Penny (Life Reconnected) began her blog to help cope with a convergence of losses, but it’s grown into something much greater. In addition to documenting her many–and I do mean many!–external adventures, she’s enchantingly forthright about her internal adventures piecing together “a sense of place, purpose, balance and love in this world.” Her blog enhances my own sense of connectedness to this world.
Recommended post: A Month in the Country of Blogging Land
The Power Of Words To Reconnect A Life
‘I’ve Been Blogging Since You Left Me’ was one of the original title possibilities for my blog. Along with ‘Dumped at Fifty‘, ‘On The Scrapheap’ and ‘Better Out Than In’. As I moved through trying to amuse myself to getting to the essence of what I needed to express ‘A Design For Life’ and ‘House, Job, Life’ finally became Life Reconnected. That was one year ago.
Then, I was sitting in a house that I hated. Strong words but it felt like I had a life that I hated then too, one that I couldn’t control, recognize or find any purpose to. I was disconnected. So I began my blog.
It became my lifeline, literally a line to connect my life to something, anything, that felt meaningful. It has all been said before about how writing is cathartic, a way to find meaning and how blogging is the modern way to put that writing out there but like most things until you actually do it you don’t feel all of the power. I had been diary writing for years in that cathartic way but the power of blogging has come to me in ways different to what I imagined.
In her book A Brief History of Diaries, Alexandra Johnson traces the history of writing for and about one’s self through centuries of writing and she notes that some of the most widely read diaries, many still bestsellers, are written by women. Centuries of literary prohibition and inhibition she says, had driven women to diary keeping:
“Safe yet secret. The finest diaries expose the raw nerve of creative ambition. For writers like Mansfield and Woolf, by being able to practise craft, a diary became a first draft of confidence……..At their core, Burney’s (Fanny) diaries involve the deep permission to begin and sustain creative work“
I am just recently back from Amsterdam and I visited the home where Anne Frank wrote what was to become the most widely read diary in history. I had my moments there. That time when the feelings and emotion well up and you embody the connection. Just the day before a friend had told me the most moving part of her visit to the house was hearing Otto Frank, Anne’s father, saying how he had realized on reading her diary that as a parent we never really know our children. So true and my response had been, well, do we ever really know anyone?
I came away from the house with a poster of the chestnut tree that Anne had been able to see out of a window. The attic space had been the most significant part of the building for me; I could just imagine how being able to see the sky and have some connection with the bigger world was so important for her. To be able to see through a gap of any sort sustains hope.
Traveling back from Amsterdam I was sitting in Schipol airport lounge with a friend and I was commenting on the fact that my blog had had two views that day! We were having a conversation around me starting my business and how I had felt such a disconnect with where I lived and how I hadn’t really told anyone I knew about me blogging and having no ‘local’ readers. “But how would you know?” she asked. How indeed.
Sometimes we don’t appreciate how powerful our words can be and how far out the ripples can radiate. In her second day’s entry Anne wrote ‘Writing in a diary is really a strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old school girl.’
As I sit today in the front room of that same house I hated a year ago, I look out at the gorgeous view of two magnificent Birch trees framing a small slice of a longer view to the mountains surrounding Belfast. The newly sprung leaves are dancing magically in the wind. Looking more closely in my frame of view I embrace the newly painted walls, the bobbing blackbird reflected in the shiny mirror, my rapture at the patterns my magnificent light shade make on the ceiling above. I appreciate it all. My lovely house swept white, clean and modern. My life swept white, begun again, healed.
I have effectively swept clean my life. A new and lighter life with small details that bring appreciation, grace, shape and form to enjoy. Each day to admire, to take pleasure from as I begin to use my art, my journey and my expression of it here in my blog to form both a business and a basis for my new life.
I could just as easily called my blog ‘The Power Of Words to Reconnect A Life’. It has given me a deep permission to begin and sustain creative work. This little house, this little blog. This little life. Reconnected.
I give thanks to all who share and express some of what and who we are.
This time last week, I was anxious about posting my blog, “Our baby is going to experience racism someday.”
In addition to being deeply personal, it used a word I hate hearing, seeing or knowing exists. I used the word in quotation, but actually using it myself—within or outside of quotation—made me feel ashamed.
“I’ve been called a ‘nigger.’ Lots of times.”
I didn’t use the word lightly. Indeed, by the time I opened the question of its use to a small group of friends, I’d already discussed the matter at length with my honey (whose Yale degree is in American Studies, and who assessed my questions both personally and academically) and a friend whose vocal opposition to the word in any context meant I was surprised when he agreed I should use it as quoted.
In the end, something I agonized over received exactly zero comments. None.
I’m glad I used the word as spoken. I believe that using a euphemism such as “n-bomb” would have detracted from the shock of being confronted with hateful use of that hateful word today.
Despite the total lack of reader reaction to its use, I’m glad I agonized over it. It’s a word full of hate, and hateful history, and thus not one I feel should be used lightly.
By contrast, use of the words “black,” “brown” and “white” don’t faze me.
Anymore, that is.
They did four years ago.
I clearly recall Ba.D. asking me to describe one of my neighbors, in case he encountered the neighbor later. I faltered after I threw out a few descriptive words. Should I mention his skin at all? Despite nervousness about doing so, I added, “Also, he had gorgeous latte-colored skin.”
“Thank you!” Ba.D. boomed victoriously. “Thank you for saying that!”
“Um?” I faltered. I didn’t know what response I’d expected, but that wasn’t it.
“Thank you for describing his skin color! You wouldn’t hesitate to say someone was ‘blond,’ or ‘short,’ right? So why withhold a piece of descriptive information that distinguishes one person from another? If you’ve got two short-haired guys wearing tweed and glasses standing side-by-side, does it really make more sense to start describing shoe color before skin color?”
My memory’s not good enough to recall what Ba.D. said to me about our weekend plans this morning, so you have my 100% guarantee the above quote isn’t verbatim. Yet this was its content, and it’s been content that’s impossible to forget. It’s been the subject of a lot of discussion and consideration since, and marked a turning point in how I thought about descriptions of skin color. As I wrote here last April:
Help [your kids] see, as you do, that color is descriptive, not determinative, guiding them not to be “color blind”–impossible for the categories kids sort the world into–but instead to be color impervious.
In the four years since I had the above conversation with Ba.D., hyperawareness of loose color-based descriptors and an aversion to their use has come to feel to me like another barrier between people. Touching, in passing, upon a superficial distinction between two people and giving it neither further thought nor weight emphasizes that it is merely that: a superficial distinction. Pretending there is no difference whatsoever, by contrast, serves only to emphasize the “white elephant” in the room about which we’re unwilling to speak, and thus perpetuate the idea that something is so important and so divisive that it must never be discussed. This is the heart of fear.
I don’t believe we’re defined by our skin, or that skin color provides any useful information whatsoever about a person’s heart, soul or proclivities. The only thing it tells me, in very broad strokes, is roughly how much melanin a person has.
In other words, it tells me very, very little.
In practical terms, it tells me just enough to let someone know, with one added, neutrally spoken word, to precisely which short-haired, tweed- and glasses-wearing dude I’m referring.
Using these words isn’t a problem to me anymore. It’s active avoidance of them that makes me uncomfortable now, reflecting as it seems to a conscious effort to not see something that is absolutely seen, and thus leading to questions not about what we see but about why we feel we must see it differently.
It’s not what we see that’s the problem. It’s what we ascribe to it.
So I’ll use those descriptors, and listen to the ones others use, or don’t. What I won’t use—without great care, consideration and a context that benefits by invoking them—are words like “the n-bomb,” which are by their very creation and use meant to describe not only a facet of someone’s appearance but imply unkindly (and incorrectly) who they are beneath their skin.
Words are powerful. This is true not only of the ones we use, but of the ones we avoid at all costs.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.