Sunday, June 8, 2014

The thing that needs to be said

Sometimes, my brain is a real jerk. 

Seriously.  I can think of all these really awesome topics I want/need to write about, and even start writing it in my head!  But as soon as those words hit the paper, it all breaks down.  My jerk-brain goes into overdrive: "you can't write that," she says.  "You don't have anything new/valuable to say about that topic."  "Pffft...really?  Come'on now.  Get over yourself."  "You're seriously going to leave that sentence like that?  Seriously?  What makes you think you can write, anyway?"  "Who do you think you are, writing this?" she asks.

Or sometimes, she tricks me, too.  Sometimes, things go like this: "ooooh, there's a nice sentence.  Write it down!  No, not that one.  The other one.  Here's another nice one, but don't write that yet.  Write the first good one.  No, you can't write that, silly.  Write that other sentence.  The good one.  No, that's the bad one.  You know, that awesome thought you had a moment ago.  You used another word.  Find that word you used first.  What do you mean you can't find it?  What do you mean you forget?  How could you forget!  How stupid can you be...I just GAVE you an awesome sentence!  What did you do with the sentence?  Come on and write it.  Now!  WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU'RE SHUTTING DOWN THE COMPUTER!?!"


It's been a week of that.  A full week.  Of torture.  It's like having an itch you can't scratch.  For a week.  A FULL WEEK. 

Stupid jerk-brain.

See, all I want to do is write a thoughtful, angry, cogent response to my frustration surrounding Elliot Rodger, conversations about misogyny, and the attempts at discussion I have seen and heard emerging everywhere from Facebook to my office.  But I can't.  I can't write it.  I can't read about it.  I can't think about it.  I just...I can't.

I thought it was just writer's block.  I thought my stupid jerk-brain was in overdrive, being it's stupid jerk-brain self, and that I just needed to be able to think/focus/concentrate long enough such that, surely, I could find the mental place I needed to be in to write.

On Facebook, as I lamented my writer's block, a beautiful writer friend of mine said that what she does is this: "thank the critic for trying to protect us from being hurt again, and then send them off to play in a safe space -- a treehouse, a castle tower, a peaceful forest.  We tell the critic that we're the ones in charge now, and it's our turn to take care of things -- because we know lots of awesome skills they haven't gotten to yet.  And then we love ourselves up and give ourselves permission to fail AND to succeed, but most of all to have fun experiencing all that we can."

What beautiful advice!  I'm lucky enough to have lots of writer friends.  They're some of the best people on earth, I think.  Recently, another writer friend (who wrote her thoughtful, angry, cogent response to her some of her frustration surrounding Elliot Rodger and misogyny and the developing conversations here) said to me: "I have a right to my stories and I have a right to tell them.  So do you."

And she's right.  They both are.  And together, that's what is making up this block: this desire to tell a story here, in writing, and the fear I experience in doing so that is making writing impossible.

Whenever I feel this old friend of mine named Fear sneaking up on me - which still happens often, but not nearly as often as it used to - I remind it that my intention this year is to be brave.  Brave with a capital-B, even.  In my post on this intention, I wrote: "Bravery is feeling it all and making the choice to do what is right.  To do the thing that needs to be done.  Not the strong thing.  Not the knight in shining armor "brave" thing as we typically think about "bravery."  Not the courageous thing, or the hard thing, or the difficult thing, or even the thing that requires taking the road less traveled by.  It's not the choice to do what should be done.  Being brave is the choice to do what needs to be done."

Being brave is the choice to do what needs to be done. 

And that's just it.  I happened upon this stumbling block a few weeks ago, and it has grown bigger and bigger ever since I had this "a-ha" moment.  I tried shutting it out, tried to yoga it out of myself, tried to just acknowledge it and let it go...but it's something I need to say, y'all.  I just do.

I don't have anything new to say.  There is nothing here that you can't find a million other places on the internet, or in the hearts and minds of a million other women.  But I'm saying it anyway.  Or I'm going to try to, if my jerk-brain and my fingers will cooperate.

(And here is where I get stuck, stuck, stuck.  In spite of all that introduction, this is still where I get caught). 

I've thought a lot about feminism, and rape culture, and misogyny.  I've thought about these issues abstractly, and as they applied to me, and as they have played out in my story, and I really thought I got it.  I thought I understood.  And I did...but there was a piece of it I didn't get. 

I was standing in my kitchen a few weeks ago, chopping zucchini, when I realized it.  I had just read some article on the shooting at UCSB and Elliot Rodger, wherein the author made the point that misogyny was behind the violence.  That somehow, in our culture, we permit or condone or expect a certain level of misogyny, because that shit keeps perpetuating itself, and it's not changing.  It is expected that men hold the power.  It is expected that men have some sort of right to women's bodies. 

Of course I had heard this before.  Of course I had known this was problematic.  Of course I had written this before.  But in that moment, as I was chopping zucchini, I got it.  I mean, I really got it.  Standing there in my kitchen, I heard the voice of the man who sexually assaulted me.  I've heard and re-heard his voice saying these words countless times, but in that moment, they took on a different meaning that let me see the bigger picture.

It's just five words.  He said it 3 times, at different points. 

"Nobody says no to me."

On the rare occasions that I tell my story, this is not a detail I tend to include.  It was just one of many things he said...but it sticks with me.  It's not something I like to remember.  It's not something I want to type, or tell you, or talk about.  In fact, it's really hard to type it out.  But it's also true.  And, perhaps, it's important. 
"Nobody says no to me." 

It was a threat, yes.  And it was also just a statement.  A statement of his power and control and his ultimate sense of entitlement.

"Nobody says no to me."

And that's what I finally understood in my kitchen the other day.  I have understood power and control and entitlement and sexism and violence against women, and how those things are interconnected in a broad sense.  I have understood on a systemic and institutionalized level how all of these things are damaging to women individually and to women on the whole.  I understood how these patterns of behavior exist, and how they hurt men, and how they hurt women.

But I didn't "get" how it hurt me.  In spite of all the thinking and writing and talking I have done, it still felt like my story had to be different.  It was still personal.  There was still something about me that made it happen.  It still had to be my fault somehow, right?  Because all this awfulness that hurts other women and the world...that couldn't have also been what hurt me.  I must have still had some control in making that happen.
And it was personal.  It is personal.  Of course it is.  Because it happened to me. 

But it wasn't different.  That entitlement -- that sense of power and ownership he had over me and my body -- that wasn't personal.  That was the entitlement that is behind street harassment.  The entitlement behind every rape and sexual assault.  The entitlement behind the men who feel they have the right to devalue and diminish women's stories as they speak out as part of the #yesallwomen hashtag.  The entitlement of Elliot Rodger.  The entitlement of men who don't question the power they have, purely because of their chromosomal makeup and their genitalia.

It was personal.  But it wasn't different.  This is, at once, both an incredible relief and incredibly devastating.  Acknowledging that it wasn't personal helps me let go of some of the yuck I've been holding onto.  And it's also devastating, because it actually takes away a little more of that sense of control.  It wasn't because of something I did or didn't do.  It wasn't because of what I was wearing or not wearing or how I was acting or not acting or who I was with or not with -- which means that changing my behavior has little to do with what may happen or not happen, right?  My behavior has nothing to do with that sense of entitlement.  My behavior does not change the fact that some men (largely unconsciously, because it has been fed to them from the time they were babies) feel they own the rights to my body.  Some men.  Not all men.  But some. 

So when men aren't willing to sit with and question that entitlement and the power they are bestowed because of their chromosomes and their genitalia, then they are labeling themselves a threat.  That, then, is all I'm asking: for men to sit with and question the power they have inherited.  Perhaps not even question it-- maybe just acknowledge it.  Maybe just name it.  Maybe just realize that, in spite of being an intelligent, educated woman, it has taken me 4 years to name this for myself.  Maybe just that. 

I don't know how to change the world.  God knows I try, but I don't know how.  But perhaps it starts with this understanding.  Perhaps it starts with naming this for myself.  Perhaps it starts with the immense bravery it has taken for me to write this, and with the struggle I have gone through to get these thoughts onto the paper.  Perhaps it starts with all of us - men and women - just sitting with my thoughts on bravery:

Bravery is doing the thing that needs to be done.

I needed to tell this story...and it is terrifying to think now of sharing it with my small corner of the world.  But perhaps -- perhaps -- it will resonate with someone.  Maybe just one person.  That one person makes it worth it.

What is the thing that you need to do?  Where is that act of bravery living in you?  How can you share it -- whatever it is -- with our world?


  1. See what happens when you tell your story? Powerful and brave writing, my friend.

  2. Wow. Thank you for your courage- and the truth. The words I heard were,
    You can't get away from me. I know where to find you. I still hear them sometimes when I feel scared.