Silence, Solnit

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Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art

My camera phone catches all the details but flattens them.

I’m reading and reading but when I sit down inside to write this I can think of nothing to type. I’m in the middle of Rebecca Solnit’s essay “A Short History of Silence” from the book The Mother of All Questions. Her tight paragraphs, devastating observations, and judicious quotes build a foundation of feminist rage at all the different ways silence is maintained.

Solnit writes about the reception of Suki Kim’s book of investigative journalism, which her publishers insisted on marketing as a memoir, as a silencing of her through relegating her to a women’s realm where she could be an expert not on North Korea, but only on herself. Kim’s own essay is even more poignant, ending with the lament that “As a woman of color entrenched in a profession still dominated by white men, I have been forced to use my writing not to explore topics of my own choosing, or to investigate the world’s complexities, but as a means to legitimize myself.”

Perhaps there are many forms of art that serve their creators as a way to say things that couldn’t otherwise be heard – poetry, painting, novels, film. All provide a way for humans who may be limited by their culture’s sad and rigid form to transcend their proscribed gender, sexuality, religion, race or consciousness.

Last night I watched an episode from Tony Bourdain’s recent series where he goes to London in the days after the Brexit vote. He dines at St John, where my brilliant mother took me for her last wonderful meal in 1998, right before I went to my JYA and she went to the hospital for the last time.

Bourdain was born in New Jersey just a year after my mother and I thought about how much she would have loved watching him and reading him and arguing about him, if his star had risen before she died. Then I had the treacherous thought that she could’ve been Tony Bourdain if it wasn’t for the limitations of her gender in America, and marrying at 19, having kids at 22, and being a mother instead of going to the CIA and being a chef and writer. Of course many women have taken the opportunity for a second act writing and new career, after the kids have fledged. My mother only lived long enough for one and a half acts. No one who knew her would think she wasted a moment of her time.

As I enter my forties, I can see more clearly how training, chance and culture have shaped my individual choices and opportunities. Solnit’s conclusion is that we must use “any privilege we may have been handed to undo privilege or expand its scope”

My privilege this morning is writing here, and I endeavor to tell more and be less silent.

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Author: Emily

Writer/ Librarian

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