My clay pit with its warming lit hearth has been idle for months now, aside from a brief ramble to announce the birth of Personal Wealth social enterprise. There has been no time to spare for writing in this space, but likewise no desire to do so. I’ve been waiting, knowing that the invitation would present itself in due course, that my thoughts would swarm like swallows seeking out the warmest current and return me to here.
This week I attended a 3-day residential course about leadership in respect to the future of social services in Scotland. It was a superbly organised event, taking place under the hills and beside the shores of Loch Lomond. Lovely people throughout, and an intellectual banquet upon which to feast.
One of the sessions on Day 2 involved – ostensibly – the cultivation of ‘personal authority.’ The workshop was hosted by Amanda Wilsher. Amanda is a theatre coach and the session involved presentation skills and techniques for engaging others through one’s public persona. Incidentally, she was an absolutely fantastic facilitator, her lessons intelligent and valuable, her insight wise and immediate. But let’s get this straight: personal authority is not the same thing as the appearance of personal authority.
The session was seriously taxing for me. It zeroed in on personal scars, it peeled off protective scabs and left me feeling as though my entire existence was no more than an exposed bloody surface of flayed skin. I got through the session, barely, and I hated every fucking minute of it. But I do acknowledge the good intentions behind it, and the value of what was being demonstrated. We can do things we hate and we can suffer badly and at the same time we can see the view of distant hills and sunlight and appreciate the remarkable gift of being alive, holding all of this together in one moment.
Personal authority cannot be taught in a 2-hour workshop. Personal authority cannot be taught, full stop. It can only be earned, through experience. It cannot be granted by a diploma, it cannot be conferred by a credit card or a spouse or a car, it cannot be faked or tricked with a straight spine and projected voice. Personal authority rises like a phoenix out of the ashes of humility and willingness to understand that one never knows, one only learns, ever.
Okay. So on the final day of the event, within the context of the leadership project challenge upon which we were asked to embark, we were invited to “write about where you’re at.” The invitation was the opportunity to take stock, to find a pause, to wind ourselves down and prepare to return to our ordinary lives of home and work. Here’s a small part of what I wrote, the only part I can share:
Where I’m at: overwhelmed and lost. Information and ideas and emotions and exhaustion and people and performing and paths and threads and trees and leaves and dirt and weeds and insects and flowers and birds and tiny wee live things scurrying away from me when I move. Intersecting crisscrossing dappled light and dark, dark mountains, light valleys, DMLV, ITF, AOH, PW all intersecting crisscrossing threads tangled up and woven into knots and patterns and nets and reeling back for the chaordic view. Need to regain and regroup and recover and remember and realise and reflect and write and follow the red thread. DMLV is my satnav, getting lost is my satnav. Leading through reflection? Through a mirror’s reflection, through the boundaries, through the opportunities, through the looking glass, through the labyrinth, through the breakdown, through the breakthrough, breaking through, breaking the mirror, breaking the glass, breaking the nets, breaking the knots
And I share it because it is singing the note which calls me back to my clay pit’s hearth. I knew that something would pull me back here eventually, and this is it. Because one last piece of the puzzle landed at my feet this morning. It travelled via Twitter:
This is the tax on being female in public. Every unquiet woman pays it.
@sarahditum Every quiet woman pays it too. And whether or not they understand why, every unquiet & quiet man, boy and girl pay it too.
When I started this blog (nearly four years ago now!) my friend – a published author, an activist and feminist – demonstrated her own immediate insight. “Are you afraid of being heard?” she asked me. Hell yes, I responded, and the tweet posted up there just now tells you why. Four years of blog posts here, capturing my response to lived experiences, tell you why. Bloody surfaces of flayed public self tell you why. There is a tax to pay for using my voice, for being myself, for trying to belong and participate as me and on my own terms. The tax is stand straighter. The tax is lose weight. The tax is stop complaining. The tax is we don’t want you. The tax is you’re crap. The tax is you need to get laid. The tax is kill yourself you stupid fucking bitch.
The tax of being a woman, observed by men in a man’s world.
Well, the thing about it is: I’m observing you back. And I’m writing about it here.
Because I can.
Because can is the language of hope and invitation.
Because this is on my terms, in my voice, and with my personal authority.