Thread 54 - Write it LOUD (or if in Scotland, Gie it Laldy) - Catherine Simpson
Thread 53 - Wild Brown Women - by Aman, Harleen, Mehwish, Sati & Simran
Thread 52 - A Net To Catch Time - Samantha Clark
By Catherine Simpson
I was brought up to be largely silent:
Speak when you are spoken to.
Stop being so giddy.
No laughing at the table.
Little pigs have big ears.
Children should be seen and not heard.
Questions were not encouraged, and secrets never shared.
To be silent in these circumstances is to be ashamed. You do not have the words to explain or explore anything so feelings and experiences fester. There is no space for honest and open communication.
I was called ‘shy’ and I believed it.
‘Has the Cat got your tongue?’
When I was in my thirties I went to tap dancing lessons. We took part in the annual show which included sequins, silver-topped canes, gold waistcoats and whooping. I was quite happy about the sequins, the canes and the waistcoats but incapable of whooping. No sound would come out of my mouth. As I ‘step, ball, changed’ I was literally voice-less.
I later confessed to my fellow dancers that I had mimed my whoop, and they have never let me forget it.
So, the fact that this tongue-tied, ‘shy’ ‘cat got your tongue’ whoop-less woman became a memoirist, is a surprise.
I started writing as a journalist, telling the stories of others for first-person pieces in Woman’s Own and other magazines about broken hearts, broken marriages, broken bones, broken homes, miracle babies, miracle cures and miracle weight-loss. It was fascinating to interview people and write their stories without giving away anything about myself.
When I wrote my first novel, Truestory, I was forty-four and it was inspired by raising my autistic daughter, Nina. I would not have dreamed of writing about this issue in a memoir because it would have been too exposing – for me and for Nina. Nina was fourteen then, so I turned the autistic character into a boy to create some distance.
This only worked to an extent. My other daughter, Lara, said: It may be a novel, but Nina is on every page of that book.
But writing a story as ‘fiction’ gives you deniability.
Of course it is not based on truth…of course that never actually happened…
It is surprising though, how many people do not grasp the meaning of ‘fiction’ and assume that if something is in a book, it is ‘real’.
Them: What does your husband think of the way you have written about him?
Me: That is not my husband that is a made-up character.
Them: Yes, but what does he think?
With memoir there is no such deniability.
The contract with the reader is that if you call it memoir then what you write is true (or at least it is your truth).
My first memoir, When I Had a Little Sister, was about the death by suicide of my sister, Tricia. I knew I was writing about other people besides myself – my father, my mother, my sisters. It was uncomfortable. I did not want to offend or upset anyone. I read somewhere that having a writer in the family is as bad as having a murderer in the family. No secret unrevealed, no stone unturned, no privacy remaining after all that dirty linen has been washed in public.
While writing the memoir I asked myself: Is it true, is it fair, is it important to the story. If it was all three, it went in.
However, with my second memoir One Body – about growing up and growing older in a woman’s body and my experience with breast cancer – the writing felt freer. This was my story, about me, I could say what I wanted, and that feeling of freedom was heady.
There were taboo subjects to include in One Body – sexual assault, abortion – and I asked my husband and daughters how they felt about me writing about these subjects. They did not say: ‘Hush!’ They said: ‘It’s your story, you tell it,’ which was generous.
So I did. I wrote it all. I wrote it as though no one would ever read it. I wrote it LOUD.
After years of not speaking up it was hugely empowering.
I recommend it.
Catherine Simpson is a memoir-writer, novelist, poet and short-story writer based in Edinburgh.
Her memoir One Body was published by Saraband in 2022. It follows an earlier memoir, When I Had a Little Sister, (4th Estate) and her debut novel, Truestory (Sandstone Press)
In 2013, she received a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award for Truestory. Her work has been published in anthologies and magazines, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She is a regular reviewer on BBC Radio Scotland’s Tuesday Review.
By Aman, Harleen, Mehwish, Sati and Simran
As a group of British South Asian women, we have come together as part of the educatinggeeta writing group. We have spun our writing webs around the theme of ‘Wild Brown Women’. Reflecting on the concept of ‘wild’, we’ve engaged with life experiences that have made us the women we are.
This is our collective thread.
Women Who Run With Wolves
In the seminal text “Women Who Run With Wolves”, Clarisa Pinkola Estes states “No matter by which culture a woman is influenced, she understands the words wild and woman, intuitively”. I remember reading these words, the sentence buzzing around my body. Flashes of images ran through my mind: dancing until daylight in Ibiza; the dum-dumming of the dhol aligning with my racing heart at my best friend’s wedding reception; and that time I did something for me, where time stood still.
In the middle of the pandemic, my newly separated and broken heart got into a car and drove to a place where there were no other souls to keep me company. I escaped my cage and fell headfirst into sweet freedom. I revelled in my audacity, turning away from the voices in my old cage, calling me back to the safety of the Known. You see, Brown women don’t just drive off alone to a random location without rhyme or reason. I stood on a cliffside, looking out on a lake, wind howling. I had not dressed appropriately and despite walking for hours, I was cold. My hair whipped around me, lashing around my face. I had never felt so alive, yet so very alone. I leaned into this solitude, my heart feeling giddy in its freedom from society’s expectations of a woman - my soul dancing in its newfound Wild.
Written by Aman
Wild. Brown. Woman
A word drowning with negative connotations. As though we are uncivilized, feral creatures unable to obey the demands of society.
Wild, to be associated with rebellion, breaking glass ceilings, untamed yet powerful.
The colour of my skin. A colonizer’s dream. The exemplification of my race; a race which gives permission to society to oppress me. A shade which tells people I am their inferior, that my words do not matter.
Brown, to be associated with vibrancy and culture, language and food. A little bit of spice in this otherwise bland world.
Second class citizen. Emotional and irrational creatures-God forbid we should be given the power to rule countries one day. Baby making machines.
Woman, to be associated with equality, success, multifaceted, boss babe. To show the world that my sex does not determine my worth.
For I am a woman. A Wild. Brown. Woman.
Written by Harleen
Wild and Sikh
I am becoming a Wild, Sikh, Brown Woman
I am finally ripping away the Poisonous messages of the Patriarchy
I am extracting the deeply, ingrained toxicity of colonisation
That had nurtured my sacred essence and forced me unconsciously to embody a Tame, Sikh, Brown Woman for far too long.
I accepted what I was told, never questioned, or raised my voice
I suppressed my true emotions and silenced my intuition
I stepped into the comfort of the shadows, hiding away my spiritual power
I had become a Tame, Sikh, Brown woman; compliant and complicit to all I saw that was unjust for far too long
I then encountered Motherhood
A spark of desire was ignited that everything needed to change
I began to understand my Sikh Spiritual and Ancestral roots
I connected with the stories of Sikh Warrior Women of my lineage
I started to walk on the pathway towards my Azadi*
I am healing and releasing intergenerational traumas
I am discharging the weight of unprocessed emotions and strengthening my intuition
I am stepping out of the shadows and declaring my spiritual power
I am wearing my Kara** and Kirpan*** to remind me of the immense Power I possess
As I am revealing my potential and capacity to be a Wild, Sikh, Brown Woman
Azadi- from Persian meaning Freedom/liberty
Kara- A Sikh article of faith, reminds me of the infinite nature of this world.
Kirpan- A Sikh Article of faith, a symbol to remind me to fight against injustice and oppression
Written by Sati
To be Wild
Maybe to be wild is to be free,
From the unforgiving expectations
Of an overcritical society,
When only the opinion of others matters,
Limiting your existence.
Maybe to be wild is to find your voice,
Against injustice and restriction,
Finding power in the very femininity,
Which chained your potential.
Maybe to be wild is to dream,
Beyond glass ceilings,
Of what is possible and achievable,
Without checking your reflection,
And beginning to unsee what others see,
Knowing you are more than:
Brown skin, diverse culture and ethnic clothing.
Maybe to be wild is having knowledge,
Gained through the wisdom of living and being,
Releasing traumas and burdens,
To heal and release,
Leaving and letting go.
Maybe being wild is an acceptance,
That survival takes all modes,
And happiness is a journey and not a destination.
Sometimes an elusive goal.
Maybe being wild is growth,
Through and beyond discomfort,
Heading lessons from life and people,
Discovering that there is always time to bloom
In the right environment.
Maybe being wild is finding peace,
In the laws of nature,
Away from imperfect rules of a world
Which should evolve faster for the modern brown woman,
Empowered in the truth that only you hold your power.
Written by Mehwish
A Wild Brown Woman.
They call me a wild brown woman for my hair is too long, too dark, too silky.
They call me a wild brown woman for my skin is the colour of the Assam tea they add milk to at afternoon tea.
They call me a wild brown woman for my clothes are vibrant, embellished and nothing like they’ve seen before.
They call me a wild brown woman for my eyes are deep and dark like the untamed woods that contrast the tranquil blues of theirs.
They call me a wild brown woman for their mouth cannot comprehend my name - it is a tongue alien to theirs.
You call me a wild brown woman for my daily menu is not dhaal and roti.
You call me a wild brown woman for my masala is a shade darker than yours.
You call me a wild brown woman for I converse with those whose ancestors once oppressed mine.
You call me a wild brown woman for feeding my child from my brown breast while sipping on tea at a tearoom.
You call me a wild brown woman for not being a submissive, silent wife.
You call me a wild brown woman for not walking paces behind my husband.
You call me a wild brown woman for powerfully keeping my name after marriage.
You call me a wild brown woman for speaking. For being honest. For having a voice, an opinion, a breath.
You call me a wild brown woman because my skin is like yours yet I am no mirror of you nor who you want me to be.
You call me a wild brown woman for being ferocious like a lioness protecting her cub.
But you’ll think again and when you call me a
For soon my daughter will grow
You will call her…
Fearless Brown Woman.
Written by Simran
We are all members of the educatinggeeta writing group. Although our writing is connected through a common thread, we’ve interpreted the theme through different experiences. To be wild is to change and grow, enmeshing two cultures to create a new voice. We are the generation who change and now own the narrative. We are confident and empowered to live as independent, Wild Brown Women.
By Samantha Clark
Like stars, mists and candle flames
Mirages, dewdrops and water bubbles
Like dreams, lightning and clouds
In that way will I view all phenomena
Prayer of the 12th Tai Situpa
I live between saltwater and fresh. My home lies beside a wide freshwater loch that rests in a shallow bowl of low green hills. The burn that flows out of it skirts the edge of the garden. A mile from here it meets the sea that encircles this island. Most days, I walk from loch to sea and home again. Wind on my left cheek, wind on my right.
I watch the water. I’m trying to draw it. But here’s the catch; when you draw water you make it into something that bears no resemblance to water. You strip it of its restless, liquid reality. A drawing takes time and holds it still.
But you can’t hold water still.
I’ll keep trying.
This morning I’m sat here at my desk writing. I’m feeling for the right words as if with my fingers, the hesitant stumble and rush of them over the keyboard, the words that come so ploddingly, hopelessly trying to hold onto time, to pin it to the page. I don’t even know why I’m doing it.
I do know why I’m doing it. To try to hold still those dewdrops and water-bubbles, those dreams, lightning and clouds. To see if art can hold a single instant still, slow it down enough to see it properly, watch it slowly thicken with meaning. To see if I can know fully one moment, even an instant.
A drawing is a net for catching time. A sentence is a path attention follows.
So, I go on setting down words on the page. I go on drawing my tiny lines and circles. Millions of them. I bring my attention back each time it wanders, frets, worries, goes racing after distraction. I watch the water as it goes on circling and cycling, always going, always coming, always here, always already elsewhere. I watch my thoughts go spinning on and wait for them to settle. I try to learn patience.
And from that, I hope, will come a certain steadiness. Calm.
My fingers twitch in the air above the keyboard as if reaching for something. Time is too quick for me. Catch catch catch, always in arrears.
Acknowledge the impossibility of the task.
And keep going.
Stay. Just listen. On the shed roof there’s a starling chirring and whistling and buzzing through his whole repertoire, and further off a curlew’s long, weeping call. Further still someone is hammering in a fencepost. Chipchipchipchirrup go the busy sparrows. The clouds are gleaming today as if lit from inside. The bright beauty of this big sky, this towering cumulonimbus, will never come again just in this shape. This light, this moment, will never repeat itself. And yet it does also repeat itself. The daily cycle, the seasonal round, the regular chores. Make the coffee. Feed the hens. Answer emails. Mark another batch of student essays. Make a to-do list. Tick tick tick. Stir the soup. Butter bread and eat it. Wash and stack the dishes. Draw more circles, more lines. Write more words. And under the slow tumble of sky there is always the quickening shimmer of the loch in wind and sun. The sound of the sea coming from beyond the fields, a big swell still washing in after yesterday’s gale. Water, always, a dancing thing, a lightness. A strangeness.
I go out to check the hens, and stand a few moments by the lochside, holding a just-laid egg still warm in my hands, turning it over and over against my palms. This moment, resting so tenderly in itself. How full it is. The light pouring its freshness over everything. Greylag geese drift and preen. Gulls fly up off the water with clapping wings and shake themselves dry like wet dogs, midair. Along the shingle at the water’s edge oystercatchers lift and settle, lift and settle, piping loudly all the while.
Hold the moment like the egg. Cup it gently, feel its fragile shell and the warmth lingering inside it. How can I observe the inside of this moment without dropping or breaking it? I catch at the scraps, glimpse the edge of something, a trick of the light, the brief flash of a trout turning in the shallows and gone, the glint of a gnat’s wing. Life’s flow washes over and through us and yet somehow leaves us beached, gasping and flapping on a bare shore: Ralph Waldo Emerson puzzled over this: I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects which lets them slip through our fingers even when we clutch the hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our condition.
Where is it, this moment? It melts under the heat of my attention. It’s gone in the very instant of its becoming. If life is made up of successive present moments, each one ungraspable, how will I know I have lived?
I’ll keep drawing. I’ll keep writing. I’ll accumulate my circles, my layers and lines. I’ll feel for the right words. Then one day I might understand.
Samantha Clark is a visual artist, writer and creative mentor based in Orkney. She was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2018, a Cove Park Emerging Writers Award in 2020 and the RSA William Littlejohn Award in 2021. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews. Her first book “The Clearing” was published by Little, Brown in March 2020. She now lives beside, draws and writes about water.
All photo credits Samantha Clark 2022
WILD WOMEN PRESS