by Karen Stefano
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 well.
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
We 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.
Charming as ever, Karen. I'm still searching my keyboard for the wake up key……….
Beautifully expressed, Karen. Hope you're going to Santa Fe next September. I'd love to finally meet you.
I love that I get to know some of us a little through these pieces. We're all chasing the magic of the universe.;
Thanks Sally, Jayne, and Steven!!! So glad people are reading and enjoying these journeys.
I'm always glad to find Karen Stefano's words — usually her stories — but yes, this essay is strong and beautiful.