Claiming My Voice: A Manifesto for Midlife
When I decided to leave academia in 2020 (only partially because of the pandemic) I didn't realize that I was entering an unknown world with (unwritten) rules designed to make life difficult. Some of these rules include:
- If you are a woman over 50 (as I am) you are turning invisible.
- If you have higher degrees (I have both MFA and PhD) then employers will decide for you that you will be bored, and therefore not hire you.
- Capitalism will always undervalue thinkers, creative workers, and people who recognize that there is more to life than the daily grind and the bottom line.
In the midst of all this, of course, my country--actually the entire world--has completely lost the plot. Honestly, I don't know if we ever understood it, but for a brief moment during the shutdowns I had hope for humanity. I thought that people would finally understand things like:
- Caring for the weakest among us strengthens us all
- Taking precautions (like masking and vaccinating) equals kindness to others
- That the earth needs a break from constant consumption (remember how clean the air was when the streets were empty?)
- That creativity and arts enrich us all (confinement was made better by creative artists)
- That there are better ways to balance work and living, and that greed will destroy us all.
Okay, so I was naïve, and saw life through rose-colored glasses.
I also recognized the work I needed to do on myself--acknowledging my own privilege, letting go of assumptions, embracing my strengths and confronting my weaknesses.
But most of all I had to confront my fears and doubt.
This last one was, of course, the most difficult. Why? Because fear serves many purposes and comes in many forms.
Fear is the little voice inside you that says, you are safer following the crowd.
Doubt tells you that there is nothing special about you, if there was you would already be a success.
Fear whispers that your time is past.
Doubt says, you have nothing to offer.
Fear reminds you that putting yourself out there, and speaking up for things like human rights, feminism, equity, diversity will make you a target.
For a while, I let fear and doubt win. But, a friend reminded me that I am always the strongest and most powerful when I am using my words--whether that is writing, teaching, directing, or speaking. Another friend reminded me that I have the ability to raise others up, and help them find their voices (using voice as a means of expression which can include other ways of creating).
So, I ask myself, what the hell am I doing silencing my own voice? Why have I allowed my fears to overwhelm my voice?
How will I do that, you ask? By following a few simple rules of my own:
I think that's a pretty good start for my personal manifesto. What would you add?