Not a Writers Club is a bi-weekly newsletter. Here you’ll find musings written by me (Celeste) along with writing prompts that you can try out yourself. If you’ve been looking for a sign to keep writing, this is it.
I’ve been having throat issues. Which is a scary thing to admit during a global pandemic that attacks the respiratory system.
It’s not COVID though. Which I knew even before I received a negative test because it doesn’t feel like COVID. I don’t have a fever or a runny nose or even a cough. It mostly just feels like my throat is closing in on itself. Sort of like when people say they have a gorilla grip…you know. Except it’s my throat. (Sorry.)
I had two doctors tell me to just drink warm liquids and take ibuprofen. That helped for a couple of days. And then it came back. This time with a weird lump under my chin that isn’t tender to the touch but alarming nonetheless.
Eventually, I made an appointment with an ENT doctor (which stands for Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor, in case you didn’t know, because I didn’t.) I took a $30 Uber all the way to Astoria in the middle of the work day, only for the doctor (white guy) to swab my mouth a couple of times, prescribe me some medicine, and push me out the door with little to no explanation of what to do next.
I was back on the street, ready to call my Uber home when the spirit of Women’s History Month washed over me and I decided to go back in and Advocate For Myself. I asked if I could speak to the doctor, but he was “busy” (there were no other patients in the office…), so I ended up having to pry info out of the nurse. It crossed my mind that maybe this is what they mean when they say doctors don’t listen to Black women. But that’s another essay. One that I don’t really feel like writing.
For the past two weeks, my throat has been all I can think about. Even when I’m not thinking about it, I’m thinking about it. And how can I not? The throat is the vessel through which I speak and swallow and laugh and drink wine and coffee. Of course, I have not thought of my throat in this way until now. Until something was wrong with it.
As a result of my spiritual upbringing (and my inclination to anxiety) I tend to lean into the metaphysical meaning of things when there seems to be no concrete, worldly solution to my problems. Throughout this saga, I was reminded of this morning meditation I sometimes listen to in lieu of going to therapy. In it, a woman named Louise Hay instructs me to think of my favorite piece of furniture and thank it. She says that things need love the same way people need love. That things don’t break down when they have the proper love and care that they need. Which maybe is what happened to my throat.
I was also reminded of a quote from Gloria Anzaldua’s this bridge we call home. She writes:
Conocimiento comes from opening all your senses, consciously inhabiting your body and decoding its symptoms – that persistent scalp itch, not caused by lice or dry skin, may be a thought trying to snare your attention.
I began to wonder what my body may be trying to nudge my attention towards with this persistently swollen throat. I have noticed recently this terrible habit I have of talking over people during zoom calls. I would like to say that it’s just a matter of me not having fully adjusted to socializing in the virtual space quite yet, but I also think that I just like hearing my own voice. I am, after all, the kind of person who listens to my own voice messages on iMessage after I send them. Maybe my throat closing in on itself is my body’s way of telling me to shut the fuck up.
But part of me wonders if my body is trying to tell me that I don’t speak up for myself enough. I have a habit of holding in my emotions if it means being told that my emotions are wrong.
This manifests itself a lot in how I deal with confrontation. If someone has done something to upset me, I’d rather text them a long paragraph than get on the phone with them. Something about using my actual vocal chords to defend myself feels too risky. My voice could crack, or I could lose my train of thought. I can really body a person in a text message. I can layout my thesis and site my sources. I can also throw my phone across the room when I’m done and deal with it later.
I think that’s why I like writing so much. It gives me the space to say everything that I’m too afraid to say in real life. Well. Almost everything. There are certain things in my life that I am still too afraid to write about. Most of the time because I’m afraid my mom will read it. But sometimes it’s because I’m too afraid to admit the thing to myself.
There is an Audre Lorde quote that I read in Aminatou Sow’s newsletter that I’ve been thinking about a lot:
“What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language."
Last year, my New Years resolution was to stop saying “I’m scared.” And then there was a pandemic, which is ironic. But I still want to work towards that. I don’t feel ready to write most of what I know I should write. And there are things I have written that I am not fully ready to share with the world. But that shouldn’t stop me from writing. Yes, I got all of this from a swollen throat. I had to make something of it.
This week’s prompt is stolen from Aminatou Sow’s homework in the newsletter which I’ve just referenced:
THE AUDRE LORDE QUESTIONNAIRE TO ONESELF
What are the words you do not have yet? [Or, “for what do you not have words, yet?”]
What do you need to say? [List as many things as necessary]
“What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” [List as many as necessary today. Then write a new list tomorrow. And the day after.]
If we have been “socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition”, ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” [So, answer this today. And every day.]
Adapted from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” collected in The Cancer Journals and created by Divya Victor
Write about it in your journal, or tweet about it, or talk about it with your friends over coffee or record yourself answering the questions on your voice memo app.
Note: It has been several days since I started writing this and my throat is now feeling 100% better in case you were wondering (:
The last newsletter was about how TikTok taught me the value of specificity.
Required Reading 📚
Alex Chee’s article on Minari (which you should watch if you haven’t already.) In it, he talks about how the director, Lee Isaac Chung wrote out 80 childhood memories as a way to figure out the story that would become the film. Alex has challenged himself to do the same exercise for a project he is working on himself:
I’m not at 80 memories yet, but I am enjoying getting there. You can surprise yourself this way, as a writer. You can dismantle the assurance you have in relationship to your memories and open yourself up to what you understand the other people around you were experiencing. You let go of your idea of yourself as the main character and find the stories that were always there under the story you thought you knew. At a time when I seem to know too much about how other things will play out, unable to stop them, this process, with an end I can’t see, makes me feel alive.
Quick Tip 📝
This week’s quick tip is brought to you by a very timely screenshot that my friend Jin sent to me the other day:
You can find me online in most places at @celestuhl.
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