Silence is asked of us on so many fronts. We are silenced by family values, by the economic class we occupy or want to occupy, by our educations, by our ethnicities, by our genders. Fear silences. Loyalty silences. Love silences. Most of us are taught very well to be silent, to live in cultures of censorship, so much so that we easily internalize fear and silence ourselves.
Never do I teach a writing workshop without writers grappling with silence. They worry about what their family will think, what their town will think, what friends will think–if they write what they know. Will someone be hurt? Will someone be angry? Will someone go to jail?
Oppression flourishes in silence, which is why Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
As there is a connection between oppression and silence, there is one between people of courage and writers of books. On March 6, 2002 an article appeared in The New York Times, “India Jails Novelist for Criticizing a Court Ruling.”
“The prize-winning Indian novelist Arundhati Roy was sentenced today to a day in jail and a $42 fine. The Supreme Court convicted her of criminal contempt for having suggested that the court was trying to ‘silence criticism’ of its approval of a hydroelectric project.”
Stories start movements, document movements, end movements. “Writing is a struggle against silence,” said Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes.
One of the more common ways writers silence themselves is with insidious rhetoric they speak to themselves. It goes like this:
My story is not important.
My story is boring.
My story is embarrassing.
But you are a human, full of complexity. You are interesting. I’m interested in you.
Our civilization is not furthered by the Kardashians and Hiltons of the world, but by all of us, adding sticks as fuel to this fire we’re building, which is our culture. We don’t find meaning by watching a few “stars,” but by studying constellations formed by many voices, many characters, and many epiphanies, yours included. Story validates your identity. Story gives you a sense of agency, of personal power. Story validates all of us.
- Your story is important.
- Your story is probably not boring and definitely not if you write it well.
- I want to hear it.
- You may have figured out something that I need desperately to know.
My telling you, of course, is not enough. You have to tell yourself those transforming lines. You have to learn to believe them, or if you can’t believe them, to move past your outer and inner censors and do the work anyway.
Do. the. work. anyway.