A co-worker came into my office last week and asked what was up with my blog. Why wasn’t I writing? Talk about being caught with your fingers down. I took a deep breath and told him that I’d lost my voice over the summer. That I’d looked everywhere, but couldn’t find the words, the write path.
It was the perfect storm. Work had been overwhelming (always the easy out.) I moved into a new house and the boxes became my flimsy, cardboard reason swallowing the impulse to blog. Recovering from surgery, I became anesthetized with every excuse in the book I wasn’t writing. My computer was the dejected spouse that I repeatedly cheated on with friends, family, yard work and anything I could get my grubby hands on to stay away from keys that wouldn’t unlock the words. I let weeks and months slip away while my right brain languished. I gave zero fucks.
It took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t writing when the lightning had struck and the damage had been done.
Shortly before the thunder in my head, someone I cared deeply about but didn’t really know (blood does not always a family make) tried to sue me over a post I had published a few months before. The threat of a cease and desist order, defamation of character suit and a lawyer serving papers the next morning wasn’t the relationship I had been hoping for with her.
It happened late in the evening before I was going to visit my new granddaughter and hold her for the first time. Excited beyond words, I was on the phone talking to the fireman when the avalanche of texts began. Hurtful, angry and desperate, her words stabbed me in the heart. Perhaps she felt the same way about mine. The loss of the relationship I had hoped for dissipated with each ding of my phone.
She had her reasons. I had written about my biological father. The story of my conception was less than immaculate and his cause of death wasn’t something to be particularly proud of, but people are more complicated than their mistakes and weaknesses. I felt empathy for him, for her. I loved him in spite of it all and was drowning in the flood of never knowing him. I thought I had communicated those thoughts kindly and compassionately. She and her attorney didn’t agree.
Have you ever felt your bones quake from the inside out? It leads to crying, followed closely by dry heaving. My heart raced, my face tingled, my nightgown turned wet with regret. My dog trembled at the noises coming out of my mouth.
She demanded that I take down the blog post I had written a month before. But, it was more complicated than that. People had liked it, shared it – it’s how she came across it in the first place. It was everywhere. I started waking up friends, texting family who had re-posted it. I panicked and tried to take back the words.
I apologized with fingers that were raw and on fire. I told her if she knew me she’d know my greatest fear was hurting someone, causing harm. She had no interest in who I was, what my words intended to say. The vitriol kept coming. I stopped reading what she wrote as I sobbed into my pillow and set my phone to vibrate and absorb all of the ways I’d hurt her. Some things are better left unread.
The next morning, I talked to an attorney who assured me that I had done nothing wrong. There were no names, the cause of death was public record. She could threaten anything she wanted, but I had a voice and I was allowed to use it. I could put the post back up immediately without repercussions.
But, I didn’t. Instead, I texted her, and told her that the words were gone, the post was no more. And, it wasn’t because I was afraid. It was the thought that something I had written had the power to hurt someone, cause such agony.
Sadly, I don’t anticipate hearing from her ever again. There are no words. That was the day my computer grew hoarse.
Full on laryngitis kicked in a short time later after I was asked to do a reading of my works at a local theater. The evening went well and was almost sold out (that’s what free beer and wine get you.) People cried they applauded, and some even stood in line to talk with me afterward. A woman told me that she was pretty sure I had changed the trajectory of her life. A girl whispered that she was finally going to tell her family about her rape, that I made her feel less alone. A young man broke up with his girlfriend the next day because of the words I read. I was humbled, grateful, and then it all went bad inside my head. They might as well have set my thesaurus on fire.
My keystrokes had already hurt someone I hoped would want to love me one day. And now my words had the power to end relationships, divulge secrets, and change trajectories. Holy crap. Who wants to do that? I gave way too many fucks. I fell deeply into the summer of silence.
Terrified of saying the wrong thing, hurtful things, I wrote nothing. Though it took a few months of crying into a blank computer, my screen and I realized that my words don’t hold power over anyone. True, I had hurt someone. Also true, it was other people’s words that influenced my trajectory years ago – words that meant something pivotal to me at a time when I needed to see and hear them the most. I took those words to bed each night and they grew like seeds inside my soul. But, those words didn’t cause me to get divorced, jump out of an airplane twice or get diarrhea of the mouth. I did that all on my own. I changed the direction of my life – an author’s words didn’t.
I don’t regret one word I’ve written or the truths I’ve shared. The compulsion to write about my life, my relationships and the lessons I’ve learned are as strong as the need to breathe. And, it’s impossible to write about those experiences and feelings in a silo. It took me many years to find my voice and I want to use my voice responsibly. But, maybe the price I pay for indulging that voice comes with a modicum of risk, the possibility of hurting others, even if that’s not what my words intend. I have to find a way to live with that. I hope that some of what I say here takes root, inspires others. Writing words that have the power to make people feel less alone and influence trajectories is a blessing. They can take those words and go from there.
And with that, the summer of silence is over.