Sunday, March 23, 2008
I've been pondering why I write. For a long time I didn't write, afraid to put my thoughts and emotions down on paper so they could be found and used against me, used to punish me for allowing such thoughts. That's why I quit writing. My thoughts, my confusion, my fears, my dreams were no longer safe between the pages of my diaries and journals, not even in the wall safe in the closet of my bedroom, not secure from my mother who searched them out wherever I hid them and punished me for what I'd written. Most of the time I didn't even remember what I wrote, having purged it all and vented my spleen onto the blank pages, but that didn't matter; I was punished all the same. I was silenced.
It was out of silence I began writing again, the silence that surrounds a stranger in a strange land. The land was a jail in New Orleans where I waited out the ice storms and freezing rains incommunicado because on paper I didn't exist. I was lost in the system. Then I got a wonderful gift, a pad of legal paper and a black felt tip pen and I began to writing, haltingly at first and then with more confidence as the black ink swirled along the lines and down the pages, filling them with everything I thought and felt. I didn't care who read it as long as I could write, just the way I wrote as a child and a teenager contemplating the changes around me and where I fit in.
Oblivious to the women around me, I wrote, set the filled sheets aside and wrote some more. Curiosity, Eve's original sin, led the women to peer over my shoulder or sit down next to me and shift the papers closer to read, and they were excited. More than that, I found where I fit in when they sat down wherever there was an empty space near me and told me their stories. They wanted a witness to their lives.
None of those women told me they were innocent. They told me the simple truth about shop lifting for their children for Xmas, their johns, their charges and their complaints about the legal system and the cops. Some of them were innocent, but they knew there were things of which they weren't innocent: being black, being poor, being women. Some women were confused about why they were there; I was one of those. Some women were proud of their histories and how they beat the system or called in favors to lessen their punishments. But all were honest with me because they wanted someone to know the truth as ugly as it sometimes was. And so I wrote for myself as much as for them, giving them a voice they were denied outside the facility walls, and through them I found my voice.
My voice has changed over the years since then, growing stronger, more confident, sometimes complex and sometimes simple, but not silent, never silent. I am a voice for the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the hurt, the dead and the silent.
That is why I write.