Image copyright Harimao Lee
Be shining your light
In time of new beginnings
Light need not be bright
Don't let naysayers stop you
From sharing your true talent
oh no, it's the notes!
If all you wanted was the poetry, take off, eh, hoser? Cause now it's time for the notes!
A few years ago, I wasn't in a great place mentally. In truth, I haven't been in a great place mentally for most of my life. For me, poetry has always been the one place where I can let it bleed. The medium doesn't judge, but people still do because, let's face it, people suck.
There was a commenter who referred to the angry, dark poetry that I was writing at the time as "cathartic" and said something along the lines of that I would one day be "a beacon of light for the world."
This made me see red for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it felt extremely dismissive of my emotions. The intent of what I was writing wasn't to be "cathartic." The intent, if I'm to be perfectly honest, was to spill everything inside me all over the goddamn page, messy and enraged. Cathartic, my messed-up ass! I was damn well hemorrhaging emotionally, and I wasn't about to stop the bleeding because Joe and Jane Q. Public found it uncomfortable. This is my place, my poetry. Nobody has the right to tell me not to bleed or to clean up the mess in my own house.
Second, I felt like there was now an onus for me to become a "beacon of light," and my immediate reaction was "don't fucking put that on me!"
I did not want the responsibility of being anyone's god damn beacon of light.
I just wanted--and needed--to spill my guts all over.
I realize that the person who said those words was trying to be encouraging. But sometimes "encouraging" is the wrong approach.
I held a truth inside me for forty years. One of the reasons it never came out was because of people encouraging me to believe it was "not that bad."
It was that bad.
There were actually a couple of truths that I discovered over this past year.
I'm not ashamed to say it, but if anyone will be triggered by descriptions of sexual assault, it is best that you don't continue reading this account.
When I was fifteen years old, I was sexually assaulted by a nineteen-year-old guy that I went on a date with. I believed that it wasn't sexual assault because there was no PIV penetration. There was digital penetration and there was blood on my underwear from it.
I also believed that it was my fault because I didn't fight back harder.
If you would like to read the approximately 3000-word essay that I wrote regarding the experience, you can find it here.
To quote my own work, this story isn’t a hoot, a lark, or a laff. It does not have a happy ending. It deals with inconvenient and unpleasant subjects such as female socialization, male entitlement, and sexual assault.
Here is an excerpt from the essay.
There are numerous reasons why I didn’t fight back, and most of them are reasons that people with healthy self-esteem won’t understand.
I wasn’t physically afraid of him. I could have kneed him in the groin if it came to that. I could have screamed. I could have told him in no uncertain terms to take his fucking hands off me. I could have gone into the theatre and called one of my parents to pick me up. But I didn’t want to make a scene. I was raised to be a lady. Ladies don’t make scenes. Ladies don’t hurt boys’ feelings. This is contradictory to the fact that ladies are also not supposed to have sex outside of marriage, but Ladies are Good and Quiet and Pliant.
Whatever the case, I ended up turning into a rag doll. I allowed this creep to thrust his fingers into me. That’s the part I remember. I don’t remember doing anything to him, although he may have put my hand on his penis and demanded a hand job as reciprocation for his “pleasing” me. I didn’t enjoy what he did. It hurt, and for some reason, I didn’t tell him to stop. Maybe I was afraid he would hurt me worse if I told him to stop. For whatever reason, I was psychologically incapable of doing anything except lying there and allowing it to happen.
I told myself that it wasn’t rape because he didn’t put his penis in me. I told myself that nobody would be on my side if I said he assaulted me because I didn’t try and stop him. I figured the less I said about it, the sooner it would go away.
My less messy truth is the fact that I had ADHD and had been abused for as long as I could remember because let's call a spade a spade. Bullying is abuse. I was desperate to be accepted, to be liked. I thought that I was all wrong. I needed someone to tell me that I was all right.
To quote my own work again:
Attention deficit disorder, now sometimes known as inattentive attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tends to be overlooked in people who don’t present with overt hyperactivity. I never fidgeted overtly in class. I gave the appearance that I was paying attention or taking notes, but mostly I was secretly doodling or writing notes for stories. I had a B average. I wasn’t disruptive.
I was someone that no-one took a second look at until I started acting out by cutting class and cutting myself. Then I became a bad kid, a problem child who needed to be disciplined, reined in, made obedient again.
No-one said to me “what’s going on with you, Cie? Did someone hurt you?”
All anyone ever said to me is “you’re being a bad kid and we need to fix you.”
Despite the suicide ideation and self-harm, there was a strong sense of self-preservation at work. I became determined that no-one was going to turn me into Stepford Cie. I would die being true to me if that’s what it took. Better dead than a mindless robot.
After being incarcerated (and yes, I do think of it as incarceration) on the psych ward at Saint Anthony’s hospital for a weekend after I turned sixteen and being dehumanized and treated like trash by a good half of the “health professionals” there, I made a resolution that I would die before I would ever be placed on a psych hold again.
I think that's another reason why the implication that my words were nothing more than "catharsis" enraged me. My words were not yet another bandage plastered over a gushing wound because I was inconveniently bleeding all over the page. My words were my blood. My words are and will always be my blood. When I write poetry, I am allowed to bleed, no matter how messy or inconvenient or unpretty it may be.
I wrote the piece that I am referencing back in February, two days before my fifty-fifth birthday. As I explained in the essay:
I will be fifty-five in two days from the time I wrote this piece... I may be a fuckup, a loser, society’s trash, but I will never be a prisoner again.
I will not be a prisoner in an institution again, nor do I intend to be a prisoner of other people's rules for life or for self-expression.
This is my place--my poetry. I am under no obligation to be anyone's beacon of light.
We as a society need to learn to let other people tell their truths and not silence those whose truths may be messy and inconvenient or to admonish them that they need to become something pretty and pleasant; the sort of person who writes bucolic moon-June-tune poetry exclusively, perhaps.
Shine YOUR fucking light, not the light that other people tell you that you're supposed to shine.
I tell my truth not only for me but for that fifteen-year-old girl who had no goddamn voice.
I am her voice.
You weren't bad, Young Cie.
You were misunderstood, and no-one gave you a chance.
Free use image copyright Enrique Meseguer on Pixabay
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