Break some plates

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Friends, Budapest, Hungary, www.carolineallen.com

I had dinner with a friend last night and she asked if we could set up some time to get together and break some plates.

“I really need to smash something,” she said, over roast chicken and garlic potatoes.

We were both in a rage place with men who dominate conversations, what I call “dominating the storyline”. If you don’t hear women’s stories at dinner parties, or anywhere for that matter, if you just get the male perspective, you have a lopsided reality, you have one side of the story. If that one side is told often, it gets to be the reality we all have to live by, the measuring stick. I actually find that as a writer, I’ll talk about my novel or my clients, and a man who has written very little or even not at all, will talk over me and dominate the conversation about writing. It’s enraging. It’s witlessly boring. I talk loudly over him, until there’s almost a shouting match. It’s ridiculous.

When I have dinner parties, I expressly state that a woman at the party may dominate for hours if she wants to, to make up for all the male domination of conversation. The women can be annoying as hell when they do this, but I glory in that. Annoy me, sister!

New England is notorious for men dominating the story line and the behavior seems to be tolerated in ways that it just wouldn’t be on the West Coast. (I’m not saying inequities don’t exist on the West Coast, in pay scale and air time for men, it just seems so much more obvious here.)

My friend’s desire to smash plates was a reference to a plate smashing session we had years ago in Seattle. We’d started a women’s group after we’d both felt eclipsed by men creatively. Our group met Thursday nights at a bookstore.

I’d had a wild idea that we’d have a session breaking plates. There was a wooden staircase attached to nothing in the parking lot behind the bookstore. I got a box of plates at a thriftstore. I made the whole thing a surprise. I arrived at the bookstore, took the women to the back parking lot. I went first. Holding a dinner plate, I climbed the stairs. I stood for a moment. I put my arms above my head and threw the plate hard the 10 feet to the pavement. It shattered into dozens of pieces. I followed with a tea cup, a saucer. Smash. Smash. No, my role is not to cook for you, to sit quietly in the background. Oh no, smash, it certainly isn’t, smash.

One by one each woman climbed the staircase and smashed the plates to the pavement. It was heady, transformational. Neighbors all around screamed and hollered and threatened to call the police. We were giddy afterwards, giggling as we ran around with garbage bags and broom and cleaned up the mess.

My friend last night said: “Do you remember how everyone just went crazy after that night? Everyone individually started losing it…”

I DID remember the incredible chaos and how the group blew apart, but I’d never put the two together.

“Oh, the women were triggered,” I said, hand to mouth, the sudden realization making a lot of things then and now click. They’d been allowed to say no in a physical way, and it reminded us of all the times we didn’t feel we could say no. No! Smash. No! Smash. No!

What does this have to do with writing?

When I teach a writing class, I stress the profound importance of the women telling the depth and truth of their lives. I’m deeply moved by the real voice of a woman. It doesn’t matter what the story is, just so it’s the truth for that woman. The women who take the classes are often expressing their voice for the very first time in their lives. They’re speaking their truth for the first time ever.

Afterwards can be a triggering time. Inappropriate screaming, foot stomping, near loss of full-time jobs, boyfriend breakups, loss of both female and male friendships — I’ve seen it all happen in my life, in the lives of students, in the lives of clients.

Isn’t it amazing that in the year 2008, we still live in a time where women cannot speak their truth? That the expression of the truth of what goes on in a woman’s soul is so hidden, that to bare it creates such deep chaos? I read a study once that said something like 90 percent of women artists live below the poverty line.

Somewhere deep inside me, I’m sensing that if you find your true voice as a woman, you might have to look for an alternative publisher because the mainstream publishers might just want you to sound like a man. I’m not sure about all of this — I’m having sinking suspicions, though.

I was searching for a quote, something I read once. I think it was: If even one woman really told the truth of her soul, the whole world would blow apart. I could not find the quote, but found these instead:

I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat… ~Rebecca West

I asked a Burmese why women, after centuries of following their men, now walk ahead. He said there were many unexploded land mines since the war. ~Robert Mueller

Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man. ~Margaret Mead

I think, therefore I’m single. ~Lizz Winstead

Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, a good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-dressed, well-groomed, and unaggressive. ~Marya Mannes

You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman. ~Jane Galvin Lewis

We haven’t come a long way, we’ve come a short way. If we hadn’t come a short way, no one would be calling us baby. ~Elizabeth Janeway

We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters. ~Gloria Steinem

I’m a writing coach. Contact me for a free initial consultation. carolineallen@aol.com. www.artofstorytellingonline.com

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