Looking back at my blog this year, I notice I really have not been using it enough. I think I am still hesitant to put myself out there, to employ this blog as a platform for the exploration of opinions on issues I care most about-- including but not limited to: poetry, disability, bodies, gender, and overarchingly, empowerment through creative expression. It was different with my previous blog, which was not obviously linked to my real name. Now every time I consider posting, I think wow, This Post Must Be Approved By Poet Jill Khoury (™). As I publish more, as I get more involved in the things that I love (see above list), I realize I have to trust my voice will stand on its own, even though people may disagree. This is my resolution for the new year. Opine more. Heh.
In this vein, I dug up a post that was sitting on my desktop since October, which I wrote after I attended / read at a Women Write Resistance reading curated by Laura Madeline Wiseman and sponsored by the Indiana Writers' Consortium. Conferences often lead me to feel overwhelmed / filled with ideas that are too big or numerous to process right away. This conference, though it was one of the smallest I've ever attended, had the biggest impact on me because of the WWR reading. Here is the post I wrote after mulling over my experience:
Reading our work aloud was so empowering. LIke we were GOING THERE. To places that, at least in my life, remain largely unspoken. There's that repressive specter of "confessionalism is bad" lurking over me, keeping me quiet. In classrooms, at conferences, I have heard from men and women just how distasteful and unnecessary poems about the body, especially the body in extremis, are. Like such work is the equivalent of a tabloid, garish and sensationalistic. They are missing the point, gazing at the parts and disregarding the whole. I knew this and I stayed quiet because quiet was a life lesson I learned early and well.
The fact is that I grew from childhood into young adulthood under the shadow of abuse. I started reading poetry when I was 12. I would have liked to know that there were poems that addressed me as a current victim / future survivor. In my womb of secrecy and enforced silence, I thought I was the only one. I thought families came in one flavor, and boyfriends too.
Because it has been brought into the light as a cultural phenomenon does not make gender violence "over." Children, wives, daughters, teens, teachers, transwomen… My sisters and I are shushed. Whether it is an overt threat from a parent, a micro-aggression on the subway, or a disparaging comment from a professor, the culture of "don't tell" (or even "don't be") is still very much at work. And that's why I'm proud as hell of the anthology, of the press that published it, and of us poets who contributed and continue to contribute our voices. Standing on the stage was transformative. Literally adding my voice to the narrative in an academic setting felt like testifying in spite of. In spite of "that's not the way it happened in my memory." "Boys will be boys." "You're being hysterical."
Reading at WWR was a rush, a real epiphany, but it got me thinking. Girls and women with disabilities face a double bind here. The reason I stayed with my abusive boyfriend as a teen and young adult was because I thought this was the best it could get. On top of being shy and unpopular, I couldn't see right, couldn't walk right, was prone to bouts of depression and ocd... who would want me? At least that was the message that was sent by my fellow students, many of whom bullied me because I was different. Even my friends, who wanted to advance in the pecking order of our little crew of misfits, had the occasion to call me out for something awkward that I did or said. And the larger message, sent by my parents', my teachers', society-at-large's absence of dialogue about disability, led me to feel like what my abuser said was the truth. How could anyone else want me when I was broken, wrong, crazy?
College truly saved me. It brought me physical and mental distance from the tightly woven abusive nest. It reflected back at me my gifts, my strength, my empowered femininity. I met people who respected me and were interested in my ideas, my viewpoints. Even if, perhaps especially since, I was eccentric.
But what about women who can't go to college or find another escape route that permits them their authentic selfhood? A nightmare scenario I run through my head when I want to torture myself is: what if I never got out of my abusive relationship, which took place during my high school and part of my college years? What if I never left the conservative, white, rural town I grew up in? What if I let my Self be buried under others' criticism because I had never been shown another mode of existence, or because I did not have the means to access it?
Is there a writing project that could happen that helps women with disabilities (including mental illness) celebrate their minds, their bodies (often seen as asexual or merely available to be used), their uniqueness?
One powerful thing I've learned through participation in a Women Write Resistance reading that I did not learn merely (I say merely as if I did not count it as a major success) by being an anthology contributor is: when you take the violation, the belittling, the erasing, and the feelings it leaves you with, and you transform it into art, art that can be experienced in a communal way, it changes you. It un-silences you --even--perhaps especially--from yourself. This is a gift I wish to give to others. How to start?
This was the content of my post from late October that I did not publish. I have been mulling over "how to start" since then. And I have come up with something. It's still in the gestational stages. But coming soon --there will be a surprise in the new year.