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Believing is Not Enough

I used to write a lot of think pieces – in fact, I used to hold a weekly column in which I wrote about a wide variety of topics, most of them to do with current events, politics and social issues. It was a good fit for me, as a writer who is heavily invested in making the world a better place – and it didn’t hurt that I’m opinionated as all get out.

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A long-ago self portrait. I used to smoke to cope. Now I just write.

I got away from think pieces after a while, though, for one because the internet is saturated with them to the point that they have become parody, but also because I was exhausted. Just so very tired of having to pull out the energy to write about some very dark times, dark places and dark themes. Situations in which there often are no resolutions. Things that hurt, that bite back. After a while I just had to stop for my own sanity.

I began writing more fiction and less essays. But I am who I am, and the me started to creep in through my fiction, too. Before I knew it I had written an entire novel about a victim of domestic violence. Then I wrote a sequel. I can’t take a break from it, because it is woven into who I am.

When the story broke about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp last week, I went through a variety of emotions. First disappointment, because Depp has long been a favorite actor of mine; second anger at the way the headlines none-too-subtly shaded or outright accused Heard of being a liar, a golddigger, a wanton temptress; and lastly, resigned sadness at the fact that even the people who seemed to believe Heard still wanted to attack her. As if her being an unlikeable person somehow negates the violence, or makes her deserving of it (she seems perfectly likeable to me). People want to love Johnny Depp so badly that it’s easier for them to justify abuse they actually believe took place, than to sympathize with his alleged victim. Like, apparently it isn’t possible to love What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and also believe Amber Heard. Look, guys, this has been going on a long time. I love the music of John Lennon and Jim Morrison; I love the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I enjoy the art these men produced while also recognizing that they abused the women in their lives. This is important: We can appreciate the contributions they make while still holding them accountable. 

Repeat that to yourself a few times.

I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who has read my work that I, too, am a former victim of domestic violence. If not, well, now you know. It bothers me, as a writer, how language fails when I try to describe myself. I do not like the word “victim” and the powerlessness it invokes. Nor do I love the word “survivor”, because it gives too much power to the abuse. “Former victim” is as close as I can come to comfortable, but it is a splinter in my heel, too. At any rate, I am a person who was once abused. It was a number of years ago and I am fine (well, fine is relative. But I’m okay.). I am “lucky” enough in that I have been, for the most part, believed. It took me years to finally begin talking about my experiences, but when I did, people believed me. I realize this is a rarity as I have seen other women questioned and disbelieved, and it has broken my heart.

The thing about being a victim of domestic violence is that there is never any way you can feel okay about it. Even if you yourself have healed, and you can move on with some semblance of sanity, it will be other people that will push you back down into despair. They won’t do it on purpose (well, most of them won’t). Most won’t even realize they are doing it.

It comes when you start talking. Most of us reach a point, be it weeks or months or years after the fact, when we start purging the memories, the pain. We want to talk. We need to talk. It is therapeutic. This is when they will turn on you. Through judgment, or subtle sarcasm, shade, through questioning you just a little too hard, through statements that seem to blame, through outright silence, which will cut you like a thousand knives. They will ask their questions, make their statements, or just ignore you completely, and you will feel victimized all over again.

But I thought you believed me, you will think to yourself, frustrated. Why do I feel like I’m still on trial?  Why do I have to pretend this didn’t happen to make everyone comfortable?

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The thing that might be the most surprising, and the most hurtful, is that it doesn’t always come from the people you think it will. You know the ones, the rape-deniers, the misogynists, the ones who think feminism is a dirty word. No, often enough the judgement, the skepticism, the deafening silence will come from your friends. Your family. Yes, even people who know it’s true. Yes, even people who are feminists. Yes, even people who are also former victims themselves.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this, and I’m usually more eloquent, but today words seem to fail. I’m just too mad, and too tired.

Because today I’ve had the misfortune of reading a truly terrible statement by the father of a rapist, which I refuse to link to, in which he bemoans the loss of his son’s freedom and appetite and cries about how his son will see his life ruined for “20 minutes of action”. That “20 minutes of action”, of course referring to the brutal rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

This victim was also believed. A jury unanimously voted and delivered a guilty verdict to her rapist. And the judge felt bad for him, and decided that jail might hurt his fee-fees, so he only gave him six months. For brutally raping someone behind a dumpster. She was BELIEVED. Might we imagine what it’s like for the victims who aren’t? Sadly, many of us don’t have to imagine.

I’m so very tired of us.

Funny, the sentence I meant to type was “I’m so very tired of this.” I started to delete the word, and then I thought, no, that’s apt. I am so very tired of us.

Because we are all complacent in rape culture and abuse culture. We all could do better. We could all go out of our way to believe victims, to listen to them, to offer them support. We could all hold abusers accountable. We could make it easier for victims of rape and abuse to come forward, to not just believe them but to offer them help and resources and a modicum of respect when they speak out. To offer them a justice system that will actually punish their rapists and abusers. We could all do a better job of raising men to think less of sex as something “owed”, and teach them that women are not a commodity, an object, a possession. That they are not entitled to our bodies, to hit or punch or rape at their leisure. At the very least we owe it to ourselves to not raise the type of person who refers to a rape as “20 minutes of action” and cares more about the steak his son no longer enjoys than the woman his son assaulted.

That woman, by the way, isn’t going to shut up. Read her amazing letter. She has brass ovaries. He didn’t break her. She is talking.

And I am talking.

We are not going to stop talking.

We will keep talking until your discomfort gets so great that you are forced to get up and act, to move, to change. We will keep talking until just believing victims of sexual and physical abuse isn’t enough. We’ll keep talking until we have no reason to.

From the late, great Maya Angelou:

“Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

 

 

 

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Poncy Poetry Thursday: Zed

I promised some poetry this week, and I am happy to deliver!

Now, this piece is not new or even recent; I wrote it seven years ago. But it is relevant to where I am these days, as it is about New Zealand (which will be obvious to anyone who reads the first two lines, or who knows me at all). I count my time in that country as some of the best experiences of my life (and a few of the worst, maybe, but I chalk it all up to the good, because I learned and I GREW). I have been back in my home country for oh, almost twelve years now? And the ache for New Zealand is as strong as it ever was. I miss it like you’d miss a person – a lover who has left you, or a family member who has passed away. Sometimes the longing for my “second home” is so strong I feel it as an actual physical pain.

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East Cape, New Zealand – my favorite place on the planet.

I knew for practically a decade that I wanted to write Aroha. But I needed time, lots and lots of time, to formulate my thoughts and come to terms with who and what it would be about. It had to marinate, and I let my thoughts sit in their own juices for a very long time. During that period of reflection, I occasionally wrote other things, such as this poem. I don’t think it’ll win any awards any time soon, but it reflects my thoughts and feelings on an era of my life gone by, and definitely paved the way for the two books I would one day write.

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Hi!

Hello friends, fans, and party people! I’m Lillah, and I’m glad you’re here. I’m a writer, blogger and author. All of those things mean pretty much the same thing, but because I write in various different styles, I make the distinction. A little background:

I have been writing my entire life, and that’s not really an exaggeration. As an eight year old, I wrote rhyming poems and fairy tales that I scrawled out in messy pencil on notebook paper. As an adolescent, I had a ‘zine, which I dutifully typed out on my Brother typewriter on neon paper, with badly photocopied pictures and contributions from my friends. I called it “The Monthly Friend” – can you believe I thought that was incredibly clever? As a teenager, I wrote angsty poems by the dozen and clipped them carefully into notebooks and diaries, interspersed with quotes written in gold pen, art and photos of people I found pretty. In my twenties, I wrote a lot of articles and essays, some of which got acclaim, and many of which were published in various places (MSNBC, Flagpole, etc). I had a weekly column at a feminist magazine for a number of years. During this time, I also wrote professionally for an insurance company and an iPhone app company, respectively. I gotta tell you, not ALL writing jobs are fun and fulfilling. Soul crushing stuff, for real. I’ve had a number of blogs over the years: some political, some silly – one was even all about food (I really like food).

I love to write. I’ll write anything. Short stories, fiction, poems, prose, non-fiction, blog posts, ad copy – you name it, I write it. Anything from song lyrics to letters to people I love, to think pieces. You got it, dude.

I guess I just have a lot to say. I always have.

While I’ve technically written four books now, I’ve only published one. Aroha was a work of love that took a year to write but ten years to conceive of. I self-published for a variety of reasons, and I plan to talk about that journey and those reasons in a later blog post. Aroha was a big step for me, not only as a writer, but personally. I thank those of you who have read it and given me feedback, because that feedback has been as much a part of my journey as writing the book.

I am currently working on its sequel, which is due out later this year, as well as a book of short stories. I’m writing poetry and essays in between, as always, because I wear many hats (I mean this quite literally, as well as figuratively). I don’t know when to stop, and my attention span can be short. My next blog post is an open letter to a musician that I admire, and it’s about music and how inspiration can come from that and many other places. You’ll see a lot of that in this blog and in my work.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope I can entertain you and that you enjoy my writing.

Kia Ora,

Lillah Lawson