Some Thoughts on Hesitancy

As I write these words I am reminded that the language I place on the page is hard won. Though my writing is not subject to the same tenor of misogynist-laced criticism and lack of publishing opportunities women writers faced a mere few decades ago, writing as a woman is still subject to criticism lest we reveal we are too full of ourselves, too focused on our bodies, too sentimental and emotional and sensitive as we write what we believe to be true. When I sit down to write I stumble through the rubble that remains beneath me.

This summer I moved back to the beginnings of my process of becoming a writer out of a desire (perhaps “need” is a more appropriate word), to continue to create context out of the language-based structures I work within as an artist. I’ve moved back to May Sarton, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf, Susan Griffin, Adrienne Rich and others who shifted paradigms, who provide the sustenance needed to speak what I know to be true.

Three weeks ago I began to re-read Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters and once again came across the reprint of James Dickey’s NYT review of All My Pretty Ones: “It would be hard to find a writer who dwells more insistently on the pathetic and disgusting aspects of bodily experience, as though this makes the writing more real….” followed by Sexton’s response in a letter to poet Gene Baro: “What do you do with a review like this?…it can be a lonely road if you’re honest.”

What do we do with this?

We dare invention. We muster courage to write truths about flesh and scars, strengths and inadequacies and vulnerabilities. We breathe through criticism. The women writers I hold close, who inspire me on a daily basis, friends and colleagues and women I will never personally meet but whose words I read, have chosen to breathe despite the critics who lean in close and tell us to quiet down, to quell passion, to not mourn too loudly in grief.

To be honest…

Language structures the body that moves through the world. To deny is to diminish, provide a form that is less than who we are.

This summer I breathe through the reading of—and the listening to—other women—inhaling the fragments of hesitancy, the narratives, the lyrics, the expository and declarative, the questions asked that remain unanswered. What binds beyond the cacophony of rubble beneath us is millions of hearts, breath-wings, beating and breathing into the world.

Maura MacNeil

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