Truth Teller

Dani Motze

One day, absent minded and perhaps not in one day at all but in tidbits over many days, and without really knowing it, I tucked away my notebook of scribbles and notes and outlines of personal essays started but not finished, tucked it away to the back of the book shelf. 

And I took out a new notebook, filling its pages with others’ stories instead of my own, finding ways to secretly tell my own, though. In some ways this is cowardly. In some ways it’s just what I had to do, then. It’s different, now. 

So many people over the years, knowing I love to write, have told me to start a blog. “There’s enough poorly written confessions and opinions out there,” I told them, or maybe quoted something about our age of oversharing and the importance of writing to keep to one’s self, something I’ve done regularly since I was little. I believe those things, but they haven’t ever really ever been the reasons. 

To write about and share about my own experience, in my own words and directly from me to the reader, means that I take up space -- space of the page and of the reader’s mind. 

To write about and share about my own experience, in my own words and directly from me to the reader, means that I take up space -- space of the page and of the reader’s mind. 

My name “Danielle,” in the Judeo-Christian tradition, means Truth Teller, I was frequently told. I told the truth, in the beginning. I told the truth about the bad things that happened to me. And telling the truth became worse than keeping my mouth shut so I saved it all up and spoke out for other people instead, trying, I see now, to speak out for myself somehow too.

I wrote about how the one girl in my church youth group felt the body-shaming so acutely that she actually taped up her breasts to be more flat chested and not a ‘temptation’ to the men around her, which is what she was taught she was.  In Jr. High I wrote about how the ‘wheat bread’ in the cafeteria lunches wasn’t actually wheat, just colored to look like it and not really more nutritious, so they should just let us have white bread. I wrote about what it was like for my parents to have a son, my little brother, who was really sick and half grew up in the hospital. 

Into adulthood I wrapped up my commentary in the safe distance of third person and in doing so accidentally found my nom de plume: other people's stories.
 

Writing from one’s own perspective, having the temerity and courage to do so, is "an aggressive, even a hostile act," according to writer  Joan Didion. And I have been taught to avoid appearing aggressive at almost any cost. Because women who stand up for themselves, who come off as aggressive, are the b word. 

 (I used to try to reclaim the b word, mimicking the quip from drag queen legend Latrice Royale: Being In Total Control of Herself. But, I reflected one day, though Latrice will definitely contend with the other demeaning words shoved on him because he is, after all, a large, black, gay man, should he stand up for himself, or speak his truth, or push back on the false truths pushed toward him, out of all the words he might be called, Bitch is probably not one of them.)  I can’t quite bring myself to reclaim it, and I’m terrified of the mean, stupid internet comments, the harassment on social media, the 'well-intended' but condescending pieces of unsolicited 'advice'
 (yes: usually from men)  — because I’ve experienced it all already.

In my early twenties I found some rooms that were safe and spacious enough so that I could stretch out and take my time telling my story, free of punishment for doing so. Nobody argued with me about my understanding of my experiences or told me that I was being dramatic. Or that, perhaps worst of all, that I somehow deserved ‘it.’ They were the rooms of recovery, where I shared my story and listened to others do the same. I heard someone once describe that as “the most human thing we can do,” and I really love that. It’s been true for me. 

On one of my anniversaries in the rooms people had a chance to say something about me. And you know what many of them talked about? How I tell my truth about myself and my experiences — the passionate, ugly, contradictory, beautiful, gritty, excited truth. That’s what they love about me. It was like a crow bar cracked open my mind, just enough to let a sliver of light shine out.
 

Then, I read something and it picked up that same crowbar, pried my brain right open and spilt my mind in half, my light escaping and spilling all around me:

“The aggressiveness of the essay is the assumption of the authority to speak in one’s own voice,” wrote 
Elizabeth Hardwick in her introduction to “The Best American Essays." Hilton Als  expanded on that in his "Revealing and Obscuring Myself on the Streets of New York,"

“And since writing is the author’s deepest self, writing about one’s ‘I’ standing up for it, can feel like an aggressive act, I suppose, given how those of us who are targets are programmed not to.”

I — as someone who grew up, as so many do, surrounded by untreated addiction and mental illness, hemmed in by the misogyny the church, and then onward, and into seemingly forever, as a woman in the world, where, when I speak back to street harassers I am further verbally assaulted with threats of sexual violence — I am someone who has been taught just to keep my fucking mouth shut. 

But I just can't. I won't.

So one morning I went digging and pulled out a notebook into which I had tucked loose, folded pages colored with different inks that revealed a slow building across time. Yes, I had tucked the notebook to the back of the shelf, but I, perhaps intuitively or perhaps out of laziness, had not relegated it to my under-bed plastic storage bins from which little returns. 

 

Because — and this is what really got me, once I realized it — if it’s not true for me, then it’s not true for you. If I don’t have the right and responsibility to tell my story, then neither do you, and I can’t bear that. So then, it must be that I must keep writing my I and assuming authority to speak in my voice. Because I believe that you have to keep doing that, too.  People might be mad. Maybe leave mean comments in the comment box.*

But I will continue to surround myself with people who are claiming their I in all different ways, finding shelter in the collective ‘acts of aggression’ of telling our own stories, helping each other absorb any pain and pushback, and cultivating the courage to keep speaking, writing, telling. 

Because my name, now, fully, means ‘truth teller.’ Because I love words and putting one sentence after the other. Because, partly, for you. Most of all for me. And because, tbh, ‘committing acts of aggression’ with my pen sounds pretty badass, even if it just means writing a personal essay. 

Join Me.

Here In My City

Reading, PA | 484.668.1147

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Typewriter Image By Florian Klauer at Unsplash.