A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post I titled, ‘Silence Does Not Suit Me’, an exuberantly defiant ode to my right to freely express myself as I chose. In it, I observed of the the self-doubt that often accompanies speaking up about things that are deemed unpopular or supposedly best left unchallenged,
“You start to think that maybe they [the silent people around you, and their censors] are right. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you should tone it down. Disappear even. Maybe nobody is ready for what and who you are. And maybe, no matter how much you try, they will always misread you.
So you keep quiet.
Take your place towards the back of the room.
Cast a magician’s spell over yourself and dissolve your tongue.”
Even as I noted this sort of self-doubt as a barrier to speaking up, I remained adamant that my place among the living was with those who speak, those who write and lay themselves open to misinterpretation.
I continued on to conclude,
“I have tried to appease you, to accommodate your misinterpretations, to sell myself short.
But silence does not suit me.
Its stitching unravels fast within me. I cannot fit it. I cannot wear it.”
Two years since that post, I find myself pining after that person I once was, shatterproof like some kind of double glazed glass.
Because two years later, I find myself silent.
“What happened to you?” so many people ask me.
“I missed your Facebook posts about jacarandas this season.”
“Don’t go away too long or you will lose your magic.”
“Are you even still on social media?”
Usually, I thank these people who reach out to me for not forgetting me. For to be remembered in the frenetic maze of noise and traffic that our online world pulls us into daily is some sort of miracle. And then, depending on how close I am to them, I tell them what makes most sense. To the more distant, I reassure them that I am still present; that I can be found walking “out on these Twitter streets”, even if those streets feel more and more daunting for me to navigate. And to those who are closer, I am more honest.
Because I know that somewhere within all the noise and chaos, I have lost my own voice.
Silence is an incremental thing. It does not descend upon you in one deft movement. It is not a power cut or a blackout, something controlled by a switch or a punch. Silence collects; at first, slowly. Like darkness collects over a late afternoon sky. Until – at some point – there is nothing left there but the absence of what was once there. And silence becomes a new norm, a new way of navigating the world.
So what happened to me?
Enough times, I was told that there was something wrong with the way I think; something patently wrong with taking sides with my moral obligations and convictions. To me, every ideal I stand for makes sense. Everything I speak up for – and against – is informed by my unique ownership of my opinions and thoughts, through asking myself questions to what is their logical end with what information I have at a point in time, through my very personal ways of navigating the world and learning about it. As a result, my opinions are in flux, and wont to change as I am ever willing to revisit them based on what new information I gather about situations.
But I am learning that this is not a popular trait. At least not in the Zim circles I move around in. Your opinions should calcify. As such, you must remain that which you were yesterday and the day before, and your nuances in thought and thinking must be erased. Also, you must not see – and point out – hypocrisy, co-optation and double standards; instead, you must deceive yourself into believing that anything problematic – beyond the acceptable range of what issues are acceptably defined as such – is illusory.
An old song I love by Nelly Furtado has lyrics that capture this far more eloquently,
All I know/
Is everything is not as it’s sold/
but the more I grow the less I know/
And I have lived so many lives/
Though I’m not old/
And the more I see, the less I grow/
The fewer the seeds, the more I sow/
The more I speak, the less I know. The less I question, the more that answers I didn’t know I was seeking come to me.
And I am not sure what do with them anymore.
Why, you ask, would such trivial things shake a “strong” woman like me?
Because I am human. Because I have emotions. Because in speaking, I simply seek to make sense of myself and hopefully enable others to do the same. Because the easiest way to begin to doubt yourself is when you realise that your opinions, as they mutate and expand, are no longer welcome. You are no longer welcome.
And so what is it that we do?
I begin to write again.
I begin to write again to make sense of the senselessness and pain of it all.
I begin to write this now, in the hope that I will be strong enough to speak up again. Some day. Some time. For I know that even as it costs me much, I must continue to gate crash the sedate party of life and drink in the orange juice they are serving with something stronger.
This – this silence – cannot be all that there is.
I know that.
Main photograph is shared from www.ebsqart.com