Why I Write

Letter to my Readers:

I write because I grew up white lower-middleclass in the South—where black people never let their eyes meet mine—unless they were the loving eyes of those women who took care of me.  Even now, whenever I visit the South I’m aware of those eyes that don’t meet mine—in the chambermaids of hotels, the busboys.  I write because of the shame of my family name—the shame I can’t escape and don’t even try.  The shame I never fully understood until I was an adult.

At age 10, I was introduced to racism for the first time in Macon, Georgia while staying with my grandmother.  The blessing was that I didn’t understand it.  I was an Army brat and had lived with and gone to school with people of all ethnic backgrounds all my life.  I had not been raised to discriminate against anyone.  Back home in El Paso, Texas I stood in my backyard and gave impassioned speeches out loud to imaginary audiences—about the rights of everybody, about all of us being the same.

As a child, I also railed against Christianity.  I never understood or accepted that God would not let people go to heaven unless they believed in Jesus Christ.  Over and over I questioned, “What about the babies in Africa and China who die and don’t know about Jesus?”  At 13, I was confirmed into the Methodist Church and determined to be a missionary when I grew up.  Although I still didn’t accept that my god would let babies and children or anybody go to hell if they hadn’t had a chance to know Jesus, I had been so indoctrinated that I felt the call to go do something about it—JUST IN CASE.

But then I grew up and started working all day and attending junior college at night to study art.  Over the years, I experienced sexual harassment—and all the advantages and SOME of the disadvantages of being a woman in our society.  I had doors opened for me because I was a beautiful woman and I had doors closed on me because I was a beautiful woman.

When I was 29, I went to a woman psychologist who smoked during our sessions and drove a silver Corvette.  I decided I wanted to do what she did and began the long journey toward becoming a psychologist.  Along the way, I marched for the ERA with a baby strapped to my chest—and so thoroughly taught my sons that women could be anything they wanted to be that one them, at the suggestion that he be a doctor, said, “I can’t be doctor!  I’m a boy!”

Through it all, I’ve always had a man in my life to support my dreams, or tear me down, or tell me I couldn’t have it ALL.  I even had women professors discourage me from even trying to get into the male-dominated field of psychology—suggesting social work instead.  But I kept on thinking about my psychologist and persevered until I made it all the way to my doctorate.  And then I learned I had to downplay my beauty (and my Southern accent) in order to be taken seriously in my hard-won profession.

Early on, I realized that people have difficulty truly empathizing with others who are different— even if they sympathize with them.  I learned that about myself when, as a psychology intern working with drug addicts and prostitutes, I was shamefully surprised to recognize their pain as my own.  My first experience was when an extensively tattooed, heroin-addicted, Harley Davidson-riding, tough-guy totally broke down in his session with me.  As he cried and talked about the many losses in his life, I truly felt his pain—and held him as I wept with him.

Since I’ve always been able to make things happen for myself, whatever the obstacles, I never knew what it felt like to not have power as a woman—until I went to Saudi Arabia.  When I wound up in the concentration camp that was the Aramco compound of Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia I truly understood the gut-clenching terror of having my identity and power torn away.  Of being totally dependent on a man and a company and a Kingdom to give me permission to leave—forget driving or going sleeveless!  It was then I knew empathy for those living under the veils.

And so I wrote and wrote and wrote about women and oppression, because I finally knew what I was writing about.  I realize now that I had to go to Saudi to understand it.  I had to experience it to know it.  And now I know I write for all of us, not just for the women in Saudi and China and Africa and Afghanistan, but for women everywhere.  I write for women in this country—from Appalachia to La Jolla—who are in real danger of having their rights ripped from them in the November 2012 elections.

I write for me, I write for you, I write for all of us.  We are all the same.  And I cry because I know it will never change where human life is not valued—where women and children and men are chattel for those in power.  I cry because all we can do is scream as loudly as we can so that those in power hear our voices and maybe someone responds. And one person at a time can do whatever she can, and one baby girl and child and woman can be rescued at a time.

I write so I can enlighten and inspire and empower others to action.  All the characters in East of Mecca are fictional, and all their stories are true.  This is the mission I have been given—to write for all of us.

9 Comments

  1. William Lind

    Fantastic website, fantastic book, anf fantastic person!

    Reply

  2. William Lind

    Typo, “…and fantastic person!” Also wanted to say it again…

    Reply

  3. Bud Shapiro

    I am blessed and honored to know Sheila personally. Her concern for not only women, but all people of all backgrounds is exemplary. A fantastic lady and a fantsastic web site! Sheila, you are very special!

    Reply

    • Sheila Flaherty

      Thank you so much, Bud. Your words mean the world to me.

      Reply

  4. Dick Flaharty

    Was fascinated by the power of your written word, and am sorry that we have never been close as a family so that I might have shared more in a closer relationship.

    Reply

    • Sheila Flaherty

      Thank you, so much, Uncle Dick. This means more than you know. I, too, wish we had been close over the years. And I’m so grateful to have you in my life, now.

      Reply

  5. Patti Pernini

    I soooo want to read your book – East of Mecca. Where can I find it? I’ve just had the pleasure/displeasure of driving 7 Saudi women around town for the last 10 days. I REALLY want to know so much more about them.
    Patti Pernini

    Reply

    • Sheila Flaherty

      Thanks for checking out my website, Patti! I will be self-publishing East of Mecca this spring and I’m planning a Kickstarter/book launch in mid-summer. Watch for it!!!

      Reply

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