Motherhood & Words
I’ve been thinking a lot about silencing lately, about the ways that we, all of us, but especially women, are afraid to say what we need to say, to write what we need to write.
Earlier this fall, as the release of Ready for Air loomed, I began to feel more and more anxious. I had emailed with a couple of early readers who, in their messages, wrote variations of wow, you really put yourself out there in a way that made me think they didn’t fully approve (or that they thought other readers might not approve). And I thought, shit, maybe I shouldn’t have written everything I did. Maybe I should have been more circumspect.
Around this time, I was driving in the car one day, and on the radio I heard the Sara Bareilles song “Brave.” (I can see a few of you rolling your eyes as you read this—You listen to that station?—but stay with me.)
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
My eyes actually filled with tears as I listened. (I know, I know.) But it was the validation and the reminder I needed. I am brave, I thought, and now I can’t back down. I have to own my words—believe in them even more strongly now than when I had written them, when I revised them, when I wrote them again. And the truth, I know, is that if I had been more circumspect, the book wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be me. And it wouldn’t be brave.
Also around this same time, I read a wonderful blog post by my friend Marilyn Bousquin about shame and how that affects women writers. Marilyn writes:
As girls we learn not to stand out, not to be brave, not to be bold, not to break the rules. We learn that it is shameful to “brag,” so without realizing it, we downplay our accomplishments. We carry this internalized conditioning into every area of our adult lives, including our writing lives, where it operates beyond our conscious awareness and makes it very difficult for us to promote ourselves, never mind promote ourselves shamelessly.
Shameless self-promotion. It’s an interesting concept given that female conditioning is, in the words of literary critic J. Brooks Bouson, “a prolonged immersion in shame.” As adolescents, we learn to be ashamed of our female bodies in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. As Bouson puts it, “Shame about the body is a cultural inheritance for women.” Shame about our bodies erodes our sense of self and muffles our voice. Over time, shame determines how we see ourselves and what risks we will take in the world. We become shameful, not shameless.
I am the mother of daughters. The thought that their voices might be muffled—that that process may have already begun—fills me with rage. But I’m reminded also that I play a role here, as their mother, as someone they admire. It’s up to me to nurture their voices, to encourage them not to be afraid, to encourage them instead to speak up, be proud of themselves—their bodies, their minds.
The next time I was in the car with the girls and the Sara Bareilles song came on, I turned up the volume and said, “This is important, girls. Listen to these words. We have to stand up and speak our minds.” I began singing along and by the end of the song so were Stella and Zoë. (You should hear them now.)
I know so many women writers who have said, Oh I couldn’t say that or I could never write that or I could maybe write that, later, after….
But it’s time now. Say it. Write it. Be brave.
So so good, it is amazing what happens when we invite the light to fill and displace the shadows. Yay, to being brave and creating a new inheritance for your daughters.
Thank you, Melissa. I love the way you put it as inviting light in! Lovely!
Thank you so much for this, Kate. So much of it resonates with me. I too get self-conscious and insecure when I write something (or tell a friend about something that I’ve said to someone) and am told, “Wow, that is so brave. I’m not sure I could have written/said/done it.” But we have to remember that as women the bar for honesty and openness is much lower – it doesn’t take much before others think we ought to stop. But that doesn’t mean that that is where the bar ought to be.
Writing honestly and authentically about your experience has taught other women AND your daughters how important it is to speak up. By having written Ready for Air you’ve made it okay to be honest and real and that is your gift to us and to your girls.
Ready for Air is my Christmas gift to myself this year – I’m so looking forward to it!
Oh Cecilia, thank you! It *doesn’t* take much before others think we should stop, does it. I love when we keep going anyway, plowing ahead, writing our truths.
And thank you for reminding me that I’ve already showed my girls how to do this. I look forward to hearing what you think of RFA. xox
Kate! You quoted me! I’m blushing ; >. I love this post because you did that thing you so effortlessly do where you make me FEEL what you are feeling: that moment of self-doubt when you wonder, Should I have written it, much less published it? Only to realize: “And the truth, I know, is that if I had been more circumspect, the book wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be me.” What lucky girls to have you as a model for how to be your brave self in this world, both on the page and off the page. Funny how it takes courage to be ourselves. But what a gift to the world when we conjure that conjure, as evidenced by Ready for Air. And the image of you and S and Z singing your hearts out to “Brave!” Have you seen SB’s “Brave” video with lyrics and girls rocking out? I watch it and repost it a lot. Here it is: http://www.vevo.com/watch/sara-bareilles/brave-lyric-video/USSM21301260
Oh my goodness Marilyn, I read your comment after I posted mine… I love that video. And I love the post of yours that Kate quoted. I remember when she first shared it, and I forwarded it to another writer friend. So much empowering truth there!
Hi, Angie. Thanks so much for your comment about my post! And I do think that all of us Kate fans should get together and make our very own “Brave” video in her honor. Women with pens and typewriters and notebooks in hand writing our hearts out and cheering each other on. Screaming at the top of our lungs, both on and off the page: THANK YOU KATE HOPPER!!!!!
Okay, Marilyn, I’m crying now. Thank you! xoxox
Angie and Marilyn, you need to meet in person. You’d love each other!!
I’m certain of it, because you know I LOVE Marilyn’s video idea. 🙂
Thank you, Marilyn, for your words and bravery!! And I just watched the video. I hadn’t even seen it. Angie Mizzell posted it for me on Facebook! LOVE!!
Oh, Kate. I’m so glad that you are brave… it is refreshing to meet someone I admire both personally and professionally. I hope you continue to be so fully you, because you’re helping your daughters, and lots of “grown-ups” like me, do the same.
Have you seen this version of the video Brave? It sends me over the edge every time… I think your girls would love it too.
THank you, my dear. That means the world to me. And YOU help ME every time I read your words. Thank you for posting the video. I just watched it and LOVE it. I’m going to play it for the girls tonight. xox
I can understand you second guessing after the book was in print but you are the epitome of brave and encourage all your students to be brave as well. When I am writing difficult pieces I try to remember your encouragement to be brave. What a role model you are for your daughters and the big girls you inspire in all of us.
Oh Sue, thank you! And you inspire me, my friend. xox
Holy crap, did I need to read this today. Thank you Kate!
P.S. I’m going to go ahead and admit it right here that I BAWLED listening to that song. Maybe even more than once 🙂
Oh Jenny, I love that you bawled listening. I’m not alone!!! xox
Hi Kate! I loved READY FOR AIR for exactly that reason! By putting yourself out there made the story uniquely yours and brought you closer to your readers. Have I told you lately how much I love the F word? I know it’s horrible but it’s my one vice. 😉
And I identify with you when I think of my daughter growing up and wanting her to be brave. I wasn’t brave growing up and I use that experience to provide my daughter with all the guidance I can to not be like me. I was afraid of everything. What people thought of me, to try new things, to talk in public, to stand up for what I really thought.
Life is too short to cheat yourself.
“Say it. Write it. Be brave.”
Amen, my friend. Amen.
Oh Hallie, thank you! Thank you! And that’s exactly it–to help our daughters be braver than we were. I wasn’t brave either, and I so want them to have that strength as they go forward. Thank you, my friend! xox
I’m just coming off an Oprah/OWN-watching binge, and I was struck by the fact that 3 separate people (all men, unfortunately, but as varied as the CEO of Starbucks and a poet) said very similar things in their interviews when asked what the world needs now: authenticity, honesty, and transparency.
As someone with a finely tuned TMI meter, I can easily see how putting it all out there could put some people off, but I think there’s a distinction between oversharing and being honest, brave, and authentic.
Thank you, Abby! (And thank you for sharing this on Facebook, as well: http://business.time.com/2013/12/10/pantene-powerfully-breaks-down-every-sexist-workplace-stereotype-in-one-ad/. It rocks.)
Hello Kate…. I hope that I am not the only man that reads this blog and responds today. LOL I love to read Angie Mizzell’s blog and I think she drug me over here to read yours. I am GLAD. I must confess, tears came to my eyes when I listened to that song the first time. I watched the music video and it was awesome. My 21 yr old daughter told me that the only people that like her music are teenagers. My 21 yr old daughter scoffed at the idea that I would love the message in that song. Well, anyway, despite what she thinks, I love the message. I liked it so much I told the artist about how her song affected me. I am glad to hear that you are speaking out and being brave with your words. I believe that we all have a story to tell and that we should not be ashamed to tell it.
Thank you so much, James! I love that you love that song, too, and that you talked about it with your daughter. How cool for her to know that that message resonates with her dad!! And we all DO have a story that we can only get down and out into the world if we look our fears in the face and then throw them to the side.
There was no dragging. Maybe some flag waving and cheering, but no dragging. 🙂
A beautiful, needed post on a very important topic. In my office, I spend a lot of time encouraging people to just say the truth, even if others don’t like it. Bravery is a virtue.
Deborah, thank you! I imagine you see that fear all the time. It can be so hard to get past it, can’t it?
Thank you, Kate, for this post! When I first heard the song “Brave,” I was moved to tears, especially since my word for 2013 has been “Courage.” Heading into 2013, I felt that my life was lacking courage and bravery to such an extent that I was permitting other people to make decisions that would negatively impact me in the future. I know I need to be brave. I need to put my voice out there. I need to feel the inspiration that comes from you and other women. I’m about half-way through “Ready for Air,” and I love your bravery. You had the courage to put your story out there and in the process, it has helped so many women who have similar stories (including me). As women, our voices are needed, and our children need to be educated about being brave so that their voices are silenced by our society. Sometimes I feel like my voice was silenced growing up, but I can get it back…even now. Thank you!
*…so that their voices are NOT silenced…
Oh Amy, I love this so much. And thank you! That is my hope with the book–that women will be inspired to write their stories! Thank you!!
Oh, Kate. YES. I think about this all the time. It reminds me of a poster I had made, years ago, of 4 year old Grace when she first learned how to write her own name, and the Margaret Atwood poem “Spelling.” I vowed to protect, as much as humanly possible, her ability and willingness to write and speak her truth. It’s hard to do…
I love that, Lindsey! What a wonderful idea to make a poster. I think I’m going to do that for each of my girls. But you’re right, it’s hard to do, and I need constant reminders.
Yes! This is so motivating to me right now. I’m getting better at putting my butt in the chair but still lack a certain emotion and rawness in my writing that I wish was there.
Oh Nina, I know it’s there. It’s just working its way to the surface!
What a perfect timing. I read your blog three days after my piece came out in the December issue of The Sun magazine about relationships. It terrified me to realize that there is an abyss between the piece you write, revise and submit from the privacy of your home, and the piece that is printed out and read by strangers. It is almost as if writing was a 2D exercise that transforms itself into a 4D monster once in print. Reading people’s comments on something so private as my relationship with my husband made me feel naked; a feeling I know now, you also experienced after the release of your book (on my computer, waiting for me to devour it). My guess is that we write in the hope that our story resonates with the reader, but as writers, we are so consumed by the craft itself, that we are not completely aware of the price of being brave on the page, which is, being judged and scrutinized by everybody else. Am I crazy?
Oh Adriana, that piece is stunning. I have foolishly let my Sun subscription lapse, so I couldn’t read the end or the comments, but it’s beautiful and brave. It’s true that there is that disconnect, that abyss. But I hope you would write this exactly the same knowing what people are saying about it. Because it’s gorgeous and intimate and wholly human. Brava, my dear!
Friends, please read it: http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/456/praying_alone_in_qatar
And I can’t wait to dive into My Mother’s Funeral. I’m hoping for a cozy afternoon reading this weekend!
I loved this! We are huge Sara fans here too….. she’s the kind of woman you want your girls listening to 🙂
Yes! She is! I love that you love her too!
This is so great, thank you! I feel almost pathological sometimes in my compulsion to downplay accomplishments…on the one hand, it’s nice to know it’s not just me, but on the other, it’s tragic that it’s a society-wide disorder.
Sometimes I wonder if my son’s self-confidence is due to something I did right (and here comes my urge to downplay), or if it’s just because he’s a boy and subliminal cues have told him all his life he deserves to be onstage. And I don’t know how I feel about it–I want him and his brothers to be self-confident, but I don’t want them to feel entitled. Oh, this parenting stuff is so hard! But I know one thing–your girls will be strong and brave because they have you for a mom!
Andrea, thank you!! And it’s so interesting (and sad) that we can’t see the impact we’re having on them. Whenever I read your blog and see everything your sons are doing, I always think, what lucky boys to have a mama who paves the way, who shows them what it is to be brave and experiment. I see what you’re saying about entitlement, but I don’t think you have to worry about it with them. They know. They get it. xox
YES! Keep being brave and saying what you want to say. In the end, all that matters is that you feel good about it. I totally understand what you’re saying, and I have “put myself out there” in ways that I was unsure about too, but I know that some people were encouraged or supported or relieved to read my words.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Kristin! And I know people have been encouraged and relieved by your words and that’s huge! Huge! We just keep writing.
Over here from Hallie’s blog. This is just beautiful. What I love about writing is that it gives so many girls and women the courage to be brave. A little at first, then more and more so. There’s such power to be found in writing. Looking forward to reading your book.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Jessica. And yes, I think you’re exactly right. Little by little I have seen the way it transforms so many women!
I am reading your book now, and so is my husband. We tear up routinely, and routinely read paragraphs to each other in that yeah-I-remember-that-too! voice.
My mother-in-law disapproves, I think, because I think she thinks we are overdoing the worrying part of my current pregnancy, but I think it’s something else – we are not worrying, at least MOSTLY not worrying, but we are just re-living our own NICU journey 2.5 years ago and remembering what it was like.
I wrote on my blog, “I read this book and I’m not even sure if I can appreciate the literary beauty of this text because for all the images Kate Hopper is painting of her experiences, and her daughter, and her story – most of what I am seeing, in my mind’s eye, is mine.”
Thank you for writing this book. Thank you for doing your NICU rounds and for taking the time to see parents that are on this journey now. And thank you for sharing your stories in general.
Oh Maria, thank you so much for this. It’s exactly what I needed today. I’ve been feeling a little low about writing lately, so hearing that the book makes a difference makes all the difference to me. Thank you, Maria. I’m heading over to your blog right now. I look forward to being in touch!