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Audre Lorde and The Worry Wolf

February 9, 2018

When my friend’s daughter’s anxiety got really bad, my friend and her spouse would talk to their little girl about the Worry Wolf, this creature that gave her nightmares and insomnia and stomachaches.

The Worry Wolf comes around my house too.  He goes hand-in-hand with Fear (what animal would go with Fear?  Not a frog.  A ferret?  A fox?  A feral raccoon?).  The two of them gang up on me, gag me, paralyze my rational brain and send me down a spiral of negativity.

This Worry and this Fear have also silenced me, especially here.  I wrote last year about trying to consciously do things that scared me (karaoke was conquered in December!).  But in my writing about parenting and teaching and thinking and seeking, I have been too afraid to share my truths.  In part because I have a hunch that my family member’s shutting down all communication with me, infrequent though it may have been, was a result of my speaking up.  In part because some of the things on my mind are not entirely my story to tell:  they involve the stories of my children, my mother-in-law, and I have been figuring out how to walk that line between their privacy and the part of the story that is mine.

Example:  One of my kids has come home several times this year saying they don’t have any friends, that recess is often a time of walking around the playground without anyone to play with.  This kid last year was inseparable from R.–even their kindergarten teacher didn’t make them switch line partners because the two of them were always together.  This year, R. is in a different first grade, and another kid has chosen R. to be their only friend, meaning R. is not “allowed” to play with my kid anymore–and R. does not seem to mind this, which breaks my heart on many counts.

The Worry Wolf tells me that no one wants to hear my story.  That the Silence Breakers of the #metoo movement have valid and important stories to tell; that immigrants and refugees and people of color have valid and important stories to tell.  That I am not struggling to make ends meet, that I have never been violently assaulted, and therefore I should shut my privileged mouth.

Audre Lorde, one of my role models, has a lot to say about silence in her essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”  She says:

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself.  My silence had not protected me.  Your silence will not protect you.  But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

For every real word spoken, we are bridging differences.

Maybe some bridges will break.  Maybe I cannot live an authentic life and simultaneously always please others.  No bridges can be built with silence.

So.  As my next decade approaches, I want to face the Worry Wolf and the Fear…Flamingo?, and feel the shakes and the constricted throat and the tears, and speak anyway.

and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

–Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. rayaless permalink
    February 21, 2018 11:35 pm

    Wow. A call and challenge to me to share my own story, to speak my own truth. And as your friend, your authentic voice and lived experience is so very important and meaning-filled to me. Fantastically revelatory reflection (at least to and for me!) Michelle. Thank you. And yes, Fear the Flamingo it is 🙂

  2. Anya permalink
    February 10, 2018 12:23 am

    Speaking the truth on our hearts always has consequences. But it is better to have said the truth than a lie. Even when the truth – and it often does – provokes hostility from those clinging to a lie.

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