A Woman’s Voice: The Power of Art

I started missing my art.

Because I’m busy trying to launch a business, while continuing to work my day job, I’ve had precious little time left over for Creative Me. I started feeling depressed, but couldn’t figure out why at first.  I felt an intense void.

It went on for more than a day before I realized why. I hadn’t had time to write! I hadn’t even read any poetry, let alone written any. And I certainly hadn’t had time to paint. I’ve discovered I really don’t do well if I’m separated from Creative Me for too long.

I have had time to read, however.  It’s so easy to sneak in little snatches while waiting for something else: standing in line, waiting for someone to get ready, riding the bus, etc.

I’ve been reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson. It’s a science fiction story that is centered around a main character who is a kind of monk/philosopher/agnostic/rebel. The story is set on another planet, in another time. It’s fascinating! The book is 932 pages long, and I’m only on page 382, so I have a ways to go. But this book is my little friend for the next several weeks.

However, I’ve still been craving poetry, so I decided to share a poem that I read today. The poem (below) is called Case in Point. It was written by June Jordan and can be found on page 121 of the anthology Poems from the Women’s Movement, edited by Honor Moore, published by American Poets Project, The Library of America, 2009.

The poem is painful, and comes with a ****TRIGGER WARNING**** as it contains graphic references to rape. But this is an important poem. It elucidates the common experience women have of lacking a voice – and, therefore, power – in many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to control over our own bodies.

Men are bigger than us, louder than us, control almost all of society’s institutions, and sometimes use violence – both physical and verbal – to reinforce their dominance. Every woman has experienced the voicelessness that comes from being shouted down and dismissed by an egocentric male. Most women have also had cause to be afraid of a man at some point.

These events can be frustrating on the light end – and terrifying on the heavy end. Sometimes poetry, art, and music are the only ways to have a voice in a world that cannot always hear us. Interestingly, the speaker in the poem is arguing against the point of another woman – a woman who has apparently bought into society’s view of women. This, too, is common among oppressed groups – the desire to side with the oppressor.

 

Case in Point

by June Jordan

 

A friend of mine who raised six daughters and

who never wrote what she regards as serious

until she

was fifty-three

tells me there is no silence peculiar

to the female

I have decided I have something to say

about female silence: so to speak

these are my 2 cents on the subject:

2 weeks ago I was raped for the second

time in my life the first occasion

being a whiteman and the most

recent situation being a blackman actually head of the local NAACP

 

2

Today is 2 weeks after the fact

of that man straddling

his knees either side of my chest

his hairy arm and powerful left hand

forcing my arms and hands over my head

flat to the pillow while he rammed

what he described as his quote big dick

unquote into my mouth

and shouted out “D’ya want to swallow

my big dick, well, do ya?”

 

He was being rhetorical.

My silence was peculiar

to the female.

An Emotional Insurance Policy for Relationships

An Emotional Insurance Policy for Relationships

In studying relationships, as I have for my whole life, I’ve learned a lot. Watching the dynamics of other people’s relationships has led me to believe that it is unwise to lose yourself too deeply in the idea of The Couple.

In our culture, we think of the enmeshed life of The Couple as “romantic.” It can be, of course, but it can also just be a futile attempt to build a barrier against fear and uncertainty.

The fact is, Impermanence is real. Life is uncertain. It always has been, and it always will be, regardless of how many scientific discoveries or technological advances are made, regardless of how many people or things we gather around ourselves. We can never get rid of life’s uncertainty. And, in our attempt to build a shelter against uncertainty, we could be constructing our own prison.

We are expected to be half of a twosome. We’re supposed to find “the one,” marry, buy property together, start families, have “couple friends,” etc. All of these things solidify the coupling to the outside world. It becomes harder (theoretically) for anyone to come between you. Breaking up becomes more difficult – it would entail more than a phone call, a text, or – god forbid – a ghosting. A breakup would require one to file a legal proceeding, sell the home, explain to your couple friends (and see how many remain), etc.

There is nothing wrong with solidifying a relationship. The problem comes when the coupling becomes oppressive. What happens if you realize you’ve made a mistake, or if your life is expanding and growing in ways your partner’s isn’t? What if you need to get out for your own sanity, or even safety? Then all the structures you built to prop up your Couple, and keep the reality of impermanence at bay, become obstacles keeping you trapped in an unhappy or stifling situation.

This doesn’t mean that I’m against couples, of course. If you are coming together to create something beautiful on this earth and make a difference on the planet, that is perfect and wonderful. Or, maybe you take a practical stance, and your purpose for entering a relationship is to stabilize your life and support each other through life’s challenges into old age. That’s fine too. It’s a sober, intelligent, and, still beautiful, thing.

But! I think that no matter how solid your couple is, no matter how committed you are, you should always hold onto a little bit of You:

  • Always have your own money. Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, make sure you tuck a small amount away just for you. You don’t have to ever spend it. But it’s good for your head to have it.
  • If you buy property, try to get a place that you could manage to afford on your own or with a roommate. If that’s not possible, make sure you have a plan in place just in case you, for whatever reason, need to liquidate that joint asset and go your separate ways. And, of course, make sure your name appears on the title.
  • DO NOT give up your own friends. It doesn’t matter how many couple friends you have, or how much your significant other whines about your time away. Always maintain your own group of friends.
  • Don’t let a partner talk you into abandoning your family. You need that kind of unconditional support. If your own family is not helpful or not close, create a “chosen family.” These are beyond just friends. These are people you can count on like family.
  • Read widely, socialize widely, take classes (even the free ones online), become better at your career, and stay in shape. Being in a relationship is no reason to stagnate. Quite the opposite. Being in a relationship should allow you to evolve even further than you can on your own. You’ll be a better partner if you continue to grow as an individual. And if, for some reason you need to get out, you’ll be totally equipped to do so.

I know all of this sounds terribly unromantic. But I think notions of romance have hindered more than helped us, especially as socialized women. Relationships, especially marriages, should be entered into as soberly as one would purchase a business. Having an exit plan does not mean you’re planning for a divorce any more than having a succession plan or a buy-out policy in a business means you’re planning for the business to fail. It’s just a wise thing to do.

Once you have your plan in place, you can forget about it and enjoy your lives together. I care about people and want everyone to be safe and happy. You should always expect the absolute best, but don’t be blindsided by the worst. Have a game plan in place, an emotional insurance policy against unforeseen events.

And then forget all about worst case scenarios and have fun!

Letting Go of a Beloved Before the Relationship Even Begins

Sence You Went Away

by: James Weldon Johnson

 

Seems lak to me de stars don’t shine so bright,

Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,

Seems lak to me der’s nothin’ goin’ right,

Sence you went away.

 

Seems lak to me de sky ain’t half so blue,

Seems lak to me dat eve’ything wants you,

Seems lak to me I don’t know what to do,

Sence you went away,

 

Seems lak to me dat eve’ything is wrong.

Seems lak to me de day’s jes twice ez long,

Seems lak to me de bird’s forgot his song,

Sense you went away.

 

Seems lak to me I jes can’t he’p but sigh,

Seems lak to me ma tho’oat keeps gittin’ dry,

Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,

Sence you went away.

 

This poem spoke to me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of relationships – their cyclical nature, their evolution, and the fact that they come with no guarantees. The bittersweet motion of these facts is reflected in the rhythmic repetition of the poem. The rhythm of the repetitive words mirrors the repetitive thoughts we tend to think, both at the beginning and the end of relationships.

In the beginning, we experience repetitive thoughts of our beloved’s beauty. At the end, we wrestle with unending flows of thought loops, obsessive thoughts of longing and regret. Both the end and the beginning are one and the same in consciousness. The joy of the beginning is inextricably linked to the pain of the end.

I love how the speaker universalizes this pain. In the first three stanzas, he sees nature itself as mirroring his personal pain. In each of the first three stanzas, “eve’ything” reflects his pain. Our sad thoughts, like our happy thoughts – when they are linked to circumstances outside ourselves – are self-centered and appear to be reflected in the world around us. Everything around us gets distorted through the filter of our thoughts.

When we’re hurting, especially from some kind of relationship dissolution, it feels like everything in our life is messed up, not just the romantic portion. But, in this poem, even from the beginning, we know the speaker will eventually experience healing because he repeats “seems lak” in the first three lines of each stanza. In other words, he knows, even in the midst of his suffering, that what he’s experiencing isn’t real. It’s just how things seem in his mind. It’s not really universal. It just feels like it!

The speaker moves tangibly towards healing by the final stanza. He finally narrows his focus away from the stars and the sky and brings it back to himself: “I jes can’t he’p but sigh,/Seems lak to me ma th’oat keeps gittin’ dry,/Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,/Sence you went away.” It’s not nature or the world that is sad; it’s just him.

Although the poem ends here, we have hope for the speaker. We know that he is now facing his pain as something individual, not universal. The universe is neither conspiring against him nor joining in his pity party. Likewise, when we emerge from any hurt, we move away from “why me’s” and “life sucks” statements to taking charge of our experience, allowing ourselves to feel the emotions and move through them.

It is the nature of all things to end, disappear, die, dissolve, change, evolve, and resurrect. Acknowledging and embracing this fact does not exempt us from pain, but it can help us process our emotions more quickly and prevent us from suffering needlessly.  “Sence You Went Away” is a poem we can write to anyone we love, whether the relationship is ongoing, has ended, is just beginning, or is beginning again. We get to enjoy people for however long we get to enjoy them. And then they go away. And we are better off for having known them.

I wish you all a beautiful and safe 4th of July.

Peace and Love,

Raven