I had coffee with a friend and found myself tongue-tied. I could hear my daughter chiding me, as she often does: “say something!”
“I'm listening,” I usually reply. I'm a good listener.
The thing is, speaking up is what drove me mad. After holding my thoughts in for years, decades, I ventured into the land of blogging and started writing – which for me, was a way to express my own truth, in my own voice, and it was like a floodgate had opened. A silent voice suddenly piped up, and the truth was harsh. My critical eye landed on everyone and burned them to the ground. No, be honest now. What really happened was that I turned that critical eye onto myself, and down I went in a burst of flames. I surrendered to my anger and my hurt, to self-hatred and despair. I was mad with rage. Literally.
Going mad was like lancing a boil. It caused lots of pain for everyone. It was disruptive, and messy and difficult. In the aftermath I couldn't work for months, and for all practical purposes I became an absent parent. My family picked up the pieces for me: my mum and sister travelled from the US, my ex-husband stepped in to help. Somehow, we got through it all. But it scarred.
Madness doesn't happen in isolation. It isn't some fluke that just appears out of nowhere. Madness is embedded in context, and the mad experience carries with it all the information and emotion that one wades through in one's life. Shit gets real.
I suppose that is ultimately why I still have trouble speaking. I sometimes think I may start screaming. Or crying. Or laughing hysterically. The world demands that we stay composed, say interesting things, maintain the facade. Be smart, be funny, be beautiful. Keep up! It's really, REALLY hard to be real out there, without being mad.
Unlearning to Not Speak
by Marge Piercy
Blizzards of paper
in slow motion
sift through her.
In nightmares she suddenly recalls
a class she signed up for
but forgot to attend.
Now it is too late.
Now it is time for finals:
losers will be shot.
Phrases of men who lectured her
drift and rustle in piles:
Why don't you speak up?
Why are you shouting?
You have the wrong answer,
wrong line, wrong face.
They tell her she is womb-man,
babymachine, mirror image, toy,
earth mother and penis-poor,
a dish of synthetic strawberry icecream
She grunts to a halt.
She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as the infant does
with her own true hunger
(Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash)
Wow Julia I love this piece you have written. I have my own long history of not speaking and my history greets your history and is grateful for its voice. (And I didn’t know you were on substack so have now subscribed). Ps I rarely comment online but feel a in your words an opening in this moment to respond. So thank you.