Coercive: I’m a Warrior in Intelligent Battle.
I was told that messaging a link of my just-published work with a Facebook friend felt coercive.
Genuinely thinking my friend would be interested because of a mutual association with the venue, I was taken aback. As I recall the debate incited by Jonathan Franzen, I cringe. “I see them (writers) feeling absolutely coerced into this constant self-promotion,” he says. Has the growing trend of social media coerced me into coercing others?
For years I hid. I hid my writing. Hid myself. And contained myself because this helped me survive.
I worry about my behaviors being invasive. I always have, as I’ve observed how others behave.
How does one motivate others to act on your behalf — or for that matter, on their own behalf? Six years old and spending too much time at a friend’s house because I don’t want to go home, because home is either boring or scary. Same thing when I’m seven. And then eight… 10. 11. At night, I escaped into books, homework, extra credit and television.
Age 12? I called my aunt when my mother finally left our apartment to go to the store. “My mom is sick again,” I said, and I waited. I hoped my aunt would rescue me. She had done so before, though I did worry that I shouldn’t want to live with my aunt. That I should really want to live with my mother. In my mind, those words would rise in admonishment whenever I felt I needed to get out of my mother’s home.
“A daughter should be with her mother.” I’ve heard this a lot, from my mother and my aunt. Then I waited for my aunt to say, “Okay, darling. I’ll be there soon.” Only because she had rescued me before. But the pause was a little too long. When she did speak, her words landed at the bottom of my gut with a new kind of truth. Like algebra. Which I’m not good at.
“How bad is she?” I inhaled sharply… quietly. Algebraic equation. My head reels.
Only one right answer.
When does motivation become coercion? Says Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “If you want to build a ship… teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” In this instance, the vast and endless sea is a life where I am safe and cared for.
I surmise I’ve lived through worse with my mother, and I am still here. Now I feel selfish. And tired.
I shouldn’t be.
I was just a lazy, selfish, going-on-13 child. Rebellious, and done with the status quo. I chided myself for that. I was being immature, I thought. I should be stronger. My aunt was saying I must bear my life. I gripped the receiver next to my ear and already I wanted to replace it in its cradle. “She’s not that bad,” I said. I was already done with this conversation.
My aunt asked me if she will be feeding me and if I am going to school and seeing my friends. I answered yes, to all. She didn’t ask if I was sad or afraid. Or if I was tired. But I knew she was tired — too tired to deal with me or my mother, or her sister. It was clear to me then what to do.
Was it coercive to say to her that my mom was sick again? Indicating she was in another schizophrenic episode? Maybe. I straddled a strange border of self-reliance and dependence. Or was it interdependence? I didn’t know.
The world did not want me to depend on it. I learned this at a very young age. It didn’t want anything to do with my problems or my mother’s. It had always averted its eyes. Or judged. And it once put my mother into jail overnight. I knew at that point, the world was wrong.
And I had discerned, in general, people were stupid. But I was clueless how to motivate — educate anyone to want to aid me by understanding my life.
One has to speak very loudly to be heard, or to speak very clearly and succinctly.Or to embody charisma.
But I did not have the volume or the language, and certainly no charisma. So, I rose to the next level of listening and independence, which was a form of retreat from that which I had discerned clearly could not help me. The world had told me so, for years.
I became even more solitary in the only way I could survive. I put the child away that was me, and I told her not to want… anything.
Only when it became beyond unbearable on the brink of extinction, then I could act and do the thing that was in front of me: walk out the door, leave relationships, quit jobs that made me ill, yell at people to get the away from me when they had overstepped the boundary the 101st time. Only then did pure animal extinct kick in.
I lost my family when I was 14 — all of them. My father died when I was a child. My mother, I left as soon as there was an opening. I chose to go into a foster home rather than live with my aunt because I knew she really did not want me. It wasn’t until 35 years later I learned that by not taking me permanently into her home, she was actually protecting me from her alcoholic husband.
All that had nourished me that was good about my family, the things I had absorbed into my being and that gave me strength, I took these things with me. And the rest I had to cut away — like a cancer. Which for me meant not having a relationship with my family at all.
I didn’t know how to do the halfway stuff. I didn’t know how to negotiate the personal boundaries of all those who were supposed to love me.
And I will not get over it that I lost my family. You never do.
Some decades later, I am learning to stand up for myself and share more of myself, my work, my opinions. It’s a steep learning curve. Most of the time I’m welcomed. Some of the time I’m not. It activates the old wound which is mine to deal with. It has nothing to do with the person who is rejecting me.
Yet, it is stunning how fresh the pain is each time. I’m sure it is a lifelong purging of infection. This shame that rises in me every time someone does not want my words, my sensibilities, my friendship, my presence… me. It happens to all of us. Every day. Self-esteem is a wonderful shield. It is necessary. A fact of life to be able to do the work you’re here to do. You can’t take other people’s reactions personally.
Each time I’m triggered, instead of going numb, I feel the pain. I look at the blade wedged into my personality. And know it’s only my personality. Not my soul or spirit. Nothing can wound that.
‘Coercive’ dictionary definition: relating to or using force or threats.
My action was called coercive. Joan Didion in The Paris Review says about writing:
“It’s hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It’s hostile to try to wrench around someone else’s mind that way. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.”
I wrote and explained to my Facebook friend why I messaged her and I respected where she was coming from. We were cool with each other, even affectionate. But it still hurt.
When I was 12, I told the child in me that for us to survive she had best be quiet. She could feel things but she couldn’t share those feelings. Instead she wrote about it — journals and journals.
Now, I’m learning to respect her other needs. I listen and I thank her because she knew the right thing for us, for our spirit. She still does. Is she a little coercive? Probably the person who responded to me that way has her own history with that word. She took care of herself when she got triggered. And so we are teachers for each other.
Coercive. A word often used in intelligent battle. So, at heart I’m a warrior. Into battle every day. But the battle is always with myself.
Lisa Marguerite Mora has won prizes for poetry and fiction. Her work has been published in Rattle, Literary Mama, Public Poetry Series, California Quarterly, Cultural Weekly, Rebelle Society, Serving House Journal, among others. She has won a Blue Mountain Arts Poetry Prize, and in 2017, was the First Place winner in Micro Fiction for Dandelion Press’ the artwork of Lori Preusch, and the 14th Moon Prize for Writing in a Woman’s Voice. Shopping around a first novel, she has caught the attention of top agents. You could contact her via her website.