Recently, I came across Audre Lorde’s Questionnaire to Oneself. Of the four questions, all of which are interesting and thought-provoking, it’s number three that really gets me: What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? [List as many as necessary today. Then write a new list tomorrow. And the day after.]
The tyrannies you swallow day by day…think about it. All the things that feel wrong. Sometimes a little wrong, like a pebble in one’s shoe that we try to ignore. Sometimes big wrong, like staying silent when offensive words are spoken, when actions are taken, when it’s assumed that you should just go along and be okay.
Why isn’t it enough to say, no, this is not right for me? What are we so afraid of? Of upsetting friends and family? Of rocking the boat a bit and changing the rules? What has us playing small?
I say that staying silent is self-tyranny. It’s saying that the needs and wants and convictions of others have more validity or merit. It is saying that I don’t matter, that I’ll take the crumbs at the end of the meal.
Every life is valuable. And it’s time to stop trying to make the thoughts and feelings and convictions of others our own. It’s time to step into our own lives. Fully. And speak. And write. And share.
I include here, in its entirety one of my favorite of Audre Lorde’s poems:
A Woman Speaks
Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.
I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
and not white.