The following is a guest post by writer and HIV nurse, Melissa Schuppe:
Last week, I attended an evening writing workshop with a local college professor. I went out of a desire to get out of the house, to be with others who enjoy writing, and hopefully to jumpstart my own lagging efforts at getting words on the page. One of the themes of the class that caught my attention in particular was that of “literary silencing.” As women, what keeps us from writing our hearts out and feeling valued as writers by the rest of the world? We did an exercise where we figured out who would have been the last generation of women in our families to have lived without the right to vote. We then wrote a letter to that person. In my case, it would have been my great –grandmother. However, I observed, though my grandmother had the right to vote, she probably didn’t. She had seven children at home and couldn’t drive.
I wish I could have sat down with my instructor that night after the class ended. I would have poured another plastic cup of wine and told her about how I had inactivated my entire blog this past year, which I had been keeping since 2008. It was a sad and frustrated reaction to the negativity I was dealing with from my family regarding my writing. My children complained that they didn’t like being written about. My husband would read it and get thrown into a funk thinking that I didn’t love him anymore. All this from my attempts to capture the stuff of my life and make sense of it. I decided at that moment that it just wasn’t worth it. I retreated to my bedroom with my purple speckled composition book, and I wrote these words:
“I am growing more and more hesitant about putting my words out to people- in print or verbally. They always come out wrong, or they are misunderstood, or they hurt someone. As I grow older and I fight my ego down, my self-esteem kind of gets trampled along the way. I am afraid. Apologetic. Regretful- yes, very regretful.”
I have since restored a few of my blog posts, and occasionally add one (in fact, the last one I wrote touched on this exact subject), but it feels different now. I cannot write without thinking of others. And I realize now that I am being silenced.
I grew up in the early 70’s, with a working mother who managed to maintain the traditional female role but never forced it upon me. I have been very fortunate to have grown up in an environment filled with the unconditional love and support of my parents. I married a man who has always respected and supported my dreams and goals completely. I know that I am strong and that I have a voice. And yet- still I am silenced. I am silenced by the lack of approval of those around me. I am afraid to write about the man I fell for while married, and why. About the fact that I wish I had slept with a woman, just once, before settling down. About watching a baby die, or wishing my own child would die. These are deeply personal things, and it makes me feel so vulnerable to put them out there. Too vulnerable. Even if they might enrich the lives of those who read them – is it worth it?
I am also silenced by the clock. I work full time, in a job that requires me to be mentally alert and make decisions that affect peoples’ health. I cannot write at work, although I am known to take occasional notes. And then I come home and there are teenagers to look after and supper to make and a baseball game to get to. Or maybe I am drained from a day of working out of town, and I just want to crawl in bed with a book and a glass of wine.
I am silenced by my lack of privacy. I am rarely alone, and I must have privacy to write. I live in a busy household of five people. When my children were younger and I was at home with them, it was easy to put a movie on for them or dump out the Legos, and then retreat into my own world of writing for an hour. It is surprising to find my life so different now that my children are older and independent. Not only do I work outside the home, but when I am home with my children I find myself wanting to spend time connecting with them and hearing about their day. I know now how fleeting these last couple of years with them is. So I must make a choice and I make it. I close my journal. Yes, that one is worth it.
So I see two kinds of silencing at work in my life. The kind that comes from my circumstances and the kind that is a product of my own fear and insecurity. Some days, I wonder if can control either of them. For now, I vow to keep on writing, in whatever way I can. My life might look completely different in 5 years and the time to overcome these obstacles might present itself. The woman I took the class from is starting a 7 week class in her home. It’s on a terrible night for me. But I think maybe it will help me start the process of looking more closely at the issue of silencing and how it affects me as a woman, and as a writer. I think I’m going to take it.
Melissa Schuppe is an LPN specializing in HIV care. She was formerly a childbirth educator and student midwife. A self-taught, lifelong writer, her chapbook Wild, But Not Lost was published last summer by Finishing Line Press. What remains of her blog can be found a www.mfschuppe.blogspot.com.