voice, silence, violence
|Nov 25|| 4|
Every time I've not been able to tell a part of my story in its fullest, truest form, I've felt violent. Violently ill, anxious, angry, sorrowful, quieted. Like I'm muzzled, and thrashing against my bindings. Grief is / can be a violent thing. This grief, which I've often doused in spite, gets me to work harder. I start working on experiments. Cloaking the words, shifting them, changing an aspect, obscuring the story with fog, with glitz, with a different tenor, burying it, never forgetting it, swallowing it, vomiting it up, swallowing it again, choking on it when I say other things. I perform ventriloquism, I whisper it in the dark, into the shells of trusted ears, in places where people don't know my language or who I am, I tell it in missing bits squirrelled away out of larger view, in reverse, in atoms, in blurry Monet water lilies.
I'm doing that work now, in this newsletter, in this paragraph - stalling. When more than anything I burn and yearn with the desire to say, loud and clear and plain:
I am ___________. I am a _____________. I love _______________. We ____________ together. ___________ causes me pain. _____________ has broken my heart. I can't talk to _____________ any more. If I _____________ I'll get in real trouble. ____________ makes me so sad. _____________ makes me feel like a different person. My grief lives __________, _______________, _____________, ____________.
In a short story writing class in my second year of uni, a lecturer I idolised (a smudged and messy smokily glamorous white woman who told us about her abortions and her husband and children and her sex life and pushed us to write beautiful messy things) called a story I had just written obtuse and opaque. And maybe she called me that too, directly or otherwise. I had been smug, thinking the story clever. But she was right. I wanted to write about the crush I had on a boy who never showed me any romantic interest, and even deeper than that, unknown to me at the time, I wanted to look at how I spent so much time safely ensconced in my own fantasies and daydreams that it paralysed my actual living breathing life. And how I was so full (too full) of fear and of desire, always yearning to be another kind of person who lived another kind of life. What I wrote was a fairy tale, a cloak.
This all came to me in a 3-day convening of activists (often some of my safest and most experimental spaces, places ripe for the stories I can't tell in my regular life). I was half listening to a presentation and discussion on movement building. I had an eye on my email and Twitter, and also pulled to this current case in India of a defamation suit being used to silence allegations of sexual harassment online, being used to strip away the anonymity of those speaking out and naming harassers, to use their voices against them. The violence of the story struck me like a stick beating a drum, my senses rang like a bell.
I'm burning with the stories I cannot tell, do not know how to tell. Many don't just involve me. They involve the voices, stories, and pain of other people. People I don't quite know, people I love fiercely, people I want to protect, people who are risked when stories are co-opted, warped, weaponised. People who deserve to be seen the way they need to be seen. A part of my story is actually the puzzle pieces of a communal story, a community story, a love story, a family story, a shared tragedy. The lines and borders are jagged and fragile and bitter, hard as steel soft as mush. There are some story lands I can never traverse ever again, ever ever ever ever, and that itself is a story mute in my mouth. Grief is so violent, so tender.
If you're like oh my god Syar, what are you talking about, spill that tea, whisper in the shell of my trusted ear. Friends, I wish. Sometimes being able to say a thing clear and plain is such a gift. Every so often, I get to do that. In the close embrace of my partner, in a darkened Bangkok hotel room with a friend I haven't spoken to in a while, through text messages with my best friend of 13 something years, who knows me better than I know myself, in therapy. I give voice to the loss of friends, the former intimates and what they think about me now, if they still think about me, what they think of what petered out, what was what is what now, how I am not brave enough to find out, how it feels like I can't find out without intrusion, without some form of violence. The events that shifted the structure of the home I live in, the structure of the relationships I live in, the structure of the people I love, what I know of them, what I no longer get to know, in so many ways, like a mirror shattering. The loss of the shared languages with which to tell each other how we feel now, where we hurt, where to go from here, if we even know where to start. Then, the quiet struggles, the legal, financial, emotional threats faced by the comrades in the communities around me. The violence and violent silence they face for fighting, for trying to live, trying to heal.
Every so often I get to open the door to these story lands, safely. Here I try my hand at something close. Some form of release, but also. Some form of acceptance.
Now I am listening to an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Heavyweight. A woman confronts her father who disappeared without explanation for years, resurfacing halfway across the world, all apologies on a fuzzy Skype call but still no answers. You can find the section below from about 27:05 to 28:35:
You have to understand that you disappeared and I had no context. I wanna know what you were thinking when you left and why you left. So like, what happened?
Well. There are a lot of things that I would like to explain to you regarding my leaving.
I'm here, I'm listening. If there's anything you want to say?
Well. There were several, several things that happened, Elyse. It's a long story that I would like to explain to you step by step. (silence)
Is there any, like, brief overview?
Well yeah, honey! I can answer your questions, I have an explanation for what happened. And I would be more than happy to explain it to you in detail.
But then. Nothing.
I am learning about my voices, my silences, and release. All the different shades of these, the different volumes. I have two sacred, sacred weeks at the end of the year where I want and hope to be with what’s been unsaid. To think of all the story lands closed and opened and lost and far and near to me, and the stories I’ve yet to write and make - alone, and with others. My dearest wish after this reflection is to sing a long clear note, and then to feel still.
For maybe the first time in this newsletter, I am ending with the cards and not beginning with them. I pulled three: something to speak to the past, to the present and to the future. The deck I am using is Apparition Tarot by Mary Elizabeth Evans.
Speak to the past: Eight of Swords
Image: In the background, a pair of eyes, deeply lined. In the foreground, eight curved white-and-red checkered daggers arranged helter skelter, with an open single eye on each handle.
If every thought is a sharp knife, every memory a wound, I yearn to close my eyes and return to myself and imagine a world where this isn't so. I yearn to release my feelings of not being safe, to welcome the pain as I would any softer part of myself, and hold it to me closer than I hold my fear. I wipe the red off the daggers, and lay them in the clean interior of a drawer, and I push it closed. Let my face, my soul, my truth be seen. Let me face those that do not flinch at the sight. Let me see beyond what I think can hurt me. Notes: Jessica Dore on this very card, just a few days ago.
Speak to the present: Eight of Cups
Image: In the background, a cityscape of tall buildings, from which a long winding black line moves up like a path to a long haired figure standing in front of a large black hole, their back to the viewer of the card. In the foreground eight upside down cups at varying heights, blue streams of water pouring from them like heavy rain.
If I allow myself the possibility of releasing every emotion I think I am capable of feeling, what else do I make space for? How much farther and deeper can my journey go, how much bigger can I grow? There's dreaming of journeying and leaving behind, then there's doing it. Let me face the unknown, lift me to the portal in the vast wide sky and imagine another land. The thread and core of me is unbroken, no matter how many versions of my feelings I experience, how many versions of myself walk through this world. I am more than how I make others feel, and I am more than how others make me feel. How can I give more to myself? Notes: Yumi Sakugawa - Playing a new role takes practice and time and I too, am the unknown.
Speak to the future: Ace of Pentacles
Image: In the top third of the card, a star within a circle with yellow beams emanating from it. In the bottom two-thirds, a colourful spread of different fruits, leaves, rings, bangles, and a long purple beaded necklace.
What does it mean to prepare a meal for the self. To do the work of sowing, harvesting, preparing, serving, all in service for your own nourishment? And what does it mean to be in service to causes, to worlds larger than you? In conversation with an energy worker and healer friend, they made note of the recurring theme they noticed in my life. How when I served myself (by sharing, by writing, by watering my soil), it rippled out to the world and the message of my care resonated with whoever needed it in the moment. The Pentacles return to me again and again with the same messages of feeding myself, feeding others, the meld of the two, the way they sing to each other. Notes: My friend, Dhiyanah Hassan - The lightness of belonging to the heart, to the self, to the Earth and the Heaven within me and Shadow calls to light and the light always gets in, so. Is this the part where we dive deep?
Previously, I wrote about the sides and the scraps; “Good things, bad things, nothing and blankness. One after the other after the other.” If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you like what I write and share and want to support that, here’s my tip jar. Thanks so much for reading 💌