The only problem with having the comments turned off here is: I don’t hear from you. As a writer, I know that this is both difficult and inevitable. You put your stuff out there. You hope it gets read. Most of the time, you have no idea what the silent majority thinks.
This is not a soapbox. It’s a conversation.
This is my attempt at dialogue. You’ll notice the comments are open. That’s just for this post.
I wrote a while ago about trying to move from being a loud voice for social justice, to practicing quiet activism. Loud voices are so incredibly important – and it’s really, really hard being one. My voice didn’t run out, but I made a conscious decision not to let things get to that point. One of the best things quiet activists can do is support those on the front lines.
I started writing this blog as a way to communicate the experience of illness, and the reality of trying to live on a benefit in New Zealand. I still believe in doing those things.
But I got disenchanted by the lack of movement I saw in the system. I was pissed (and am) off that I, and many others, had put so much effort into collecting and broadcasting the stories of maltreatment and misconduct by WINZ – and then nothing was done. I attempted pursuing the people in the Labour party who had encouraged the project. I came up against many barriers. Maryan Street has since moved on from the Nelson electorate. Sue Moroney is no longer the spokesperson for social development. I got no response from Carmel Sepuloni. My own health demanded that I step back. I feel incredibly guilty about that.
This decision was cemented by the treatment I received from some readers of this blog in December last year. At that point I had to make some choices about where I could best use my limited energy, in ways that I felt safe.
I shut down the Writehandedgirl Twitter account, and I closed the comments here. These were really hard decisions. I spent six years building this community. Many of you have followed me to @_writehanded_ and I am grateful for that. But I am still angry that starting a new, more curated environment was necessary.
I felt defeated, to be honest. I said to a friend the other day that I wondered if I’d achieved anything at all, with all the yelling I did last year, both here and in the media, about WINZ. I know that personally, they are very helpful towards me now. I still experience frustration and I still feel humiliated going in there, but it’s a hundred times better than it was. But what about everyone else? What’s changed for them? What was the point of all the stress I experienced, being public, being criticized, going up against a Minister?
My friend said that seeing me speak out helped her speak out too. She said that even if nothing in the system itself had changed, people know they have rights. They know they don’t have to be silent. They know that they are not alone.
It was really, really good for me to hear that.
As I said, I have no plans to stop talking about WINZ and other social justice issues. I want many things out of this blog. I want community. I want to raise awareness. I want to share my experiences, because I hope that that will be of some use to others.
I am encouraging guest posts, because many people have very important stories and nowhere to tell them. This also makes it a little easier for me because I don’t have to produce quite as much content, when my energy is so low. I’ve also started doing more writing about writing, and about books, which gives me a lot of joy. I want to write about feminist issues as much as possible. Obviously, there will continue to be a lot about my health and living with illness.
I am so, so grateful for the support I receive – emotionally and financially. Both of these things make it viable for me to keep writing. Getting recognised financially for your work does not intrinsically or automatically make the work valuable, but it helps to make me feel like what I’m doing is wanted and worthwhile. It also means I can buy groceries.
My question is – and this is for everyone, not just those who support me financially, though I really want to make sure they feel they are getting what they sighed up for – am I writing what you want to know about? If I’m not, I want to know. This is not a soapbox. It’s a conversation.
Finally, in addition to this blog and my column, I have two other important projects I want to tell you about, because they are going to make appearances here.
I’m now part of the Governance Collective for the Nelson Women’s Centre. This involves using my writing, media, and PR-type skills to help them help local women. I’m hugely excited about it. It’s really satisfying to be using this part of my brain again.
The other thing, which I mentioned briefly in my last post, is a collection of short stories. This is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but I couldn’t find the time or energy or direction. I’m lucky enough now to have a mentor who yells at me if I don’t make those things for myself. It’s going to be taking up a lot of my time, and hopefully it’s going to be something worth sharing with you.
Ok. Tentatively (extremely) leaving comments open.