2011 tantigle totem

my mother
and my grandmother
and her mother before her
up and down
down and up
they’d send the paddle,
until the sweetness rose to the top . . .

my beloved friend and writing partner
julie daley
has posted some remarkable
things on her blog,
but the past few weeks,
she’s really outdone herself
with her posts on oppression
and silence.

this is a conversation i’ve
longed to be a part of.

this is a conversation
i’ve loathed being a part of.


the day julie posted silences one,
my dream:
i was part of the underground railway
there was a passionate quickening
throughout the dream,
a full-body smile.
i sat at an uncluttered table
way up high
and wrote and wrote and wrote.
then i wrote some more.
the words spilled out
and rained down
and it was good.
it was so good.

i’m a southerner.
i can’t say
“underground railway”.


the morning after a phone lunch
with my beloved angela,
i can’t
for the life of me
if she said she’s
a conservative
a liberal.

and that makes me smile all over.


oh, i want to sit in this circle
i really, really do
i don’t know how to talk.

if i say “you”
i’m preaching.
if I say “i”
i’m egocentric,

or worse.

when i went to graduate school,
i knew
in the way the feminine me knows
things unspoken
and unseen
that i should buy some
and wear either
long, flowing skirts
or camo pants
from the army/navy surplus store.

i’ve tried awfully hard
to be a good friend
in the ethers
just like i did at graduate school
hoping that once you got to know me,
you’d like me.
hoping that when the differences
inevitably appear,
our union would be
strong enough
safe enough
to have space enough
to survive the differences.
you, my digital tribe, have been my tour guide,
taking me to places
i’d never have been able to go
on my own.
you’ve shown me different
ways of being,
and that enriches my life


yes, i’m from the south.
fluent in english and southern, i say.
i love being a southerner
i loathe feeling like i should apologize for it.



it’s only a

really been
from this

i don’t want to be
any more than i
want to be
an oppressor.

actually, what I really, really, really want
is to help women.
but that feels so
that feels so
that feels so

i want to
support women.

i want to stand
arm in arm with women

trips us up,
keeps us from moving forward.
is a tool of a system
that builds and maintains the
safe (for the system) and suffocating (for us)
divide and conquer scenario.

we’re women.
we’re alike,
and we’re different.

imagine us
walking on the lush green fields
we were told not to step foot on.
that’s where i want to be,
not sitting at
an assigned seat
at an assigned table
in an assigned room,
poking at each other
with forks.
the field is
and expansive
and green
and lush
and the moist earth
feels solid and supportive
of our bare feet.
we smile there
we chortle
we revel.

the tables are
separated into rooms.
with angles
and walls – thick, insulated, impermeable walls.
the tables are
and designed to keep us
and insulated
and from being able to
hear and see each other.


don’t you oppress
when you
my experience,
my stories?


is it
fashionable, even
to be oppressed?

do some people
grow comfortable
in the oppressed seat?

it is
when I walk into the room
wearing pink
or blue
or anything but black or camo,
wearing lipstick
and nail polish
carrying my
new iphone4
and my ipad
and you
judge me
the oppressor
as one who
has nothing
of worth
to contribute
to the conversation?

isn’t judgment
a form of oppression?
it sure feels like it.


doesn’t cattiness
and don’t cat fights
feel like tools
the system uses
to keep us distracted
and in our place?


can we really
talk about oppression
without the conversation
degenerating into


i have been
class warfare
an abusive male


is this really about
proving that my oppression
is worse/bigger/more obnoxious than yours?
is this really about
earning a totebag
or a badge
or a yard sign?


i do not like writing this
i do not like thinking this
i do not like feeling this.
this is not my native language.


what if
we lay our measuring swords
down on the table
not pointed at
any other person
within reach
for when we need to
cut through
the bullshit
carve an
a new way
of being.

what if
we listen
i mean
deeply listen
to each other’s
stories of
could it be
that the
and judgments
are the first
steps out of silence –
like stumbling
when we flick on the lightswitch
in a room that’s
been dark
for eons?

could it be
that the
and judgments
wanting to be
seen –
really, truly, deeply

what if
every woman
not pitied
or trivialized
or commoditized
or devalued
or invisible
or dismissed
and worthy
and seen?
how would that change
how would that change
how would that change
the world?

what if
bearing witness
is the salve
for the soul,
the balm
that’s needed
heal us
and across
and over
and into?

could it really be that simple?

do i seriously
think that just
can make

yes, i do.

when women
feel safe enough
to be honest
with themselves
and others,
they gain
and when women feel
strong enough
and safe enough
to live
from a position
of confidence and assurance,
things will never
be the same.

i mean, shoot,
why should the oppressors
be the only ones
and with assurance?


i’m nail-biting angry
at the oppression
heaped on women.
i’m nail-biting angry
from others
at the oppression
i’ve heaped
upon my self.


when i wrote my thesis,
i used all female
and it was

is that the opposite
of victimhood?
the goal
for ending

is the word
i carry in my
heart’s pocket,
you know.
i read
Reading Lolita in Tehran
years ago
and it still lingers
in the dark
the passion pockets.
i long to
go forth
and liberate
who are completely
save for their eyes.
who are not allowed
to read
or congregate.

who am i
to liberate them
just because
i see that as oppression?
isn’t that arrogance?
isn’t that judgmental?
isn’t that what religions
do –
impose their belief systems,
their political systems
on others?

why don’t i just wait
till they ask?

not everybody
has my phone number.



i resist looking at privilege
i have authority issues.
serious authority issues.
looking at privilege
feels like something
i am forced to do
if i want to be
considered a good girl
if i want to get that bright, shiny A.

my authority issues are so damn big
and dense
that i resist
discussion of privilege.
oh, don’t get me wrong:
i’ve got it.
privilege, i mean.
yep, i’m privileged all right.


i’m also a woman who was
molested as a child
by a man who worked for my dad.
right there in the shop
in front of all the other men.
“doesn’t it feel good?”
he asked in a way that let me know
i was supposed to say yes.

as a teenager, i was in an abusive relationship
where i heard on a daily basis
“you are so ugly and so stupid,
who else but me would go out with you?”
along with a plentiful assortment
of other punches,
both physical, verbal, and emotional.

as a young adult, i was raped at a party
in front of all the other couples
who watched quietly,
none of them saying anything.
once it was over, the
music started again,
conversations resumed
and it was as though
nothing had ever happened.



i can’t stop crying.
i don’t have time
for such luxuries,
that pesky part of me says,
but the rising jeanne says
i don’t have time not to cry.

so the tears
that have been held back
and squished down
and told “no”
gush forth.
and every tear –
every single tear –
has a different woman’s story on it.

this could take a while,
so i’m using handkerchiefs
that have been handed down
to me
and handkerchiefs
purchased in antique shops
they’re softer
and stronger
and experienced.


  1. Angela

    Beautiful strong eloquent brave honest fearless straight to-the-core beautiful beautiful.

    • whollyjeanne

      thank you. for so many reasons, thank you.

  2. jo miller

    Beautiful,Powerful writing. thoughtful wise,raw,brave-very brave.
    I believe listening is the very essence of understanding & building bridges. Speaking our ‘peace’,our truth, offering a hand, cheering on & reading the words of writers like yourself & so many others that offer of their hearts, here in this digital arena. You are so bang on. Wow!

    ‘Assigned seat at an assigned table in an assigned room’
    ‘Put down our measuring sword…’ I am in Awe.
    & yes, crying is necessary `cleansing,letting go acknowledging & accepting.

    Thank you for this. i am glad that that i was guided to join the tribe ~ I pray with Faith that this path of love,kindness and compassion continue.

    God bless you, Beautiful Southern lady. xo

    • whollyjeanne

      sugar, your words brought tears, even when i thought i was (finally) dry. i keep coming back and reading your comment because it touches something so deep in me. no words yet save a simple and heartfelt “thank you.”

  3. Julie Daley

    I can feel the liberation in your words, beautiful friend. I can feel the life force rising up and out from places where it has been kept quiet.
    You are a force of nature, jeanne, a big powerful beautiful force of nature, as are we all. Our female natures are quiet, good and unassuming, except when it is real. Out natures are wild and feral, too, and that’s what i feel in these words of yours.
    i know i am blessed, many times over, to read your words, to know you, and to love you.

    • whollyjeanne

      and you, my courageous, beloved friend, are the liberator. you gave me the key . . . and i’m kinda’ feeling like it might be a while before my words are all spent;) the day we met in the ethers, i knew my life was forever changed. thank you for that and so very much more.

  4. Heather Plett

    Wow. This is beautiful. And brings up so much of my own wrestling.

    I can think of many times when I didn’t stand up or challenge the oppression because I thought “this isn’t my story” and “nobody has asked me” and “what right do I have to get involved, given the fact that I come from privilege”?

    And yet it IS my story, because every woman’s story is my story and what hurts a sister hurts me.

    At the same time, one of the greatest lessons I brought home from Africa, where I hated the fact that I had “privilege” stamped across my white skin, was the fact that I have a great deal to learn from those who live without privilege. When I saw the way that African women supported each other and offered community though they had so little material goods to offer, I was humbled and challenged. I think that one of the ways that we can level some of the imbalances is to acknowledge that we all bring something to the table to share.

  5. Marjory

    Wow Jeanne,
    Thank you for feeling so deeply for yourself and for every woman.
    Bless you!

    • whollyjeanne

      wow yourself, you amazing woman, you. xo

  6. Kira

    It seems like moving is churning up a lot…and its interesting how so much more of this is images than analysis. There’s still a point to it, and it’s very powerful…but I love how you capture the chaos of your thoughts in little here-and-there pieces. It seems very honest to me, and perhaps one way of setting aside privilege….writing that doesn’t mask or interpret itself too much.

    • whollyjeanne

      kira, sugar, i love to get feedback from you and can’t wait for our next writing date. this is something i’ve written in snatches over the past 10 days or so, and this morning it just decided to pop on out. you’re quite insightful: moving is churning up a lot;)

  7. Elizabeth Marie

    Oh my lovely woman. You, this, the whole conversation…. I am… well, it’s been an interesting day in my world, but this post, perhaps oddly, helped to STOP weeping, because I’m sosososososososososo blessed. Still, I want to be a part of this conversation, if not for my sake (because of what today brought, am feeling less like I have a “right” to … whatever), then for my daughter’s sake. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. Brilliant you.

    • whollyjeanne

      and thank you for writing and sharing your brilliance over at your place. once i get moved and the necessary boxes unpacked (say about 2028), you and i are gonna’ have time to talk some more. xo

  8. Jenn Prentice

    LOVE THIS, Jeanne. There are no words that can say it like you just did.

    • whollyjeanne

      thank you, sugar. and go bojangles!

  9. Kipp

    It strikes me again, that phrase: “bear witness.” Such a good, meaty expression. The idea that those who have had some privileges in their life aren’t needing (or deserving) of a shoulder to lean on. The knee-jerk, “You don’t have anything to be upset about” response.

    That awful divide and conquer impulse that we use upon ourselves, not realizing that we’re only furthering that divisive force which we started out fighting against.

    This post is powerful. So many of us (white men included – I speak from experience) simply want someone to hear us. To really listen. To understand the times when we feel insecure, or hurt, or beaten down.

    Women, men, black, white, and everything in-between – all seek that validation.

    Thanks for this. We’ve all had our moments. All are valid. All deserve to be heard (and sometimes need to be heard. Not told – *heard*).

    I almost wrote, “Imagine what kind of world we’d live in, if everyone took the time to hear them?” But then I thought further, and arrived upon a chewy question:

    If that were the case, would we become a world of oppression-obsessed victims? Or would we all find more strength in unity, in realizing that we all have faced adversity, and even though we’re sometimes down, we all need to carry on?

    Is it human nature to be divisive and self-centered? Or to be sovereign and giving?

    • whollyjeanne

      oh my manchild, my slug. you honor me with your thoughtful, insightful, provoking comment. thank you for seeing the universal here, for not getting caught up in the genderedness of my words. as i’ve told you so many times before, having never been a man, i can’t speak – i would never speak for y’all. i love you to a crisp.

  10. Meredith

    Wow. I’ve learned quite a bit about you through this post. I admire you for sharing all these thoughts, emotions, and words.

    • whollyjeanne

      well, sugar, sometimes i just have to spill it out there. so glad to see you again. just bopped over to your place and had myself a good read. a very good read.

  11. Sophie

    I want to stamd arm in arm with you on those lush, green fields. I want to celebrate ‘the rising Jeanne’ with you.

    So much strength, so much grace, so much beauty. Thank you, thank you for speaking this out loud.

    • whollyjeanne

      and thank you, sophie, for stopping by and taking the time to leave such a validating, supportive comment. i look forward to taking those lush green fields by storm with you.

  12. Christa

    Thank you. Just thank you.

  13. Brenda

    Wow, Just Wow–oh yeah and Thank you for this!!

4 Pingbacks

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Hey, Sugar! I'm Jeanne Hewell-Chambers: writer ~ stitcher ~ storyteller ~ one-woman performer ~ creator & founder of The 70273 Project, and I'm mighty glad you're here. Make yourself at home, and if you have any questions, just holler.

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