Say the name. Go ahead, you know. Three times. Say it. See what happens.
After some shameful TV watching, ANTM to be exact (if you don’t know, consider yourself sane), and after a couple glasses of wine, my ever so patient husband and I found ourselves engrossed in Beetlejuice. What a great movie. If you don’t know it, watch it. 1988. Another gem from the strange mind of Tim Burton. It was one of those movies that maybe every once in a while you will think about, because of its oddness and genius. Besides memories of watching it with my family as a child, it reminded me of myself. Lydia Deetz. Winona Ryder’s character. Now I have mentioned before I had an uncanny resemblance to Winona Ryder, maybe I still do. I still get it every once in a while. Before kids: Winona Ryder and Kiera Knightly. After kids: Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. It might be the glasses I wear most of the time. But it was Lydia Deetz, watching her now with my husband that then reminded me of high school. Because I dressed similar to her in the sense that my wardrobe consisted of the color black. Hair black, where it wasn’t shaved on the sides (yes that was me). Dark makeup contrasting with my pale Irish skin (thanks to the Celtic bloodlines, I don’t tan, I burn). Back in my days of high school, being “emo” was not the cool thing at all. In fact, not many people dressed like I did. And I guess that was the point. I embraced the darkness. All the while going to a private Catholic school…
Now I know I probably made my life in high school a lot harder than it seemed. But frankly I just needed a way of expression. I was never popular, I could have been good in sports (soccer) but I didn’t ever really try to excel. And like many at this age, I felt awkward and self-conscious. So what better way to tell people to ‘F-off’ was to dress completely different from everyone else? It created for me a shield and a barrier. Kids have been doing the same thing for generations. The rebellious group I guess. Every high school has them.
For me, going to such extremes and creating my own isolation, it also allowed me to really find myself. I didn’t attempt to “fit-in” I just did my own thing. I adopted the feeling that if you don’t like me or didn’t want to try to know me, then I don’t need you in my life. You must think I was lonely. Yes, maybe. But it allowed me to build the confidence I needed. It allowed me to find my true voice. Yet, I will admit, that I quit this “emo” routine when I got to college. After freshman year of college, I just frankly did not have the time or effort to put into the up-keep of looking goth/emo. If you don’t know, it was a lot of work! So one day in college, I literally thought, “Ok, I’m done. Now let’s get to work.” And look at me now. I’m fairly normal in the sense that I no longer have a basic black wardrobe, and my makeup routine no longer consists of dark purple lipstick. Oh, and my wonderful mother no longer has to shave my head, like she did without question for me in high school. I am now your basic square. With two kids who will grow up and at some point will be embarrassed that I am that mother that smothers them with kisses and hugs outside their own school.
So anyway, being the emo loner that I was, I was drawn immediately to literature. It was amazing to me to find others that felt that type of isolation and struggle to find yourself in life and yet spoke about it so openly and with such rawness in the form of personal writing and poetry. I spent a lot of time taking as many literature and writing classes as possible. The class that shaped my future in writing was a class called Broken Silences. It was an elective in high school and it was before school hours. What a name for the class, “Broken Silences”. The class focused primarily on women’s literature and poetry and it was called Broken Silences due to the agenda that most literature classes revolve around the cannon male authors that had shaped the writing realm (and admittedly so) such as Shakespeare, Milton, Joseph Conrad, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dante etc. This women’s lit classes allowed for the minority to speak.
Besides women writers, we also studied less read male writers in academia literature classes but extremely noteworthy and influential: Whitman, Yeats and Eliot. It never felt so good in my life to be amongst such familiar greatness. What I found through this class was fellowship with other women/writers that thought like I did, expressed themselves in ways that was commendable and respected. I read the struggle, fears, sadness and happiness through the likes of: Adrienne Rich, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Marilynne Robinson, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Maya Angelou, Virginia Wolff, and Alice Walker. Current and old. Modern and Victorian. Whatever the era, the struggle of women to express themselves in a way to earn respect has always occurred. And in no other better form of self-expression was the written word.
I have a stash of poetry that I wrote almost daily in high school, for this Broken Silences class and personal items. Going through hormone hell did result in some embarrassingly amazing poems and short stories. But looking back, I could see the internal struggle. It wasn’t pretty, I’m sure if my poetry at the time could have features it would look like a gangly, pimply, awkward, smelly teenager. And my struggle wasn’t comparable to others who may have had to struggle due to class, race, educational opportunities, family dynamics etc. But, what I did wrestle with in my mind was still MINE. It was always about finding your purpose in life. Searching for that certain something that made YOU feel important when you stand alone against the backdrop of the universe. And frankly that still is my struggle. The why and what for existence.
“Colleen, just what the hell are you talking about?” I know this is maybe what you, dear reader, are thinking. Let me try to sum this up. Finding like-minded people is amazing. Literature can be everyone’s friend. If you feel a struggle, try writing. Share your experience. Learn from others, and embrace another’s struggle to create understanding and compassion. That no matter race, creed or class we can all relate to the great words of the great people, men and women, who were brave enough to put their heart on paper. Find your Broken Silences class.
If you’re still with me and are interested below is a list of works that has stayed with me from that class:
Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye (This is a polarizing book. Not a feel good story at all. But the writing is amazing and its chillingly profound. About race, youth and human nature. Props for Toni Morrison for the honesty and rawness of this story.)
Marilynne Robinson: Housekeeping (Want symbolism between the lines, read this book)
William Butler Yeats: The Second Coming (Poem about the world at the verge of war and destruction, but read it to see it being applied to your everyday life)
Emily Dickinson: I Dwell in Possibility (Any of her poems really. She was a recluse, but her writing was her world, and you would never guess that she wrote from her window. An expression of emotions never put so well, in so few words).
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre (I think this might be a required read now in schools. It’s become popularized. But if you have read this, have you really READ it. Writing is sublime. The struggle of this young girl may not be in your face, but it’s there if you look.)
Whitman: Leaves of Grass (An undertaking if you wish to choose. Within, read the collection of verse under Song of Myself. Whitman was the first successful poet to master the free verse form. His works have shaped everything you read today).
Adrienne Rich: Diving into the Wreck (This woman had a way with words. She was touted as a feminist. I like to think she was a realist. 1929-2012, she voiced the struggle of women for all over the world, nothing was glossed over by her. She wrote poems and critical essays. But like any great poet, her works can speak to anyone whether you’re male or female. Her struggle may be yours.)