“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.