In 2007 I sat in front of my computer inside my office at a prestigious
pressure-cooker of a law firm. The computer had a key board on a track that
slid beneath my desk and back out again, a contraption intended to maximize
ergonomic efficiency. Ergonomics held great importance since I (like so many
other lawyers) spent hours and hours hunched over my workspace, tension
coursing through my neck and shoulders, devoting my writing talents to briefs,
emails to clients, nastygrams to opposing counsel. Soul-sucking work that paid
The keyboard track had been sticking, refusing to simply
glide in and out with ease. This frustrated me. I needed to bang on that
keyboard. I had work to do! And so I
wrestled with it, none too gently because let’s face it: these high priced
electronics didn’t belong to me and I didn’t give one shit about treating them
gently. I shoved and pushed and twisted. Finally it slid out with a crack and
one of the keys flew up and smacked me hard, straight in the face, then fell to
the floor. I bent down to retrieve the offending key and as I rolled it over to
see where on the board it belonged, I saw that it held two words: Wake Up.
Sometime thereafter I heeded that key’s warning, a message I
like to believe came straight from the magic of this Universe. While I still
had to support myself, I left my fancy firm, found a less intense environment,
cut back my hours, decided to take myself seriously as a writer.
I grew up female. I was taught to not ask questions, to be
quiet, to be a little lady.
In my compliance I lost my voice.
In my compliance I found my voice.
I started to read. Reading was quiet, safe, reassuring to my
parents. Reading was explosive, dangerous, pushing me to expand my mind, to feel
things, to delve deep.
Sometimes I have difficulty speaking, difficulty making the words
behave as they stumble from my mouth. Consequently I often inadequately
articulate my feelings, my needs, the conflict raging inside me. It happens
because while speaking, my brain hits the edit button too much. (Like many
women, this reticence appears only when advocating for myself. Fight like hell
for a client? No problem. Stand up for myself? That’s more fraught).
Writing, I don’t have this mental handicap. Which is not to
say the words flow magically from my fingertips onto the page. They don’t. But
with effort, with slow quiet time on my side, I can make them line up in a way
that makes sense. Putting words on the page, telling my story, is a healing
process. Writing gives me what I don’t always find in the world: power,
control, release, clarity, beauty. Writing is how I find my way out of hell.
It’s a way to take control of my runaway mind.
Writing gives me back my voice.
We only get one life. Mine is not perfect but I am now devoting
myself to something I love. Writing is a willingness. A willingness to share my
true self, to put myself on the page. I don’t believe in writer’s block.
Writer’s block is fear and we must all find our way out of fear. Writing is the
ultimate act of self-care, of believing in oneself. It is the ultimate act of
courage. I like feeling courageous. It makes me feel proud of myself –and what
can beat that?
by Karen Stefano
walk the same streets as another restless day tapers off, anxiety pumping
through each limb as we pass the sleeping homeless, silently remembering how
our mother dressed us as bums one Halloween because she’d prepared no other
costume, how she recast us into smudge-faced little ragamuffins, but now these
bodies around us are grotesque carcasses we won’t step near for fear they will
reach out, infect us with their loss, their sorrowful stench, transforming us
with a touch into them….and as we hurry past I try to distract you by pointing
to the trees, their branches riding on the breeze, licking at the sky and I
show you what I see inside their shapes, a woman shaking a cane like a threat,
a weeping long nosed dog, a monocled bear, but when I try to make you see what
I see, your eyes fade, you won’t look at my trees and I feel your heart return
to its crypt as you stare down the gray concrete under our feet, saying, your
voice a low warning, hand gripping mine, nails digging into my flesh, that visions
like mine only appear in clouds.
Karen Stefano is the author of The Secret Games of Words, published by 1GlimpsePress (2015).She served as
Fiction Editor for Connotation Press from 2014 through 2016 and her stories
have appeared in The South Carolina
Review, Tampa Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Epiphany, Lost In Thought, Metazen,
Green Mountains Review, Gloom Cupboard, and elsewhere. Her
story, “Seeing,” was nominated for the XXXVIII Pushcart Prize. To learn more
about Karen and her writing, please visit http://stefanokaren.com.