When No One Believes You: Reclaiming Your Authority

trees and moon

Out Went the Light

Ned and Karen went to dinner. The little brothers were in bed. Sly was out with his friends. Mina and I were allowed to read in our bedrooms, but lights had to be out at 8:30. I was tumbling through tunnels with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH when I glanced at the clock radio, saw the white digits flipping into place, and turned out the light.

At 9:03 came the thuds of feet on the front porch, door locks, and my own door creaking open. “You didn’t fool anyone, Christy,” said Karen, poking in her head.


“Your light, we saw it go off as we drove up.”

“But I turned it off at 8:30.”

“No, you didn’t. I saw it in the window.”


I didn’t want to be in this moment.

Best friends, watermelons, Christmas trees and Barbie dolls. Calico bedspreads and Casey Casum’s Top 40, a boy that liked you, Abba songs and Little House on the Prairie. What good thought could I conjure up to change the night?

The entire family gathered in the dining room. Sly tried making a serious face under his thin blond mustache but smashed a grin. “Poor Christy. She’s having a hard time telling the truth.”

“Christy, do you have something to say?” asked Karen.

All those ears waited for my answer. Their eyes flat and staring, their bodies still. Sly’s fingers drummed the table. Stupid Sly. It was none of his business. And there was Mina in her apple-green sweater vest pulled taut over her stomach, her mouth slack and small, her face worried like a mother. Ned leaned away, sinewy forearms on his knees; shoulders thin against the chair back. Karen pushed up her round, pink tinted glasses and watched me. Ned and Karen, the foster parents I was trying to learn to call Mom and Dad.

“Here’s what happened,” I said. “Your headlights were shining in the upstairs window.” I was the queen of reason. “The reflection must have bounced back when you turned off the car.”

Ned shook his head.

“No,” said Karen.

“But I did not keep my light on.”


Because of who I was: someone not to be believed.

“I—I didn’t.”

Did I have a multiple personality, like Sybil? Did I leave the lights on, and not know? I wished I had the brains of Justin the Rat, capable of explaining everything scientifically to Mrs. Frisby, even though she was a mouse, and mouses had small brains.

“I don’t know why you’re making this so hard on yourself,” said Karen. “All you have to do is apologize.”

“But I turned my light off!”

“It’s just not possible,” said Ned.

“We know what we saw.”

“But it’s true!” The last syllable trailed long and loud through the kitchen, curling like a mouse-tail back to my own ears: “You.”



The above story is based on an event when my voice was invalidated. This was the first time such a thing had happened to me. It triggered nightmares and days of hysterics, as if my sense of self was too weak to handle being doubted.

In the year to come, I would move in with a new foster family who would always try to hear my point of view. But this night of not being believed was the first tremor, leading to the earth-shattering news that I was no longer wanted by Ned and Karen.

As traumatic as that was, we creators face this situation day in and out – with tiny ideas, or humongous projects. We believe something, affirm it, create it. Others don’t see it our way. Then . . . we often give up on what we know to be true.

Are you the authority in your own life? For your own creation?

Sunday, January 31, at Vancouver Community Library, I’ll be presenting, “You’re the Authority,” at 1 pm. A lineup of three accomplished and big-hearted writers will follow, making the afternoon complete.

I hope to see you, and look forward to the ways we can validate each other.


Here’s a handout for Sunday’s presentation: Eleven Ways to Develop Your Artist Author-ity.

My Writing River: A Poem

snippet collage version Delightfish

by Emily Gillespie

It starts with a trickle

My writing river is flowing on uncut soil
Atop the leaves and the dirt, forging a new trail
One fit for future waves to maneuver
It’s poking over to the left, seeing if it likes that
It turns to the right when it sees an opportunity to flow
Not scared to turn around if it doesn’t feel right
If it doesn’t suit the potential of this new writing river
A river that will take years of repetition to carve into the earth
Years of nudging its way into a strong current
riverWidening as it sees fit
And narrowing when it needs
But always flowing
Disregarding the trees
And the logs
And the rocks in the way
Not even the longstanding mountains stand a chance
Because this is my writing river
Stories as tiny as guppies and as big as whales will find their way down
Colorful energetic spindly fish storiessnippet collage version Delightfish
And simple silver mackerel fish stories
Long, winding eel-like stories
And dark, unmoving bottom feeder stories
All will be honored and accommodated in my new writing river
Just wait


Thank you to writer and storyteller, Emily Gillespie, for describing what it is to surrender to the writing process while honoring the discipline and practice. Loving the wisdom!

Stairs: A Collaborative Collage Poem

stairs-collage-poemThe Burn Wild class produced this collaborative collage poem. Here’s the process: each creates her own wildwrite, and then we randomly choose one line and read aloud together.

This is what emerged around the topic of stairs . . .


The thoughts are like my backyard

compost – hot

drips rich tea for the soil

Sometimes they move slowly,

softly, a tiny human clutched in

their arms, spilling over the sides

with mouth agape

In childhood dreams repeated, the same one floating down the stairs

of our home, dreamt so often I actually believed I could float down them

The stairs creak, but who hears?

It’s moments like the early dark and cool mornings that I lift her into

my arms by the scruff of her neck to carry her down the stairs

that I’m reminded of the change of Day

My young aunt swooned, my mother made eyes, and my sister was floored.

So stairs are about leaving, climbing, exiting, and taking what is yours.

An Eye for Miracles, A Hand Removing Blocks

The very best thing about giving presentations and workshops is meeting amazing, generous, creative people. One comment has stayed with me for three months.

1 fireIt’s what one particular author at SCBWI Western Washington, said about the creative process. Dana Sullivan, the multi-talented illustrator, blogger, cartoonist and graphic designer, noted: “My biggest obstacle to writing is . . . Dana Sullivan.”

I thought this was brilliant. Once we realize we are our greatest obstacle, we find true creative freedom. That freedom certainly shows up in Dana’s delightful blog.

Here’s a fabulous cartoon by Dana Sullivan, commemorating the event. (We weren’t really wearing pajamas – but next time I’ll consider it!) dana sullivan's pic of me and kirby

It was thrilling to get to lead a session prior to Kirby Larson‘s keynote speech, as this Newbery-Honored author accepted the Crystal Kite Award. Her words brought listeners to the edge of tears, with the story of her brave, loving grandmother, of persistence, hope, missed airplanes, and a host of accidents that have added up to miracles in her life and career.

And yet another wonder of that December workshop: Deb Lund. This fun, clever author greeted me with the smile and hug I needed after a long drive. She got me laughing, she sparked my mind with her own brand of breakthrough creativity.

Gratitude, gratitude.

I’m catching up on all my weeks and weeks of acquired blessings – as I’ve been swamped getting my new book out. And now I can take a breather, and appreciate all these amazing people I can meet and emulate.

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