An Obvious Compound Word

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Today one of my students gave me a poem built in part on questioning something I apparently said about heartbreak.

When I first got home from my mission I was suffering from what I would eventually come to call religious despair. On my mission I was suicidally depressed, though I lacked the initiative and the energy to do anything about my grief. I could not eat or sleep. I wept uncontrollably for nine weeks, so bereft that I could not stop my tears even in public.

And then I finished my mission, went home, and went back to work on my undergraduate degree. I was young and pretty and from a middle-class family. I liked wearing bright blue mascara and clean clothes. I still attended church. My suffering did not involve addiction or physical violence.

And so no one believed me when I talked about my unhappiness. God forbid I try to write a poem about the despair I had experienced! I remember a middle-aged gay male bartender responding with undisguised loathing to a poem I submitted in class attempting to describe the young, chaste, female trauma I'd endured. How dare I, he proclaimed! How dare I believe I knew anything of heartbreak!

And now that I am middle-aged, a young man is saying basically the same thing, because.... I can pay my own mortgage? Because there's still no addiction and physical violence in my life?

OK, I don't know a thing about heartbreak. I know nothing of it. I relinquish any claim to so dignified a word. What I know--all I know--is grief's assault on the rest of the body. If you want to talk about suffering rooted in and expressed through phlegm and bile and blood and bowels, then hey, I have something to say about that.

5 Comments

I have never let anyone silence me. Don't you let anyone silence you. Go back to your long postings. Say what you think. Just because you are female and middle class doesn't mean you don't have feelings, and strong ones at that! And furthermore that you can express those feelings in poetry.
And be sure to tell people who want to give you a hard time that they are full of shit. They are probably just jealous because they can't write poetry like yours.
You can tell them that from me.

I always love it when other people presume to know my heart and the depth of my hurt or heartbreak or whatever adjective you want to use to describe the emotions we each feel individually.

What this young man and the gay bartender lack is empathy. I can never KNOW how someone feels, but I can certainly UNDERSTAND and appreciate those feelings because I've had feelings, too. And I certainly wouldn't want someone to judge something I personally felt and experienced. Perhaps you should ask your student if he knows what empathy is and if he might not be a bit less judgmental and a bit more generous in allowing that FOR YOU, your feelings are genuine and valid.

I agree with Hattie: don't let this kid silence you.

I think even if you did tell those two guys they are full of shit, they won't care. People like them tend to be unable to view anyone else with empathy or sympathy because it's all about them and their feelings, and nobody else matters. It's sad, really. Your feelings do matter. Your heartbreak is just as valid as theirs.

Hi Everyone--thanks for the support, but you don't need to worry about my letting anyone silence me. I wrote the post in pique and defiance, not submission and acquiesence. It's a technique I've found fairly successful: if someone declares a particular term or rhetorical strategy off-limits, I can often just substitute another, preferrably one that's stronger/ more aggressive. If somone tells me I can't talk about righteousness (because only people who go to church are righteous), I say, "Fine, then I'll talk about ethics." If someone says I have no right to talk heartbreak, I'm willing to talk instead, as I say, about what grief does to the rest of the body. Heartbreak is a very polite euphemism compared to a frank discussion of the physical symptoms of severe depression. I don't lose much by ceding those terms.

Of course, there are other terms and rhetorical strategies I am not willing to give up, and if someone tells me I can't use them, I just say, "Fuck you."

What's most interesting to me is that at times, no matter what vocabulary I use, what I say just doesn't register with some audiences. I always find it remarkable. Not quite sure what to do it about--not quite sure I care even to do much. But it's interesting.

And by the way, my posts have gotten shorter not because I feel censored or censured, but because I'm very, very busy.

Exactly, it won't register as they can't see beyond themselves or their own experiences. Sad.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on September 12, 2006 11:59 PM.

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