“I simply don’t think this is very believable. I don’t think that you, or the voice in this poem is going to think about picking raspberries with her grandmother while she is being raped. This doesn’t ring true to me at all, and I can tell that you haven’t been through something like this.”
I felt the heat rising in my cheeks as I avoided eye contact, and stared at the carpet in my English professor’s office.
“If you are going to call a poem Rape of the Raspberries, and allude to graphic content, it’s not enough. You might feel like you are pushing the boundaries at a school like this, but that doesn’t make it a good poem, or make you a good writer. You’re welcome to revise your work, but I stand behind the grade I gave you.”
I shook his hand, and mumbled a thank you for his time, before exiting his office.
I had wanted to be a writer since I was 12. I read, memorized and recited poetry. I kept the thesaurus, my grandpa inscribed with a Rubaiyat quote, on a bookshelf above my bed to remind me of my passion. In the fall of my second year at Brigham Young University, I had looked forward to my creative writing class. It was a course in which I felt I could finally earn an A. More than halfway through the semester, I was struggling to pass the class.
Throughout the semester, each student had to choose a piece of work to read aloud after distributing copies to other students. Then, the author would silently sit in the room while the class and professor discussed the merits of the work. The professor encouraged sarcasm and pithy remarks over valid feedback about content. Compliments were given begrudgingly. Peer comments were scrawled on the copies before they were returned to the author to review and revise.
I absorbed the criticism and believed strangers and my professor. I let their negative words erase the years I had spent labeling myself as a writer. I let opinions of a professor who was a “published poet” impact the way I viewed myself, and my own abilities.
What had been a passion – writing- became something I dreaded.
I muted my voice, because I didn’t feel like I had anything important to say.
Three weeks after the conversation with my professor, when I was raped for the first time, all I could think about was that poem about the raspberries.
When I tried to pretend that it never happened, I thought about The Rape of the Raspberries. When I attempted to concentrate on the lectures the rest of the semester, lines from the poem would invade my thoughts. When I tried to make sense of what happened to me, I felt that I deserved it somehow.
because I wrote a poem about rape,
because I had worn a short skirt and gone dancing at a club,
because I was too afraid to scream for help,
because I didn’t fight back hard enough,
because no one told me what I should do if I was ever raped,
because he thought that it was what I wanted even though I said no.
I muted my voice, because my voice hadn’t mattered when I said
No…Please, stop…Don’t… No…I don’t want to…No….
I wrote and polished my portfolio pieces for my creative writing class. I thought about all the criticism my professor gave me, and wrote a crappy a poem in 15 minutes about a biker chick that I thought he would like.
After weeks battling insomnia, and night terrors, I slept through my final presentation to my classmates worth half my grade. I slipped the folder with my 3 pieces under my professor’s door with an apology note and plea for mercy with my final class grade.
His comments scrawled across the poem noted that it was
Your best work this semester! I wish I had seen more work like this! B+
It brought my average just high enough to pass the class.
After that fall of 1996, I didn’t call myself a writer anymore. I dropped out of University, after failing the classes I quit attending the following semester.
Over the years, I occasionally, wrote poems in my journals to cope with relationships or my anxiety.
Last year, as my 20 year high school reunion approached, I thought about my life goals. I thought about the 8th grade, permed hair Jen who declared on VHS tape her prediction for her future in a history class time capsule assignment.
“I am putting a romance novel in our time capsule, because life should be romantic, and I plan to be married to my Prince Charming. I am also putting some of my poetry in here, because I love to write, and predict that I am going to be a writer in twenty years. I am also putting an air freshener in here, because this box is probably going to smell musty and gross in 20 years.”
I wanted to be the person I imagined twenty years ago. I needed and wanted to write.
I didn’t know if anyone would read what I wrote. I was afraid of the criticism I thought would come, but it didn’t. Instead, I got encouragement, praise and support from friends and family members.
Writing brought a sense of peace and focus that I’d been looking to regain. I was afraid that my voice didn’t matter-but it does.
And so does yours.
When we let someone inaccurately define who we are, we mute our voices. When we see injustice or bigotry, and ignore or excuse it, we mute our voices. When we witness anger and hatred, and do not counter with peace and love, we mute our voices.
Our collective voices matter as much as my individual voice does, and we can not be silent.
When I applied for my passport last week, and filled out my occupation, I typed WRITER. I made myself business cards for Rootstech Genealogy conference which state
Genealogy Jen – Writer- Blogger – Consultant
I made a name tag with my job title as writer. I have told strangers in the hardware store, “I am a writer”. The more I voice it, the more I believe it is true.
Saying I’m a writer, means that my voice has value, and should be heard. It doesn’t mean that I need to mold my voice to a literary ideal or mimic a famous writer.
When I say I am a writer, I am saying that I trust you, and will let you see a part of my soul on your screen.
I’m Genealogy Jen, and I’m a writer.
Genealogy Jen’s Challenge of the week – How do you label yourself? Is it accurate?
Bonus Points – Give yourself the label you aspire to, and work on becoming.
You have brought me to tears on my lunch break. You are an amazing writer, I am so proud of you. You have inspired me to face my fear of putting myself out there, you are an inspiration. I have been terrified to even journal personally, to myself, and throw it away, it even scares me to put it out there even that far and look what you have done. You have inspired for me what I am going to accomplish this year, (as a challenge). I am going to begin journaling. Thank you Gen. xoxo
Molly, sorry I made you cry. If it makes you feel better, I cried when I wrote this. A lot. Journal. No one else even needs to read it. It is a fantastic way to process, and record where you are at during various points in your life. When you write because you need to, and are not assigned to do it- When you write because want to express thoughts in your mind and heart, and not for praise or recognition- Your true voice will be heard. Hugs! When you write something you want to share, let me know. You have an amazing story to tell.
Dear Writer Jen, Keep on keepin’ on! This is admirable, and yes, we all matter, each and every one of us. It’s hard to believe in the face of negative remarks (mine came from a former boss). Working on a similar post but arising out of different circumstances. This was a splendid post. I think I can speak for many of us and say we bloggers are PROUD OF YOU. This took oodles and oodles of guts to write and then hit the send button. I remain in awe… 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement Karen! I really appreciate it. My #1 fear is being vulnerable, and I definitely was writing this. Claiming your voice is a powerful thing. I look forward to reading your post.
Not just a writer, a DARN GOOD writer. Keep the great posts coming Jen – I love reading everything you write.
Thank you so much Laura!
Oh Jen, you are so right to keep writing. No one should stifle your voice. The more you write, the more confident you become in sharing that which has been lying dormant. More will inspire you and you will in turn inspire others. In one of my blogs, I talk about regrets. If you don’t write you will regret that which has been bottled up. So write, You are very good!
Thank you for reading and commenting Jolie! I appreciate the encouragement. The more I write, the more pours out. It’s a matter of figuring out which stories I want to tell first. There’s a lot of them. Each time I tell one, it lightens the emotional burden.
The stories will how and when they are meant to come. Cheers!
I LOVE your posts, Jen. You inspire me. Hugs! <3
Thank you so much! I appreciate your support and encouragement.
This is such a moving post Jen. Not only are you a writer, you’re a damn good one. You open your heart and let others peer in. That’s not easy!
Thanks so much Laura. Being vulnerable is one of my 40 fears, but I have been hitting it head on the past few months, and it has become easier with encouragement.