For someone who calls herself a writer, I have written very little this past year. I ought to know all the right words to explain how distressing this is, but I don’t. “Writer’s block” doesn’t quite capture the dizzying tension of it all, or the way that my frustrations over a lack of motivation, and an inability to do anything more than piece together a wannabe poetic description of something I saw out a car window, have filled me with the sense that I have somehow done this to myself. That I’ve been choking on the words before they could even make their way out of my mouth. More recently, I recognized a new depth to my conundrum: my need to write was being engulfed by a fear of being read. I worry over the possible interpretations or misinterpretations of every single word, what my writing will reveal about me and how it might be used against me, whether it will all come back to hurt me (never mind the quality of the writing itself). This fear of being read not only stops me from submitting my work, but also stops me from writing in the first place. Even this I hesitate to write, as I’m concerned that I’ll seem like a navel-gazer, or that my thoughts are too trivial, or perhaps even too on-trend. The words slog along with extreme reluctance, and I can’t tell if the stiltedness that I feel is real, imagined, or if all that I’m sensing is my own self-enforced barricade, as usual protecting me from being too vulnerable. And yet, somehow I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling this way.
“Your silence will not protect you.”
Reflecting on the three weeks between the discovery of a breast tumour and the surgical removal of the malign tumour, in her speech “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Audre Lorde asks, “of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence” (41). Death will come sooner or later, says Lorde, “without regard for whether I have ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words” (41). Our fears of pain and death, which we are trained to view as the price that must inevitably be paid for speaking out, for being vulnerable and visible in the world, will come to pass no matter what we do. “[The] transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger,” yet by speaking out, by writing and being read, Lorde suggests we can connect our words, our truths, with those of others “[because] in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth” (42, 43). Through speaking, writing, sharing, teaching, and creating, we can build bridges between our lives, crossing the threshold of difference into mutually beneficial action. With vulnerability, in other words, comes the possibility of community and organized collective action, whether political, creative, or, as for Audre Lorde, both.
Writers and artists from across the globe refuse to bow to their fears when they submit their work to us, yet they often explore those same fears that they seem to have overcome. The pieces in this issue of Sewer Lid weave in and out of vulnerability, in particular, tracing various longings, secrets, and insatiabilities. The main character in Jonah Brunet’s “Venus’s Furs” wonders, if she were to indulge and divulge all her dark desires, whether she wouldn’t waste away entirely from the emptiness left behind. Josh Stenberg’s narrator must also guard a secret, even from himself, or risk compromising the “Valley.” Little Rachel in Rachel Laverdiere’s “Pinholes of Light” appears to struggle with the protective confines of the family farm, very literally being pressed to the ground by the weight and silence of the granary under which she crawls. In contrast, with “Afterparty Going,” Steven Suntres offers up a glimpse of the Toronto rave scene, with characters wanting to lose themselves in noise, while also appreciating the more subtle sounds in moments of seeming silence. The poetry of A.J. Huffman similarly plays on desires of connection within anonymous human grunge and a misleading soundscape, and Suzanna Derewicz’s “Jokeville” traces the marks of attempted vulnerability, ultimately leaving the more pertinent question—spoken but unanswered—to ferment in chlorine and salt. The urban (in)capacity for connection continues in Ned Baeck’s “Report from the Ether,” where longings for intimacy ultimately acquiesce to solitude. Fabrice Poussin’s photography evokes human touch and preservation but also an urgent uncertainty, while in her poems Caira Clark points to unsolvability and the insufficiency of human attempts to organize and define. With eerie whimsy, Sean Steele’s poems suggest a sense of decay, of greatness lost or forgotten or never quite discovered, though the shape that it might have took remains as a monumental gap, and in David Morgan O’Connor’s “Kiss Night Club Fire,” the band plays on through the smoke and flame.
I mentioned at the start of this editorial that my fears—of being read, of speaking out, of being vulnerable—and the resulting silence is in no way individual to me, implying instead that they are common to everyone. Such fears are, in a sense, manufactured, socially and structurally. Our fears serve a purpose; they keep us subdued and compliant, they check insubordination before it can arise. Structurally-manufactured silence squashes alternative perspectives, which are then only valuable insofar as the powers-that-be can monopolize and capitalize on them. Those of you familiar with the Canadian literary world might reflect on the recent discussions surrounding cultural appropriation. While this is not quite the place to get into a full analysis of the cultural mechanisms by which silence is maintained, I’d like to offer up the question, not of just whose story does or does not get told, but instead: how can we work to eradicate the barriers that prevent people from telling their stories? What needs to be accomplished at the level of government, education, and publishing? What can each of us contribute? At Sewer Lid we organize creatively, one of many, many online literary magazines to do so—so many, in fact, that one might worry (as I do) that the work presented here will become lost in the endless scroll of the internet. But flipped on its head, this is a multitude of voices that is speaking out, reaching out. By digging into our vulnerabilities—not overcoming them but rather existing right in their depths—we can get to the heart of our truths and from there form new connections of the kind that are necessary for creative—and political—work to continue.
Lorde, Audre. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Sister Outside: Essays and Speeches. New York: Crossing Press, 2007: 40-44.
ERIN DELLA MATTIA is a writer, researcher, and the Managing Editor of Sewer Lid. This fall she begins her doctoral studies with the Department of English at the University of Toronto.