When One Billion Rise

October 13, 1976

October 13, 1976

I have been “offline,” as they say, for a very long while. I acted in and was the producer for A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer—a VDay staged reading in Port Townsend. I read the piece “Conversations With my Son,” by the writer Susan Miller.

My involvement with words over this past year has been taking them off the page and putting them onto the stage—sending them out into the world as it were. I’ve produced, directed, and acted.

Except for an occasional blog, I have mostly not put my words onto the page—or to be more precise, I have not put words that I then worked with onto the page. I wrote pretty consistently in my journal.

It’s scary to start writing again—writing that others will see. Writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

VDay, as you might or might not know, is a movement, started by Eve Ensler, to raise awareness about the prevalence and impact of violence against women and children. In 2009 I acted in The Vagina Monolgues, perhaps Eve’s best known work that tackles the subject, and produced and directed it in 2010.

A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer opens a different path. An anthology edited by Eve, it includes men’s writing—men writing about their experience about violence associated with being a man. Three men participated in this production, reading the works of Howard Zinn, Mark Matousek, and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. Bless the actors and the writers they read for reminding us that the problem isn’t men, and that violence against women isn’t a woman’s issue. It’s the violence perpetrated in the name of domestic “harmony” (which includes violence against men of color) that is the problem and the damage it does to our souls—all of us.

“Conversations with My Son,” was an unusual piece for me to read. It’s about Susan Miller’s struggle with balancing outrage about violence against women with raising a son to be a man who isn’t threatened by women, and also isn’t ashamed to be a man.

In 1978, I was involved in a physically abusive relationship. I got pregnant. There was a legacy of abuse in my family, and I feared that I would pass it on. Women, I had been taught, were sacrificial offerings on the altar of family harmony. The women in my family wove that into their DNA, and they were deeply enraged about it. With that so deeply ingrained in me, I feared that I would not, could not, both be a writer, the person I was, and the mother I wanted to be. And that would be how I would pass down the abuse—I would embrace a legacy of rage in order to be a mother.

So, I terminated the pregnancy.

I have no regrets about my decision. I believe that the spirit that was conceived in abuse found another way to enter this life. I have always thought that spirit would have been a boy.

“Conversations With my Son,” gave me an experience of being a writer and a mother to a son. I have called writing my divining tool—I use it to discover the well that lives deep in my soul. This piece reminded me that being a writer means digging under the surface to discover the emotional truth—making sense out of a path that has few guideposts, hoping that decisions we make are compassionate for ourselves as well as others.

February 14th is celebrated as One Billion Rising—rising globally against the legacy of women and children being the spoils of war, commodities in sex slave trafficking, and sacrificial offerings to family harmony. Rising against the violence perpetrated in this country against men of color. The celebration includes the voices of men who understand that having power over does not define them as men. And it includes women turning their rage into outrage at the institution of violence rather than men in general. It also means we listened to each other.

The photograph above was taken on my birthday in Venice in 1976. I was 27. I had traveled alone to Europe, which for me, at the time, was somewhat radical. Women weren’t supposed to do things like that. It was on that trip that I learned I was a writer.

It’s been a long journey since then. Lots of twists and turns and backsliding into the old beliefs.

There was something about “Conversations With my Son” that completed a healing for me. Whatever remnants of belief that women couldn’t or that men were fell away like the marble Michelangelo chipped away to reveal the statue he saw.

Perhaps being offline had some wisdom to it. Perhaps I was seeking the slab of marble that contained the sculpture.

It’s not just women who are rising. It is men and women who are rising. Raising their voices with the power of their creative souls that have chosen compassion and love over fear and violence.

When one billion rise, a new day is breaking.

Thank you to director Heather Dudley-Nollette for assigning me this piece, to the cast and crew who were universally kind and talented, and to Dove House Advocacy Services who was the executive producer. Beulah Kingsolver and Tina Burlingame rock.