Stephanie Sauer, there is no grammar
Part of having privilege is not having to react to historical traumas as they erupt, ever inconveniently, in the body.
I did not want to write on the subject of silences, of the importance and power of making silences in writing, in all art making. I wanted to perform the gesture of inserting only blank pages behind a title and know it says more than any words on the subject can. But I cannot insert the blank folio without hearing echoes that threaten a full stop. I cannot write from an honest place if I deny this legacy of silencing. I cannot just make the smart conceptual gesture. That is, I could, but it would be deafening. It would be dishonest and detached. Arrogant to deny the ghosts that form around the root of this word and lick my knees when the wind picks up.
So instead of gestures, let me tell you about soap. And not just any soap – Amway dish soap. That’s right, Amway. You know, the pyramid scheme — excuse me, marketing company— responsible for the DeVos family fortune. That’s DeVos, as in Betsy DeVos, a “prominent Republican donor,” according to Time Magazine, and, as of 2017, the United States of America’s famously controversial Secretary of Education. But I digress. For all the company’s dish soap’s touted benefits, it bites the tongue upon tasting. Its bitterness numbs the tastebuds. Why would this matter if disinfecting a mouth is not the intended purpose of such a soap? It matters because this phrase exists in English: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And: Little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. And this: One more word out of you, young lady, and I will wash your mouth out with soap. I tire of this story. It is not a pleasant thing to write. Or to remember. And yet there is this pressure to write it, to share it, to move my tongue against this seemingly banal silencing. At the risk of sounding dull or obvious or, god forbid, angry, I must make words, not only silences. Even if it is only to talk back, to speak out of turn, to say something that is not nice. To occupy a fraction of the space taken up by words written and published by men. Spoken. And yet I need to deny in my own prose that dish soap and thumbs down my throat at the hands of another woman have something to do with these discrepancies, is that it? That it is the fault of women for internalizing our own silencing. For not having caught up with men yet. The women’s movement is over, honey. We’re equal now. At best.
Before I could even spill ink on this page, I was defeated. The ghosts at my knees, hacking away at the bone, already made their way through the flesh and ligaments. All my previous publications and validations didn’t matter: I had nothing important to say. All artists keep their demons close at hand, yes, but these big historical shadows are of a different note. Not that they cannot be laid to rest, but that their healing is a demanding process and it starts with being seen, with our hearing. Certain silences only deepen the trauma.
Silences, like some human words, hit the body in layers. Some caress, some crash, some cut. Their accumulation alters the line. The silence I had wanted to perform here held nothing of the forcefulness of silencing, its reverberations of subjugation and genocide and enslavement. Of death.
No, this was to be a meditation on the pregnant silences so necessary to making. How our world needs more of these full silences, the ones made by musicians and poets–those paced moments of nothing when the unspoken world opens and offers itself to us, padded on either side by carefully metered changes in seeing. Of the space that dangles on the underside of orgasm, between drops of rain. That deep stillness of the studio.
But that silence is not possible without clearing the blood. And the sound of this clearing does not diminish the full kind of silence; the one allows the other.
Stephanie Sauer is an interdisciplinary artist and author of The Accidental Archives of the Royal Chicano Air Force (University of Texas Press). Her writing has appeared in Drunken Boat, Asymptote, PRISM International, Verse Daily, Alehouse Press, Boom: A Journal of California, Alimentum, Lady’s Comics, Plastique Press, Glint, and Lavender Review. She has earned fellowships from Yaddo, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, and Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, as well as the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award for Nonfiction. Her interdisciplinary work has been exhibited at the NYC Center for Book Arts, De Young Museum, Chicago Cultural Center, and Smithsonian Institute, and earned a So To Speak Hybrid Book Award. She’s the founding editor of Copilot Press, co-founding editor of A Bolha Editora (Brazil), and currently teaches at the San Francisco Art Institute.