Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Women’s Voices

the red cardinal revisited

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was his first-born of four daughters. I watched my tongue constantly. Smiled when expected. Stifled tears. Did as I was told. Set an example. And took the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal sang his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, this doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it’s more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

I still owe Candice thanks for this topic! Though I’ve written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging. Especially today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018, lightly edited and reposted 7 September 2020
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

No Coward Soul Is Mine | Emily Brontë

This poem from Emily Brontë resonates more each time I read it. Here we have a woman of great intellect who daily faced the male-dominance of her generation. Not that things have changed that much. In fact, because dominance can be rather polite these days, it can also be more difficult to maintain a clear female voice.

Dominance doesn’t mean domination. Rather, it’s an invitation to step up to and into full humanity, in full voice, with full right to my own open and informed outlook on things theological.

Saying this is easier than living it. In addition, I don’t know all the ins and outs of Emily’s life. I do, however, know this poem grows more powerful for me every time I read it.

One note on Emily’s use, in the third stanza, of a male pronoun. I suggest this was intentional, given the overall theme of the poem, and her life as the daughter of a clergyman.

No Coward Soul Is Mine

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me has rest
As I Undying Life, have power in thee

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though Earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And thou were left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou are Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed

From selected poems of Emily Brontë, pp. 40-41
Published in Everyman’s Library by Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
© 1996 by David Campbell Publishers Ltd., sixth printing

Praying for each of you a spirit-animated Sabbath rest, and vision as immense as Emily’s “Almighty, ever present Deity.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 January 2020
Image found at wikipedia.org; from a portrait of all three sisters, painted by their brother Bramwell

Old survival habits die hard

Dear Friends,

Over two years ago I began working on issues I still had with my father who died in 2010. These weren’t just childhood issues, but things that affected me as an adult.

During the last few months I’ve been distressed about something I thought I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. Why not? That was the issue.

My reluctance began, but didn’t end with my father’s voice reigning me in. Even though he’s not around, I still hear a voice trying to hold me back. Many voices have tried to reign me in all my life. Sometimes they succeeded.

Yet the sad truth is this: They could not have succeeded had I not already internalized by father’s voice as my voice.

So why is this so difficult for me today as the woman I am right now?

Simply put, I have cared too much about what other people think of me, beginning but not ending with D. This is almost unbelievable to me, even though I know it’s true. I’ve lived my life (as a preacher’s daughter, seminarian, professor and dean) under a microscope of male and female scrutiny, not all of it pleasant. Plenty of people have wished me gone. Not necessarily dead; just gone. Far away.

So here I am today with a wish for myself. I can’t shake it off, and I can’t accomplish it in secret.

I miss seeing and worshipping with friends from my former church. The church is less than a mile from our house. I want to worship with them from time to time.

I also have wonderful friends at the church I attend with D. So what to do?

I’ll attend both churches, though not on the same Sunday. From time to time you’ll see me here or you’ll see me there. Or, if you live far away, especially across the great pond or down under, you probably won’t see me anywhere–for which I’m very sad indeed.

With thanks to all the strong women, men and children who’ve encouraged me to be the grownup I am.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 October 2019
Photo of Sisters #1 and 2 in Easter dresses, with Parents, taken in Seattle, WA, 1946/7

For tongue-tied women of a certain age

Oh, Honey!
How polite we’ve been
All these years
Voices tripping lightly
Over rotten eggshells
And around huge cow pies
Plopped in our paths
Unceremoniously
By fawning faces
And genteel souls
Killing us softly with
Promises and thinly veiled
Threats cold and dagger-sharp

These words came springing to mind yesterday afternoon. Here we are in the 21st century, deep into the age of Trump, and I’ve been taught to be polite. To defer to those in authority over me, and keep my mouth shut.

Not that I’ve always been a good white girl. Still, on the scale of niceness I’ve probably been about 9 out of 10 on the side of the angels. Especially when dealing with men intent on keeping me in my place (wherever that is), or promising me heaven on earth.

Strangely, my father comes to mind, right up there with my worst boss ever and other men who tried over the years to shame or sweet-talk me into compliance with their wishes.

Today I’m wondering what I have yet to say to my father. Not to scorn or shame him, but to turn the tables and own the power of my voice. Along with the power of truth and good will. Not just for his sake, but for mine.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 February 2019

Memo to White Women in the USA

While the iron is still hot, I have a few things to say.

Yesterday I watched most of Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Like Dr. Anita Hill years ago, Dr. Christine Ford stepped up to the microphone and told her truth. I couldn’t help thinking about my experience giving my ‘testimony’ before my father and my mother. Then, as now, it didn’t seem to end well.

Nonetheless, as white women, we have work to do with each other and with men and other women of good will. However, we must immediately consider NOT doing at least one or more of the following:

  • covering for white men who abuse us to our faces and behind our backs
  • believing lies about ourselves as incapable, weak, over-emotional or intruders
  • endorsing candidates for political office because it will keep the family ‘peace’
  • playing our childish popularity playground games
  • settling for lives put on hold until it’s too late
  • looking the other way or shading the truth to protect ourselves
  • going along to get along in politically or emotionally charged situations

Instead, we might try one of these instead:

  • Pick up the phone and dial 911 for ourselves, not just for others
  • Begin describing what life is and is not like for us as white women in the USA
  • Consider who really benefits from our white male loyalty
  • Speak for ourselves, especially when we hope someone else will say it first
  • Refuse to go along to get along in politically or emotionally charged situations

I wonder why, in this age of so-called ‘liberation’, many white women in the USA are still in bondage to the need for White Male Approval? What do we fear? Perhaps we’re so hooked on the power and prestige we get standing by our man that we can’t even imagine living without them.

The demographics of our country have changed dramatically, yet we’re still governed at the highest levels by a huge majority of white men, with occasional token ‘others’ that include white women.

I wonder what might happen if more of us step up to the microphone and begin telling the truth about our white female lives? Or, even more miraculous, when more white men in positions of power begin listening to white women, black women, tan women, mixed-race women, Jewish women, Muslim women, refugee women, little girls and big girls, teenage women and elderly women. To name just a few possibilities.

I don’t think most men know what they’re missing. More’s the pity, since women have things that need to be both said AND heard. Not with a dismissive nod or a patronizing pat on the back, but with resolve to become partners in change for the good of this country and those who inherit the messes we’ve made.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 September 2018

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

I’ve been singing this in my head all week! My favorite line: “She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot.” All put together in a rollicking score by our daughter, Sherry Fraser of Two Ton Boa. I’ve included the lyrics below my comments.

Sherry published this in May 2000 (Kill Rock Stars). It was later re-recorded by her old boyfriend, John Wozniak of Marcy Playground, as the trailer to the movie “Cruel Intentions.”

I prefer Sherry’s original recording. Not just because she’s my daughter (!), but because this is a woman’s song. It captures the anger and fury of a woman who’s being used and abused, plus her determination to “take a mighty swipe at the high hogs….” All in a lively, upbeat rag that throws the words right down there in front of you—dished up hot on your plate whether you like them or not.

I’ll never have Sherry’s voice. But I have her spirit and her determination. Thank you, Sherry, for showing me how it’s done.

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

She’s an eight ball
She’s rolling faster than a whitewall
She’s got an avalanche packed in a snowball
She’s losing all her leeches like a stonewall…she’s loaded up

She’s the underdog
Gonna take a mighty swipe at the high hogs
While they’re sipping on their tricks in a thick fog
Making eyes at the girls like bullfrogs…I’m telling you sir

She’s coming up from, coming up from,
Comin’ up, coming up from behind, yeah!
She’s coming up from, coming up from, coming up
Coming up from behind

You’d like her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your wall street pockets are jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your rich kid games

It’s a longshot
She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot
But she’s taking steady aim at the big shots
It’s hard to miss the ruling bullies on the blacktop…

You better pocket your turf
She’s coming up from behind

You had her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your gold lined pockets were jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your wretched games

She caught your sick lie
It was creeping in the shadow of your white smile
Lurking underneath the cover of your bedroom eyes
Were you greasing up plans for your small fry?

You want her talking up to you
Where you float like a royal balloon-o
Your ego swollen to the size of the moon…well
I think you found somebody to cut you down to size!

Wishing you a happy weekend!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2018

the red cardinal

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was the first-born of four daughters. I had to watch my tongue constantly. Smile when expected. Stifle tears. Do as I was told. Set an example. And take the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started when I was in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist with whom I’m still connected.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate, or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think that getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal was singing his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, I don’t believe this makes my life easier. In fact, I’d suggest it makes it more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

Many thanks to Candice for this topic! Though I’ve already written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

HERarchy


When I was growing up, it seemed the only way to succeed in my white conservative Christian circles was by toeing the line. Never acting out or acting up. It was the only safe way to get ahead in life or at least keep up with the boys.

As it turned out, it wasn’t safe. I didn’t get ahead. And I never could keep up with the boys.

Being the ‘good girl’ type (at least on the outside), I didn’t experience vicious playground hazing. Probably because I wasn’t threatening to girls who seemed to know all about boys and makeup, movies and sex.

Though I desperately wanted to be included, I didn’t want undue attention. So I modulated my voice, made sure I didn’t offend anyone, smiled a lot, and kept my mouth shut. I was no big deal. No threat to anyone.

That’s why I’m blown away when I listen to my daughter – so like and so unlike I am. She wasn’t a rebel growing up. She was simply herself. Bold and introverted. Intuitive and creative. Her music began early and still takes my breath away. How did this voice happen?

Below are most of the lyrics from one of her recorded songs, followed by a YouTube recording. It’s Sherry’s take on playground politics among girls young and old. Another way of describing the Divide and Conquer Club.

HERarchy

Misfit, misfit, got no sense
Sitting like a chicken on the chain link fence
Never picks a side, all she does is cry
How many teardrops can she hide
you MISFIT MISFIT throw the dog a biscuit!
How many kicks until she licks it?
1, 2, 3, 4, FIVE

This situation’s hopeless
No matter what I do
These small-town girls will hate me
Since I stepped outside their rules

I see their
Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing sweet words like pistols
Firing on my back like heat-seeking missiles

pleading crying cannot satisfy
the cruel appetites of GIRLS! GIRLS!

What do they see?
Why are these crosshairs on me?
What do they hear?
The voice of envy sneer…?
I’m a spotlight thief!
I won’t take tea
I won’t take lessons in how to be
Seen
Not heard
I’m a misfit little bird
Dodging bigger beaks
On a playground for

GIRLS! GIRLS!

Look who’s all alone –
It’s the one-woman show!
Who’s got a stone?
Don’t you know –
Our status grows
When we tear into a threat
With a fine tooth comb!
She’s all alone –
Somebody please throw the dog bone!

Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing mind fucks like pistols
Breathing down my neck like heat seeking missiles

Running hiding
can’t get by
the vicious social politics of
GIRLS! GIRLS! ….

©Sherry Fraser (Two Ton Boa), recorded on Parasiticide, published 2009

Here’s the entire recording. Sherry wrote the lyrics and music, and sings the lead.

Here’s to more women willing to shine a light on what’s happening in our social and political playgrounds today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2018
Photo of playground girls found at dreamstime.com

What I can’t take with me

My electric toothbrush died this morning. After more than 20 years. Burnt out. Busted. Going nowhere.

Which got me thinking about something else I can’t take with me. Not because it’s tangible, but because it’s intangible. Irreplaceable. Even valuable.

I struggle with giving it up because it’s valuable. Which is another way of saying two things.

  1. It isn’t valuable unless I give it away. Hoarding it does nothing for me.
  2. If I hesitate, the opportunity will be lost. Whether it helps anyone or not isn’t the point. I don’t want to live in fear mode. Especially about things that relate to me personally.

So what is it? It’s the opportunity to speak now, in this present moment, on behalf of all women everywhere who, with me, carry scars piled on scars. I don’t omit men and their scars. This time, though, I’m focusing on women.

Women are yet again (in my lifetime) pushing beyond the ‘normal’ cycle of news reporting. Insisting on being heard not once or twice, but over and over. Relentlessly.

Sadly, this has set in motion growing push back, with calls for ‘time out’ to slice and dice various permutations of inappropriate behavior toward women. Why? Because the men being talked about may be unfairly lumped together with all men. Which suggests we have generations of men and women who don’t yet get it.

Sexism, like racism, is in the air. The air we breathe, consciously and unconsciously from cradle to grave. No amount of slicing and dicing will ever capture the reality of what sexism does to the embodied soul of one woman or one little girl. Or the reality that no one is safe from sexism’s fallout.

It will take all of us—women and men alike—to begin turning the tide. We desperately need safe spaces for women to breathe, stand up and speak their minds. Telling their stories, often for the first time. Without fear of being judged, questioned as though on trial, or turned into side shows.

I’m tired of hearing subtle and not-subtle calls for women to Shut Up and Sit Down. It’s time to move on and try Listening for a change. Asking how we got here, and what we already know in our hearts needs to change, and what each of us can do about it.

Last night, just before I went to bed, I wrote these words in my journal as a kind of prayer:

I crave the companionship of women and men who carry scars like mine. Perhaps by naming my scars yet again I’ll find them, or they will find me. And then what will we say to each other and to the world?

Thanks again for listening, and for considering what part you might play in your neighborhood, or wherever you have a voice.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 January 2018
Quote found at squarespace.com

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