Leslie Daniels, Spalding MFA Fiction Faculty
This is not my #MeToo post. With a 500 word limit, where would I begin? With the convict who held a knife against my 11 year old stomach? Or the psych professor in grad school 20 years later who pressed me for dates? With the decades in between of sidewalk ass grabbers or party gropers and worse, experiences of weirdness, of intimate violence, of trespass? How about the silencers, the ones who urged me not to speak of it, the shamers?
Did these experiences shut me up? Did I internalize the messages that I was unsafe in the world, that I should stay home, attach myself to a man to protect me? That I should be silent?
Reading puts the lie to that silencing. Reading calls me out. Writers with their powerful narrative voices shout down the silencers: Roxane Gay, Lidia Yuknavitch, Alice Sebold, Crystal Wilkinson, Cheryl Strayed. There are right now so many extraordinary truth-telling writers. Like the magic cookie of a fairy tale, each wrote a narrative that gives permission. Read this and grow stronger. Read this and know that your story is unique and that you join us, powerful brilliant human beings who speak our truth.
Experiences of abuse are experiences of being robbed of power. Writing is not therapy; writing is a sublime tool. Putting words together, building a lucid narrative, is an act of power, of mastery.
Writing is an act of translation. Don’t be seduced by the perception that writing is purely cognitive, cerebral. Writing gives voice to the body, where emotion is experienced.
Where do you begin?
Writing your hardest material , writing it in a way that speaks your inner truth, expresses the shame/horror/fear/grief/rage/need for revenge held inside you, creates power, creates freedom, and sometimes even glory. Mastering emotion on the page is a means of connecting with your own truth and—if you care to share your work—other people’s as well.
Take yourself and your material seriously. Know that there is a conspiracy against you telling your truth. Most of the conspirators live in your head. Some are dead. Some should hurry up and leave the planet.
What are you allowed to say? You make the rules. You chose to be a writer because there were stories you needed to tell. You chose to be a writer because your experience of living on the earth, these years, these days and nights so far, gave you stories.
This is not my #MeToo post. Here I want to write that you are allowed to tell your stories. The experiences that your body and mind have undergone are your terrain. You own your memories.
Maybe as the big truth emerges, woven together from these narratives, your voice and mine, change can come.
Here, I want to write that I believe you.
Leslie Daniels’ first novel, Cleaning Nabokov’s House is under option for film and has been published in translation in four languages. Her stories and essays have appeared in multiple publications. Her career includes a long stint as a literary agent in NYC and five years as the fiction editor of Green Mountains Review. Daniels teaches writing at the Spalding University MFA program and the Squaw Valley Writers Conference. She lives in Ithaca, New York.