. Too black, too lesbian, too female, too un-American, too wordy, too smart, too incendiary– she could have lived quietly, she could have stuck her neck out less, and nobody would have blamed her for trying to preserve herself. Except that silence is no way to seek self-preservation, even as mortality looms.
In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.
I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.
My silence will not protect me. I believe this with all my vulnerable, finite heart. There is no risk that can compare to the soul-death of silence. There is no risk that can compare to the risk of losing all that I cherish, my world, and the world inside me. There is no misunderstanding or mockery that can hold a candle to the pain of silence.
This, then, is my unsettled group of fire-eyed mortals to which I belong, dying daily, speaking and shouting and writing at the top of their lungs and hearts. The sister outsiders, the brother poets, the activists above and below the ground. The librarians holding their blazing tools. The planters of seeds, the lovers of the land and the rivers, climbing over the barricades of concrete destruction, the barricades of cultural lies. The dead and the living, arms linked.
What is most important to me must be spoken. I will speak, again and again.