A twitter exchange with @msvarjak left me suggesting that a reason for each of us to be heard is that someone might learn from our unique experience. I’ve been circling around something that I’ve been struggling to express in this column over the last couple of days. Many of us suppress how we feel and what we really think about what is going on in our own lives. Back in the early nineties, I was literally telling everybody’s story, researching the lives of Boudicea, Hypatia, Sacajawea, but I wasn’t breathing a word about my own.
When I started hosting Sunday Afternoon Stories as an open mic, it wasn’t storytellers who showed up to be heard. It was mostly poets. Many of them were showing up at any and every open mic they could get to. As a group they spoke a language of inner landscapes, emotion, personal experience, protest, longing. After a few months of telling stories and listening to all that poetry, I found myself writing more poetry and less stories.
I was a single mother, yes, a single woman for the first time since I had left home at seventeen. Six years later, I was at liberty, really for the first time in my life, to speak my mind without fear of repercussions from the people closest to me. I didn’t have anyone to judge or silence me. I had always mostly felt like I wasn’t meant to be heard. That was a notion that was reinforced daily by the aggressive, alpha environment of New York City that continually reminded me that I was female, and as such, secondary or stupid. That was how I felt.
We do need to be heard. It is actually important, even if no one else listens. We need to be able to listen to our own inner voice. If we won’t listen to ourselves, no one else will either. Earlier today I was at the DMV still taking care of details after getting divorced, still thinking about why we need to be heard. I started talking to the woman next to me. She was there because the car dealer had not explained what her son needed to do to transfer ownership of his car, and there she was taking care of it for him. So I explained that my ex had transferred ownership of our son’s car to me at our divorce, and she said she hoped that things had worked out in my favor. I told her that it was hard on my son because his father hadn’t spoken to him in more than a year.
“Women carry the burdens of the world on their shoulders,” she said to me. And in her case, she had good reason to say it. While we waited and waited at the DMV I learned that her son’s father had abandoned her son too, and just when her son was grown and she thought that she would be free to pursue her own dreams, her brother went to prison and she took in his two children. Indeed. Her story, my story, our mother’s stories are often ones of stoic silence while shouldering burdens that are not ours to carry.
My story is a woman’s story. I am a mother of four children. I was the unheard girl, the unfavored daughter, the jilted lover, the single mother, the good wife, and now I’m both a single mother again and the crone.
I see the new generation of young women who would never tolerate the things I thought I had no choice but to put up with. Or at least that’s what they say. And, it is Good to Hear. I am Listening.