Friday, 28 June 2013

Just Sing

Last week’s rant blog sparked a lot of response.  A writer loves her audience, sure, but in the long run, it would be preferable if a topic such as the systematic downgrading of women weren’t something that reverberated so well.  Sometimes a writer wishes a topic might not have a receptive audience.  When it does, though, honour it.

Thirty years as a trauma therapist, I’ve heard a lot of stories, sat in the same room with a lot of different fears.  It’s amazing how quickly those fears lose their substance or in some cases, at least become bearable because someone is listening.  Others require ‘treatment’.  Not so much a trauma-ectomy as doing trauma tai chi.  A working through the resistance until what happened is accepted as an irretrievable part of their history, but not something that eradicates them as a person.  That resistance works as a protection in the beginning, but held onto, it interferes with change. 

Hold that thought while I do my Appalachian story boreen thing again.

When I still lived in the US, over fifteen years and inside someone else’s lifetime ago, my large nuclear family congregated for some weekend or another.  My mother asked me to make the bed for my brother’s friend.  I asked why, when my friend had visited, I’d made the bed for her, but my brother wasn’t expected to do the same.  My mother stared like I was a crazy person.  I’d gobsmacked my mother in the days before I knew the word gobsmacked existed.  A bit disconcerting, since my mother was quite the force.  So I said, I’ll make the bed, but I want to understand why.  I didn’t get an answer.

Earlier this year, during rehearsals of my play, Cats in a Pipe, a similar thing happened.  The play takes place on a military base in Afghanistan during an attack, my four main characters stuck in the Prayer Room, like the mummified cat in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral had been stuck in an organ pipe.  As we rehearsed, the cast and director freely commented on the dialogue, mostly to improve it.  Sometimes, they commented on the content.  Sometimes they said, that’s a horrible thing to have happened.  Sometimes they asked me if such a thing could be possible.

When I said to them, that was based on a true story, five pairs of British eyes looked at the table.  Or the script.  Five British mouths stayed shut.  No one said now, that’s a horrible thing.  When they went silent, the one woman in the room, the one American also looked at her script and said nothing else.  I thought I must be in one of those places where Americans say too much for British ears.

And maybe that’s true.  I am a bit candid, even by American standards.  My lack of social grace makes people uncomfortable at times, but there are a lot of things out there that don’t make sense to me.  So I ask the question.  Like why I had to make the bed or why, as I said last week, Nick Griffen has carte blanche to say what he wants about women while Jinan Younis does not have the same freedom to complain about it. 

So back onto the main path again.  Resistance to the truth takes energy from the places it should be focused on, and puts that energy into stagnation.  We may think of stagnation as inertia rather than an energy sucker, but if you look outside your window at anything that’s alive, it moves.  Against all odds.  Put a rock on a plant and it’ll grow around the rock.  Unwittingly lock a cat in a room and you’ll open the door on chaos.  Put the same cat inside an organ pipe and well . . . most cat lovers don’t even want to think about it.

Which is why some voices are silenced, either by looking down at a script, or asking young women to take their cardboard placards down from an internet site, or battering and raping people until they make the choice themselves to stop speaking.

One of the characters in my play asks why the cat stuck in the pipe wasn’t heard yowling its head off.  The other three each have an answer.  Cats weren’t pets then.  Some people don’t hear distressed sounds.  Some distressed creatures are silent.  Or, minorities aren’t real people.  The hegemony doesn’t listen to its subcultures.  The oppressed have stopped talking.

Don’t let that be you.  Don’t drop your eyes to the script like I did.  Don’t tell yourself that you’re the loud American or are too young or may sound like a whiner, that something about your voice is why it should be silenced.  In Connemara, they have a saying that it isn’t about the singer, but about the song; even someone who can’t carry a tune is allowed to sing.  It gives the song life through expression.  And life is the opposite of stagnation.

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