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Don’t (Just) Write What You Know

Typewriter

 

Writers who are starting out are encouraged to write what they know. They are told that such an approach will lend an air of authenticity to their words, and will somehow be ‘easier’.  It’s good advice, but it’s not great advice.

Rather than write what you know, write what’s important.

Research goes hand-in-hand with writing. If you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. You are also a researcher. You are the kind of person who can find stuff out – by talking to people, by networking, by using libraries, by asking questions.

 

No matter your genre, if you only write what you know, you’ll only write one book. You might publish several, but they will all be about the same thing, and get repetitive. The only way to grow as a writer, and to keep yourself and your readers happy, is to stretch yourself. The only way you can do that is by finding out about things you don’t know about, and writing about them in the way that only you can.

 

What annoys you? What intrigues you? What upsets you? What issue would you like to see highlighted? Write about that.  Find the thing that fires you, that excites extremes of passion in you, and write about that.  If you feel you’re not enough of an ‘expert’ on it, become one – or become enough of one to write authentically about it.

Then write. You’ll be following the advice of ‘writing what you know’, but you’ll be writing about what you know now,  rather than what you’ve always known. You’re writing will, then, always be fresh, always ‘new’. It will keep you engaged, and be engaging for your readers.

Women And Media Requests

Mic on Air

This past week, I was a guest on the Echo Chamber Podcast.  For those unfamiliar, the podcast is in its infancy – it’s just ten episodes old – and uses stories from Twitter as a jumping-off point. Having heard most of the podcasts, I was honoured to have been asked, and delighted to accept the invitation immediately.

 

After we’d recorded, Tony (@trickstersworld), Martin (@williamhboney1), and I (@hazelklarkin) were having a chat, and Tony mentioned how they are making a conscious effort to ask as many women as men to take part.

‘Because there’s two of us, it’s (the podcast) already gender-skewed before we invite anyone else on,’ he said.

Martin and Tony informed me that as many women as men have been asked to appear as guests on the Echo Chamber Podcast, but fewer women respond positively. I was surprised. Tony elucidated.

‘Women will be interested, but also more hesitant. They ask questions about who we’re aligned with – politically – who our listenership is…things like that. They say they’ll have to think about it. They are often concerned about any possible back-lash with regards to their jobs. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to just say “Yes! I have something to say, I’ll come and say it!” ‘

 

This was a new narrative to me. I have been involved with initiatives such as Women On Air, and MAM, and I would normally only turn down a media appearance if I have a scheduling conflict. I have heard women say they are never asked – or they are only asked to comment on things that are specifically women- or children-centred. Or they are asked to contribute to more ‘fluffy’ items on radio, television, or in print. I have also heard producers and researchers talk about how difficult it is to find women who can talk on ‘meaty’ subjects, and who are willing to take part in programmes. In an effort to ameliorate this, Women On Air maintains a list of women experts in a number of subject areas. Still we don’t hear enough women’s voices on public platforms.

 

Why do women hesitate to take part in a podcast or other platform? Why are women more cautious with regard to committing to airing their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and reactions? I’ve been thinking about this ever since Martin, Tony, and I discussed it.  I’m of the opinion that the issue of the lack of women’s voices in public is not as simple as ‘there aren’t enough women’ and /  or ‘we’re never asked’. The evil twins Patriarchy andToxic Masculinity are, I fear, to blame here.

 

Women, I think, are more hesitant to go on air because they fear the backlash. We fear that our words will be scrutinised to a greater extent than men’s. We fear that our mistakes, our gaffes, will not be forgiven. We fear that if we fudge a response, we will be ridiculed for being inarticulate and lacking in knowledge. We fear that our employers, or clients (or whoever it is who pays us),  will take agin us if we express an opinion that is not aligned with theirs.

 

We fear that we do not have an equivalent of ‘boys will be boys’ to excuse our behaviour if we are deemed, on reflection, to have over-stepped a mark. We fear this because we are aware that we have not perfected how to have lines such as the following accepted women to the same extent, and with as much ease, as they are accepted from men. :

‘Can you not take a joke?’

‘I didn’t mean it like that.

‘Have you never heard of irony?’

‘Oh. I mis-spoke. What I meant was…’

‘I was speaking in my personal, not my professional, capacity’

‘If we all thought the same, life would be boring’

‘You’re taking me out of context’

 

This is one of the faces of toxic masculinity; that element of our attitude to men and women that allows men to be – and forgives them for being – irresponsible and immature; that doesn’t expect, or demand, that they stop acting like boys; that does not hold them to the high standards that women are held to; that doesn’t hold men accountable for their words and deeds; that allows men to get away with things that women wouldn’t be allowed to get away with; that portrays men as a bit bumbling, but generally well-meaning. I think the closest trope women have to this ‘Bumbling Ineffectual’ is the ‘Damsel in Distress’ – but the latter needs to be ‘rescued’ (and usually by a man). Mansplaining is an extension of this ‘rescuing’ of ‘distressed damsels’ and most women have been subjected to it, and are aware of how tedious and teeth-clenchingly insulting it is. Why, then, would any woman offer those whose wont it is, the opportunity to mansplain at them?

 

While the lack of women’s voices on air is a multi-faceted problem, there may be more facets to it than I had originally thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Tips For Maternity Care for Survivors of Sexual Abuse / Assault

Pregnant Belly

About a month ago, I posted on Twitter using the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Maternity Care’ hashtags. Quite a few people got in touch to say that they found the advice I offered useful. A number of women contacted me privately to say that they found my tweets validating and reassuring. A few fathers also sent me messages to let me know that they witnessed the mothers of their children experiencing issues around their treatment and they realised, having read my tweets, that these reactions and issues were directly related to the abuse they had suffered as children.

In the hopes that these words will reach – and help – more people, I’m posting them here, as well.

  1. Sexual abuse is endemic. Treat ALL women survivors until they tell you otherwise. Err on the side of caution.
  2. Continuity of care is best for women in order to build trust. We are extra vulnerable when pregnant, birthing, and in the peri-natal period.
  3. Before labour, ask if we have special requests for during labour – places not to touch, words not to use, etc.
  4. Call us by our names. Not ‘Love’ or ‘Sweetheart’. Abusers rarely use our names. Don’t diminish our personhood.
  5. Never, ever use the phrase ‘good girl’. We’re not girls. We’re women. Most of us were abused by people who used the phrase ‘good girl’ while they were abusing us.
  6. Don’t use nursery / childish language around us. That can be triggering.
  7. Don’t tell us to do something, eg ‘pop up on the bed’. Ask if we’d like to – explain why.
  8. Accept ‘no’ as an answer – don’t try and cajole or persuade us to turn our ‘no’ to a ‘yes’.
  9. Never tell us you’re going to do something. Ask permission. Our bodies belong to us, even when we’re birthing.
  10. Never perform a VE unless it’s necessary (hint: it’s *never* necessary.
  11. Be aware that our physiological responses may be different. EG we often pause dilation at about 4cms. Don’t rush with interventions because we are taking ‘too long’. Trust us. Trust our bodies.
  12. After birth, breastfeeding – no matter how much we want to – may be extremely triggering. Have compassion.

I offer workshops based on trauma-informed care to birth workers, based on my own experiences, and my academic research, (and the fact that I was Ireland’s first practicing doula!). If you’d like details, please get in touch.

Hot Stones

Hot Stones

 

My words are like hot coals in my mouth

I cannot hold them

They scorch the soft, pink flesh

Jangling against each other as

I juggle them with my tongue;

Cracking against my teeth

They burn and fizz and fizzle

Blistering

I can no longer contain them

I can no longer conceal them

I spit them out

Hear them sizzle

Listen

I hold the Truth

I speak the Truth

I am the Truth.

A Good Bad Day

Spiral

 

Today was Not A Good Day.

 

The seeds for today not being A Good Day were sown last night, just after 6pm. That’s when the first thing went wrong. This morning, we were up and had left the house before 7.30. By 9.00am, the second thing had gone wrong. Things kept going wrong until 9.41am. By 10am, seven things had gone wrong – including the first thing that went wrong last night. By 10.13am, we thought we were back on track. Then something else went wrong. This is Thing Number Eight. It was too much.

 

Panic.

 

I couldn’t. I repeated that about 14 or 15 times ‘I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!’

 

Tears. Sobbing. Overwhelm.

 

The kindness of strangers.

 

The unexpected kindness of strangers.

 

The compassion of those who chose not to look the other way.

 

The unexpected compassion of strangers who chose to help.

 

The ninth thing went wrong. The ninth thing going right had been contingent on at least the eighth thing going right.

I was upset that the ninth thing went wrong. I knew I’d let my eldest daughter down because the ninth thing went wrong. But nobody died. We were all safe.

Later, the day (sort of) got back on track. I reflected on The Bad Day and realised that it had, actually, been a Good Bad Day: It took eight things before I felt overwhelmed. Eight. A year ago, one of those things would have overwhelmed me.  A year ago, one of those thing would have incapacitated me. A year ago, I would still – twelve hours later  – not have recovered. Today, it took less than an hour.

Today, I listened to what the voice in my head was saying. As I cried in the car after dropping my girls to school, I heard it. It said ‘I feel like a failure. I hate feeling like a failure.’ For the first time ever, it was saying ‘I feel like a failure’ and not ‘I am a failure.’

For all that they are real and valid, feelings are feelings; feelings aren’t facts. I was able to hear that I was acknowledging how I felt, rather than telling myself an absolute. This is progress.

 

A year ago, I’d have spun down a spiral that is hugely difficult to spin back up. In fact, I’ve never spun back up – I’ve only ever managed to crawl back up; slowly, on my hands and knees. Today, I was able to talk myself back from the first step on the spiral.

I felt dispirited, I felt like I had not won Wednesday, I felt frustrated, I felt powerless, I felt I had let my kids down. But I also felt like I could recover.

And I did.

Small victories, but victories none the less – and I have learned to celebrate my wins where I find them. Or where they find me.

Several things went wrong for me today – but they didn’t defeat me, the way they would have a few months ago. I’m learning. I’m learning self-compassion. I’m learning that sometimes, things just happen, and they’re not my fault. I’m learning that I don’t have to beat myself up when life doesn’t go according to plan. That’s what made today a Good Bad Day.

 

 

The Women Who Support Abusers

Madeline Albright

 

Collusion is key. Men who abuse women are supported by other women. I’ve been trying to write a blog post all week about women who collude with abusive men. It’s harder than I thought it would be. On the one hand, I have so much to say on the subject – so many examples from my own life – that I’m afraid I’d write far, far more than a blog post calls for.  At the same time, however, finding the words to get started is proving difficult.

 

I’m not sure where to start, but I have a feeling the way in might be to actually just record my thoughts and then transcribe them.

 

Bear with me!

Breaking the Cycle

I wrote this, a year ago, on my other blog. I thought it might be worth sharing here, too.

In My Own Write

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Safe Ireland held a seminar with distinguished speakers from around the world. They discussed things I know a lot about – abuse, violence, trauma and the effects of same. I wasn’t at the conference, because (frankly) it was out of my price range, but I am very grateful to those who live-tweeted the event using the hashtag #safeirelandsummit

One of the things that struck me was the fact that John Lonergan (former governor of Mountjoy Jail) was reported as asking ‘How do we prevent? That is the challenge’

I can only assume he was asking how we might prevent domestic violence. Part of me is shocked that someone would even need to ask, but I’ll get over that and focus instead on the fact that, if you’re asking, it means you’re interested. So, here, are ten things that you can do to work…

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