by Robin Byrd
I was having a meal with a playwright friend who I invited to read my newest 10-minute play. After reading the piece, she asked me if I ever thought of writing something a little less specialized (I am paraphrasing because I only remember the jest of the conversation which usually happens to me when things hit my core like a grenade launcher. How well do you remember in those times? Memory can be selective…but I digress.). She went on to say that because it was about women’s issues, it probably won’t ever be done. I was slightly taken aback as the words seeped in. But then, I know my friend, so I looked closely at her body language and she was off into thought; it was as though, she was wondering aloud about her own work – that when finished it might also be considered “specialized” and un-producible.
“It is not specialized,” I say, “it is universal because it has happened to others. The work might not get done because I am a woman no matter what I write so I might as well write about women’s issues because maybe…just maybe, someone will be brave enough to want to tackle it. And, the stories need to be told regardless.”
“I relate to part of it but not all of it even though it may be true.”
“You don’t have to relate to all of it, no one hardly relates to all of a story – a piece is fine…”
Then I thought to myself, you have been having this conversation all week with yourself. Write what you need to write, find a way to get it out there… Shoved a fry in my mouth, food was not particularly good but I really love being around this friend, she makes me think and try harder. She’s pretty profound… And, I had been thinking — more than week actually, about the kinds of things that I write, and how each story steps up to the plate when they are ready to start swinging the bat and not one second before. And how what I write absolutely affects when and where I enter… I write down my story ideas, list them in close proximity so I can get back to them easily, go back to add notes from time to time and I try to listen really hard to what characters start talking to me because I am not one to write before I hear first words… Sometimes it’s all smoke and no flames but when the flames start, I write. It’s the decade benders that seem to be coming up to bat now. I had concluded that these stories have been fixin’ to talk for too long for me to get in the way with stipulations on what they can talk about…besides birthin’ babies is hard work… I also concluded that I was not going to have that conversation with myself again. I write what I write and am loving the new octaves…
I was reading that sometimes when searching for female ancestors, one should try Insane Asylums because there was a time when wives and daughters were “put away” for not being obedient enough. Emily Mann wrote a play titled “Mrs. Packard” about just this sort of thing, Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard was put away by her husband the Reverend Theophilus Packard in 1860. (https://mccarter.org/Education/mrs-packard/html/index.html)
Women have been sterilized (see compulsory sterilization, forced sterilization, Eugenics Movement) if deemed “weak” or “undesirable” or “feeble-minded” along with men deemed the same. Carrie Buck was sterilized at 17 after giving birth to an illegitimate child – a child sired by a family member of her foster parents who raped her. Carrie was in foster care because her mother had been committed to an asylum probably for having an illegitimate child. (http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Buck_Carrie_Elizabeth_1906-1983).
We have to tell our stories. They all count.
“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete; they make one story become the only story…The consequence of a single story is this – it robes people of dignity…” Chimamanda Adichie
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie talks about “The danger of a single story” at TED Talks https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story .
Read about other women storytellers at Amazing Women Rock, http://amazingwomenrock.com/7-inspirational-storytellers-who-have-captivated-audiences-worldwide