This Is Woman’s Work

Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Dominique Christina. Dominique is a writer, performer, educator, and activist. She has over 10 years of experience as a licensed teacher, with double master’s degrees in education and English literature. Dominique holds four national poetry slam titles, including the 2011 National Poetry Slam Champion. She conducts performances and workshops for colleges and universities all over the country, and is the author of the poetry collection The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm.

With Sounds True, Dominique has released a new book called This Is Woman’s Work: Calling Forth Your Inner Council of Wise, Brave, Crazy, Rebellious, Luminous, Loving Selves. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Dominique and I spoke about the importance of what she calls “a deliberate relationship with language.” We talked about bravery, its many different forms, and how authoring ourselves as women requires what Dominique calls “a stunning act of bravery.” In our conversation, we were briefly introduced to the twenty archetypes that are explored in This Is Woman’s Work, including the archetype of the Ghost Woman and the Whisper Woman. Finally, Dominique read to us from the final section of her new book: “Because We Are So Many.” Here’s my conversation with Dominique Christina:

Dominique, you begin This Is Woman’s Work writing about how important it is for women to “author” themselves. So, to begin with, what do you mean by this phrase, “authoring ourselves?”

Dominique Christina: It’s a conversation about agency and ownership. It’s the kind of conversation that only becomes necessary when you have inherited a construct that is trying to keep you small or quiet—or is seeking to define you. [It’s] where you inherit the interpretation of your own experience and the absence of your own handwriting, if that makes any sense.

From where I stand, that is the reality for most women.

TS: Yes.

DC: Yes. So, it becomes important to sort of take back the narrative and write it in our own handwriting.

TS: Now, why do you think that is particularly important for women? You could certainly say for all of us—most people. Men, women, anyone. So, why focus on women in your work?

DC: Well, I could go on and on about it. But, let me just say this: women are—in my opinion—the most supernatural persons on the planet. We are the light-bearers and the way-makers and the creation story.

So, for me, there’s something very urgent and very important and necessary about women having the full authorship of their experience. When you have something so seismic being constantly squelched down, it becomes necessary for us to sort of unpack and demystify what it means to be woman—and begin to parse those things out for ourselves.

What you end up with is the fact that we are vast and complicated and sometimes simple and often deep. But, all of those things are us and we should not have to be squeezed down into anyone else’s idea of who we are.

TS: Do you think there are certain cultural constraints or historical constraints that women have suffered under that you’re particularly wanting to liberate women from in your work [and] that are important to you?

DC: I guess I would have a conversation about patriarchy at some point and particularly the way that patriarchy is practiced in this country—in the West.

Listen: Fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with the performance of that word if we’re just talking about the eldest male sort of guiding the family. But, that’s not the performance of that word in my experience—my cultural experience, my societal experience, my national experience. That’s not the performance of that word.

The performance of that word becomes one that is attached to a fist or a muzzle. It’s relegating women to the margins. It’s quieting or silencing their voices. It’s telling them and their daughters that they are not as valuable, not as good, not as powerful, not as necessary.

That is beyond wounding. It’s just completely inaccurate. Completely inaccurate.

So, I think there are many, many constraints that I’m constantly buttressing up against. As an American girl, as an African-American girl, the inheritance of patriarchy as it has been performed in this society has been the wounding for me.

TS: I’m curious where you think we are in this point of history. Here, we’re recording this conversation in 2015. We’ve obviously come a long way and still have a long way to go in liberating women’s sense of—as you said—agency and ownership of their own narrative. Where do you think we are right now?

DC: I think we’re better than we were. That sort of sounds like a sound bite, but I think we’re better than we were. What’s available to me was not available to my grandmother. What was available to her was not available to her grandmother.

So, we’re inching forward. I can occupy spaces now where the women in the room are not interrupted by the idea that they are powerful. Even in my mother’s generation, there were women in the room who would be interrupted by that idea—or at least that it would be said out loud, or said by a woman, or that there was some opportunity for them to practice out their own power. Women would have been interrupted by that.

So, I think that that is perhaps evidence that we are inching forward. But, I have a daughter. I don’t want these conversations to be relevant to her. Does that make sense?

TS: Yes!

DC: I want us to have transcended this. I want her to inherit something different. I don’t want her to have to fight as hard or scrap as often.

TS: Now, we started out, Dominique, by talking about this idea of authoring ourselves. That’s a really interesting word—the word “author”—and you place a great deal of emphasis in the book This Is Woman’s Work on language [as well as] women owning the language for their lives. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about that—why you think it’s so important. The words we use and the words we use to describe our own story.

DC: For me, it’s critical. That particular conversation is one that makes my blood move because we think in pictures. Language creates that picture.

So, depending on the language I inherit—from when I’m very small—that I inherit first from my family of origin and then, by extension, my community, my neighborhood. And then past that: the schools I’m educated in and the way that the teachers speak and the kids in the school. And then the larger society, and media and the language being used therein.

I am inheriting not just the language, but the ideas that are attached to that language. Language has an agenda and language is a culture-keeper. So, if I inherit a particular set of language that suggests to me that my options are limited, that my reach is limited, [and] that my capacity is limited, I am stuck in a particular place. I can’t even imagine myself as being something larger because I don’t have the language that suggests it or that would allow for me to walk toward it.

So, I think it’s critical that we have those conversations. It’s particularly critical for marginalized people. Women have been historically—and contemporarily—marginalized.

For me, the unpacking of certain words gets you to a particular place. When you have the word “man” with the original intent simply meaning “one who has a mind.” We can track that because of old canonical works—the Bible and old texts where, when they say “man,” that is not a gender conversation. That is a conversation about mankind.

So, to have a word like that become—there’s a subcategory that gets created, because if I’m going to subjugate you, I can’t have you relating to yourself or thinking about yourself in the same way that I do. So, I have to create a subcategory that you adopt as a descriptor for yourself so that it’s easy to conquer you.

That is a mechanism that we have always used. That is one unfortunate function of language. But, what’s beautiful about it is you can always reclaim it and know it for yourself—and have a more deliberate, more intentional relationship with language.

So, there are questions that I’m asked all the time that I just refuse to answer because, in so doing, I am making a concession to language that is intended to wound me. I’m not going to do that.

TS: Could you give me an example? Could you give me an example of a question you wouldn’t answer? I’m not going to ask such a question, I promise. But I’m just curious.

DC: [Laughs] Oh, shoot. Let’s see.

There are conversations that I have—and I usually have this explained on college campuses. I even get what the person is driving at, but fundamentally the question is something around—oh, it’s hard for me because I work so hard to not take the language out.

It’s usually connected to needing me to explain why violence against women or gendered violence—violence against LGTBQ folk—is a relevant conversation, or why it’s something that should matter. I usually don’t answer that question. The reason I don’t answer that question is because those who have power or those who are in a protected class never have to. They never have to answer the question [of] why they are important or why their lives are important. Right?

TS: Yes.

DC: Or why they should be kept safe. They never have to answer that question. No one’s ever going to ask that question of them.

So, for me, it’s about—you have to pay attention to the language that you’re using. You have to pay attention to what it suggests. I’m not going to ever really [in] any way try to legitimize “woman-ness” for anyone because it’s not OK for anyone to have that question. I would never try to legitimize being queer. It’s not OK to have the question.

So, I’m not going to spend my time trying to explain that to someone, because it’s not OK for them to have that question. It’s not OK for the question to be asked. You know?

TS: Yes. Now, I want to just point something out. One of the words you’ve used in the conversation we’re having is the word “conversation.” So, it’s interesting—when I ask you a question, you say, “That’s an interesting conversation.”

So, what I’m noticing is that you approach a lot of the questions that you raise in This Is Woman’s Work and in your teaching work as conversations. That in of itself is very interesting to me. I’d love for you to comment on that.

DC: I think of conversation as—I think it’s intimate, it’s open. I think it’s available. “Conversation” for me suggests that we are communal and with one another—with the world. Conversation is about—in terms of the etymology of that word—is actually the act of living with, which I really love. To live with or to keep company with.

So, I love the idea that language offers family. You know what I mean? I think so often it’s misused and does the opposite. Language creates enemies, creates divisions. But, conversation—that word—is about the coming together, the being with, the living with, the understanding of.

Not necessarily the agreement with. But, I make space for you. You make space for me. We are deliberate enough in how we speak with each other that—even though we may not agree—you are safe in the room. I am safe in the room. My language can be fully heard and present, and yours can too.

So, I love that. I love having conversations. It’s a really beautiful thing to try.

TS: OK. I want to go a little bit deeper into what you said, when your blood starts boiling when we talk about the importance of how we language our stories. The first thing you said in response to me asking about that was how pictures—in your experience—come from language. So, I paused there for a moment because I wanted to do a little internal experiment and see, “Do pictures come from language or do I see pictures first and then I language them?”

So, I’d love to hear more about how, in your experience, the pictures come from language.

DC: So, when we learn language—typically when we are very small—whatever adult is taking care of us will point to things [and] they will usually say the word first. “Pick up your toys.” We stare blankly back at them because we don’t know what that is. Then they point to the toy and they say, “Pick up your toys. Pick up your toys.” And then they mind that behavior. They pick up the thing they’re talking about.

In that moment, your brain now has the association. Sonically, every time I hear that word “toy” or, “Pick up your toys,” she’s talking about these shiny things that I play with and she wants me to put them in my hands.

So, language has the function of—and this is what I mean by having a deliberate relationship with language as opposed to a co-opted relationship with language. That example that I just gave is a co-opted experience with language, not deliberate.

When you’re young, that’s usually the way we learn it. But, at some point, we have to stop teaching language that way and start teaching it another way. The way that we teach language often is—and the media does this as well. There is an image that—we have a word that conjures an image.

Here is a very quick example for me: My entire life—and even though I know better, I can’t fix it without moving a lot of furniture in my brain. My entire life, the word “slave” conjures up someone who looks something like me—some dark-skinned person toiling in a field against their will. That is the image. It’s always the same. It’s this dark-skinned person in a field. “Slave:” dark-skinned person working against their will.

And then, to grow up and do the etymology of that word, and realize that that is not the original intent of that word at all. Not at all! Doesn’t look anything like me in terms of its original intent. I now have to have a conversation about the ways in which language has created pictures for me and when I string those pictures together, those pictures then become what I am calling reality. I make an agreement with it.

That is what I mean. When we think in pictures—when I say, “Tami, I want you to picture a pink Cadillac on a black driveway.” You don’t see a P-I-N-K C-A-D-I-L-L-A-C. You see a pink car on a black—right?

So, the language has given us the image, and the image—when sitting next to a lot of other images—is what we say reality is [and] what we agree to. What we concede to.

So, if my inheritance of the word “woman” is someone who is beaten, battered, bruised, busted lips, stuck at home; or without opportunities, without agency; unable to make her own decisions about whether or not she wants to have children or with whom she wants to partner. All these things. If that is the performance of that word—the inheritance of that word—for me [and] that’s what it looks like, the implications are significant.

Even now, there are a lot of words—like the word “slave”—where I went back. The reclamation of language showed me how I was misusing it and how it had been misused my whole life. But, I tell you: there’s still—even though I know better—when I hear certain words, the picture that first pops up in my head is the one that was created for me and it’s not accurate.

TS: Yes. So, I want to just connect the dots here. So, when it comes to really having a sense of empowerment—let’s just use that word for a moment—in our life as women, tell me how being very careful about our language and very conscious about our language, in your experience, links in with liberating our empowerment?

DC: Well, because language is a culture-keeper and because women—in my opinion—are also keepers of the culture, we should absolutely have a very deliberate relationship with language. There’s also a conversation for me around—again—demystifying certain words. We can begin to pick out and point out the ways in which a gendered language has lacerated us politically, philosophically, spiritually, emotionally, psychically.

You can start to hear it. That’s the thing: it’s almost a thing I have a hard time explaining to people, but once I started the business of reclaiming language, I can hear stuff now that I couldn’t hear before. I can hear the daggers—the slings and arrows—in a person’s language. I’m well-armed. I can hear it!

When we go back to the peace around it, there are certain questions that I simply won’t answer. When I don’t answer, the person is interrupted by that. They’ll usually say something like, “Do you not understand what I mean?” Then I get to say, “No, I know exactly what you mean. But I don’t think you know what you mean.” Then we have a different conversation.

I don’t have to make a concession to the language of another person. I certainly don’t have to make a concession if that language is being misused or misapplied.

A lot of times, people don’t know that that’s what they’re doing. It’s not that they’re nefarious figures. It’s just that they are having the experience that most of us have, in that we have inherited language and a lot of it has not been used correctly. A whole lot of it was intended to cause harm.

TS: OK. Obviously, it’s a topic I care a lot about too. But, we’re going to move on. Another comment that you make in the beginning of This Is Woman’s Work is that authoring ourselves—this is a quote—”. . . is a stunning act of bravery.” I want to talk a little bit about what bravery means to you—what bravery has asked of you [and] required of you.

DC: Oh, shoot. You know, it sounds really—depending on the listener, it can sound very pedestrian, because oftentimes for me the things that required seismic bravery were things like saying who I was in a room. [It was] saying what I love, who I love, how I love. Those things became seismic.

I think declarations are so important. I’m fascinated by people who have never had the experience of really understanding the weight of it because they are never challenged or questioned. Their legitimacy has never—there’s never been any question marks thrown around it.

Sometimes for us, the business of saying who you are is tremendous—a tremendous act of bravery. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that end up being the most profound. There are times where I have—for me, because I come from such an intensely matriarchal family with a lot of modeling of strong women. I’m in no short supply.

But, one of the consequences of that: everybody is so mountain-esque that I didn’t know how to not know something. I didn’t know how to bleed out loud. I didn’t know how to just be wounded in full view. I didn’t know how to do those things because I didn’t think you were supposed to do those things.

My mother is so Zen and composed and inward—so inward. I don’t see her outsource for anything. If she is angry, I don’t know it. I don’t know what it looks like in any observable way. If she’s sad, I can maybe catch it in the eyes. But this is someone who is so composed all the time, I thought that that was the template of woman-ness. My grandmother too. My aunt too. They all function that way.

So, bravery—for me, particularly as it informed my performing—was my willingness to stand in a room and be sad. It took all the courage I could muster to do that.

But, I think—in a larger sense—if we’re just having a conversation about women, I do think that patriarchy often tries to destroy in women what is required of us—which is unimpeachable bravery. Yes.

But, again, bravery can truly just look like opening the curtains. It can look like walking outside in the sun and not putting your head down. It can look like holding hands with someone in public. There’s just so many forms of that, right? It just depends on who you are and what your lived experience is. But, I do think some women [audio briefly cuts out] business of authoring ourselves, naming ourselves, claiming ourselves is seismic and supernatural. We change the ecosystem when we do that. I really believe that.

TS: And your book, This Is Woman’s Work, approaches this conversation—to use your word—about naming ourselves and owning our narrative through the introduction of 20 different—I guess you could call them “archetypal faces” or “archetypal expressions.” You call them an “Inner Council.” So, I’d love to understand a little bit about how you came up with these 20 archetypal faces and how this approach even of working with your own narrative came to you.

DC: Oh, boy. Again, I had had the experience of seeing up close how vast, how expansive, how complicated, and how different we are as women. When I started thinking about all of them, I realized that they couldn’t be more different from each other—but there is a common thread. I wanted to try to pull at it.

I also wanted to demystify the conversation around, “You have to pick this one way of showing up and stay there. Dig your heels in and stay there. That is some evidence of maturity.” I really wanted to get on the other side of that and demystify that because, for me, the more I started interrogating it, the more it felt like a lie.

So, these archetypes really are women that I’ve experienced—the ones who raised me; the ones who loved me; the grandmother figures that lived on my block; the women who could get their kids to school on time every morning, made home-cooked meals every night, and if you asked her what she was passionate about, she had no idea because she had never been asked before. Her life was about service to other people. I’ve met a lot of those women.

Or the one is constantly fighting, constantly resisting, constantly rebelling, [and] constantly, constantly buttressing up against any and everything, because for her the fight is the sound of her name. I’ve seen her. I’ve been her.

Or the Obedient Woman, who—for her—it’s entirely about being strong enough to say, “Yes. OK. I will do it,” over and over and over and over again.

So, I really just wanted to honor the women that I’ve seen, the women that I’ve been. I held a lot of those energy patterns. And then there are some that I’ve never, ever been. I would have to practice really hard at trying it on.

I don’t know, Tami. It was organic for me. Truly. Coming up with the archetypes almost felt like I was in my brain flipping through this photo album of all the women that I’ve encountered and seen known and shared blood and bone with—and whose stories informed my existence. [I] wanted to honor them all.

This is what looks like if she’s in balance. And this is what it looks like if she’s out of balance. But, to try to hold a space for each way of being and say, “It is legitimate.” If she can grow from there, then she should grow from there.

I don’t know I answered your question.

TS: You did. I want to go a little bit more into it. I also just want to give our listeners a sense of the 20 different archetypes that you name. You have the Warrior Woman, the Rebel Woman, the Willing Woman, the Woman with Cool Hands, the Violated Woman, the Howling Woman, the Bone Woman, the Beggar Woman—all of these different expressions. I’m curious to know: is your view that we all have this archetypal energy inside of us—each one of these 20? That we all have that inside of us? Or no—we see this outside of us, but it might not live within us. How do you see that?

DC: I don’t know that I would posit that we all have each one. But, each one is available to us. Does that make sense?

TS: Well, say more.

DC: I don’t have—OK. So, I am not the Willing Woman at all, OK? I’m really not. I struggle with her. The one who sort of operates from obedience. I really struggle with her.

TS: I believe you!

DC: So, I can’t say that I’m in possession of that archetypal energy. But, I have come in contact with her in moments in my life where obedience—for lack of a better word—was the most powerful thing I could do.

I find obedience even in the writing. That was what was coming for me in trying to interrogate her and unpack her—[it was] how obedient I am in the writing, because I just sit and wait for the words to come and trust them. But, I’m practicing the kind of stillness and obedience that the Willing Woman has in spades. So, while I don’t function from her primarily, she is available to me.

Now, if she’s not in balance and she’s a woman who, when she should talk back or speak out, she does not. When she should fight back, she does not. When she should say no, she will not. That is someone who is out of balance.

But, the person who is willing to submit—that’s powerful. I needed to engage that. In engaging her, I had to then reckon with the fact that we are all so vast and so expansive that these things are completely available to us. You can stand in one place on Monday and in another place on Tuesday, and move through those fluidly. It’s not conflict. It shouldn’t create tension. It’s not a contradiction. It’s not evidence of you being un-evolved or immature.

It is in fact evidence of you holding all of your parts sacred—and leaving the door cracked open for some other things to come in too, because this is not an exhaustive list. This is my list. These are things I’ve interacted with. But, we’re so vast that it could keep going, right? Just in our conversation, you named an archetypal energy—the Void Woman. So, there’s more.

TS: Yes, that was something you and I were talking about before we started our recorded conversation—when we were just chatting on the phone first. You were talking about you were spending a period of time right now—a little over a week—without your four children. Here this archetype emerged: What’s it like to be the Void Woman?

So, that’s interesting. Even though you name 20 of them in the book, new archetypal faces—if you will—could appear. Yes. Or we could see [them] in other people.

Now, a couple of these archetypes were very moving to me and very challenging. I want to bring a couple of those up. One was the Ghost Woman. Tell us about the Ghost Woman.

DC: Ah! I think it’s so interesting that you were challenged by the Ghost Woman because—I really think it’s interesting because, God, I have met her so many times. I’d like to interrogate why that is, but for these purposes let me say this:

When I was a little girl, I always felt like there were women in my family who were sort of burdened with memory—and long memory. I’m trying really hard to be succinct here. I think that there is such a thing as borrowed memory. Now, that probably will be confronting for some people depending on where they line up, but for me that has been my experience in terms of the women in my family.

They come here not just with their own experiences, but with the borrowed experiences of other people that are sort of clinging to them. The Ghost Woman is complicated because she is burdened with it. She is burdened with memory.

Hers is a skeletal—you know how we talk about the skeletons in the closet. Well, for me, the Ghost Woman doesn’t have the luxury of experiencing them in the closet. They’re with her. They’re there all the time. [It’s] very difficult for her to keep the past where it belongs. It’s very hard for her to do that. Very hard for her to do that. She doesn’t know how. She doesn’t know how.

Does that make sense? Maybe tell me why it was challenging for you.

TS: Oh, I think I just had this strange feeling—starting with the name, “the Ghost Woman”—of feeling kind of haunted by holding on to things from the past.

DC: My grandmother reminds me—I thought about her almost the entire time I was writing. My grandmother was this Native American woman who grew up in the segregated South. But, of course, the segregated South had these very strict lines. Things were black or white, and she was neither.

She grew up poor and she was erased from the conversation. No one was thinking about her. No one was talking about her, her people, or their reality.

So, by the time she moved to Denver, a significant amount of trauma had happened in the South. She came to Denver and it sort of suggested liberation and a new start and a clean slate and all of that.

But, she could not let any of her experiences go. And I mean not one. It could something small and minute, like an argument in the car with my grandfather that held no weight for him. It happened in the ‘30s, but she might bring it up one day. She couldn’t let it go. She couldn’t let go of her childhood. She couldn’t let go of the adults she encountered in her childhood. She couldn’t let go of any personal hurt or any historical hurt. She couldn’t let it go. The past occupied her life. It took up all the breathable air.

I think it contributed ultimately to why my grandmother got sick. It was like she left no room for tomorrow—for the possibility of a day that was not so plagued by ghosts. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t figure out how to do it.

I think, for me, it’s sort of a painful reminder—but a necessary reminder, because I’m the person who tries really hard to learn from her experiences. Oftentimes, the ones that were the hardest taught me the most and strengthened me the most. But, there’s something a bit problematic about hanging on to the things that have wounded you. So, there’s a slippery slope for me in receiving the information, learning the lesson, but not holding onto the hurt—not keeping it around.

TS: So, is it fair to say, Dominique, that these 20 different archetypes—and going into them, and really considering each one—that how this helps women and why you call it “a woman’s work” is that we’re starting to discover those aspects of our own story that might be in darkness that we’re willing to engage with and then we can generate more awareness about how these different archetypes might actually have something to say about our lives? Something like that?

DC: Yes. Yes! [Laughs.] Yes, exactly that. Exactly that. Exactly that.

I imagined that all of these women—each woman—the Shadow Woman, the Howling Woman, the Woman with Cool Hands—that they were all in a circle and that I was in the center, and I got to ask whatever question I wanted.

That’s where that Inner Council piece comes from—that I can pull from these women, these different archetypal energies, and let them teach me something, show me something, reveal something, help me heal from something. That’s what it felt like for me—this council of women who could speak from a particular place and introduce me to myself. My wider, larger, bigger self.

TS: OK. Now, one of the other archetypes that I’d love for you to talk more about—because I also found myself—I go for the ones that trouble me, not the ones that I sort of know and understand. But, the ones that are haunting me in some way. The Whisper Woman—tell me about her.

DC: She was hard for me too. I think she was hard for me because it’s very difficult to—I’m trying to make sure I’m doing the right thing here with the language, because you did pick one that was hard for me. Let me say this.

There are moments for me where I have to engage certain experiences that were painful for me and that did not assist me in that moment in being a whole person. When I was thinking about the Whisper Woman, she came to me because she’s not easy. She’s not easy. She doesn’t know how to be any one thing because she is something we construct when we are in need of protection.

There’s a lot of ways to think about her. In Jungian psychology, when he talks about the shadow—the unblessed, repressed parts of who we are and all that—one of the things that came up for me in thinking about Jungian psychology is that, in fact, oftentimes we create something that stands between us and the hurt. [With] the un-survivable thing, we create something to manage it for us. It’s almost like a risk manager.

So, she is formless until you create her. But, she is born out of necessity. That’s the part of her that needs to be honored and needs to be understood. She is here because we asked her to come. She’s not here by accident. But, she is here because we needed her. We need her if we are unsafe, unprotected, in crisis, in pain, or whatever.

The reason why I sort of stumbled at the beginning of explaining her is because she exists in my life as a way to keep me safe from certain un-survivable experiences. A quick example: When I was in middle school, one of the rituals we had—I went to private school—was on a half-day, we would walk in Denver to this very busy intersection—Colfax and Glencoe, where there were a number of fast food restaurants and all that. On this particular half-day, a girl that I knew and went to school with who was walking just in front of my friends and I, was hit by a car in front of me, and died right there.

Now, this is what the Whisper Woman did for me in that moment: She didn’t just erase this girl’s death. She erased her life. It was like this little girl was never in my life. I couldn’t just get rid of how she died, she had to leave completely.

Then—when I’m an adult and I have more tools in my toolbox now—walking the students on a half-day, my student was hit by a car [in front of me.] She survived. But, what I saw was the little girl who died in front of me. All of a sudden, there she was. The risk manager—or the Whisper Woman—stepped aside and was like, “I think you probably can mess with this now. I think you probably can reckon with this now. You couldn’t when you were 12, so I protected you. But you can now.”

That’s the function of the Whisper Woman. She came to me a lot in the writing of the book. When I had to write the chapter, “The Violated Woman,” the Whisper Woman was a hiss in my ear the entire time. “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to say that? Are you sure you want to share that? Are you sure you want people to know that?” It was constant.

So, once you create her—and again, she’s born out of necessity—once you create her, one of the things in my experience of her is that she is functioning to keep me safe from experiences that might hurt me. She is functioning to keep me safe from memory. But, she’s not always good at determining when I might be ready to reckon with some of those things, because her whole function is to stand in-between me and the hurt.

It’s a hard one for me. It really is. But, I honor her. In the writing of it, every time she was sort of a hiss in my ear saying, “Are you sure? Are you sure?” I honored her. “Thank you. Thank you for protecting me. I am sure. Thank you for protecting me, but I am ready. I am ready.”

TS: Now, Dominique, I want to go back to this image you offered of these 20 different archetypes standing in a circle. You’re in the center in some sense, and they’re all informing you. You’re having a conversation with each one and they’re educating you, if you will—or you’re growing into this process that you described as agency and ownership of your own story. Tell me about that one in the center. Who is she?

DC: She’s the Everywoman, I think. I think she is. I think the Everywoman is the one who—standing in the center of that circle—looks out and sees her own face in each individual. She sees her own face. She sees all the things that she’s been and, in being, all the spaces that she’s occupied and can occupy. She’s the one that is—to me—sort of the grandmother of each woman, saying, “I have been you or I can be you. You are legitimate.”

I think that’s one way of thinking about it. The Everywoman is the one in the center.

The other way of thinking about it is that it is—for the reader—the reader is in the center. This grand council of women is available to the reader to ask questions of and to interrogate; and to sit with and listen to her story, and listen to her narrative; and see if she can find herself in that woman’s experience, in that woman’s story, or—at the very least—she can hold the space for that woman. That woman—that particular archetypal energy—is her familiar even if she is challenging. She can still be your familiar.

TS: To end our conversation, Dominique, I would love it—if you’re willing—to ask you to read something from the final section of the book—a section that you call “Because We Are So Many.” I want people to actually get a sense of your writing, because it’s so powerful. To use a word you used, “seismic.” That was my experience in reading it.

So, yes. Can you read to us from the final section of the book?

DC: Sure.

I have found so much of myself in writing this, had to travel through so many versions of me to make it true. It has been both dizzying and exhilarating. I was perpetually surprised by what was coming out of me. I was perpetually healed by what was coming out of me. This was an experiment in naming my own insides. When I write, I am calling on all of these things. I’m trying to have precedence over my conditioning. I’m trying to say what is underneath. It is a deep thing to move in the world as a writer. It is a deep thing to move in the world, period. When I did not know I was a writer, when I did not believe in the music of my own voice, it was a life of blue-note melody, a refrain to which I did not know the words. There was no space to dance, to sing, to discover.

I am no expert on how to exhume the words. I had to put my hands in it my own way. I had to feel the dissatisfaction of my un-recited life. I had to become a part of the living. The creative process is where I lose my attachments to the illusions of who I am and step into the reality of who I am. It is the one place in my life where I am most myself. No concealment. No containment. No overemphasis. Just me, engaging myself. The wild I find in my spirit is a kind of self-remembering.

Creation is a meditation. An offering. Something cosmic. Something permanent.

I had ancestors whose voices were squelched and stolen. That I can speak and be fully expressed holds so much weight.

The women. The women who were nameless. The ones who were pushed down. The ones who were pushed through. Those women have breath and breadth here.

I write to remind myself of those things. I write because it has given here that I speak. I write to dance on the edge of the world. A smoke stack. A deep well. A good rumble. A praise shout. I write to praise this body and the way I woke up this morning. To praise the song in the shower. Praise the miracle that I am and the mess I’ve been. To praise the language for being my familiar. To Praise the woman whose skin I burst through. To praise the grandparents I had, the children I have, the people in my life who are supernatural in their affection and their commitment.

To praise the girl I was. The one who kept too much empty. The one who looked up one day and fell in love with herself. Praise the forgetting of fear. Praise the becoming. Praise the journey, and the fight, and the wherewithal, and the fleshier, wider parts of tomorrow. Praise the right-now, amen that is today, and the riding of wind without asking permission.

TS: I’ve been speaking with Dominique Christina. She is the author of a powerful, beautifully languaged new book called This Is Woman’s Work: Calling Forth Your Inner Council of Wise, Brave, Crazy, Rebellious, Loving, Luminous Selves. A provocative book—one that engages, [and] I think engaged me in inner work just to read it.

Dominique, thank you so much. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your voice. Thank you for creating such a beautiful book, This Is Woman’s Work.

DC: Thank you so much.

TS: Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.

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