"I knew I had to do it. Even if it felt like I had nothing to contribute, I would have to think of something."
Writer and editor of the 100 Voices for 100 Years project, Miranda Roszkowski realises how hard it is to talk about achievements, and pays tribute to the 99 contributors who have gone before her.
Miranda Roszkowski is a writer and performer who spends her nights typing and days working for a fantastic part of central government. She has been published online and once in print, she has been an editor of the Mechanic's Institute Review, her plays have been performed by Dirty Protest and at National Theatre Wales events, she has worked in voiceover for Deutsche Welle and various other places. She has the same best friend she had when she was 10 years old, her Grandmother recognises her when she visits and the dog doesn't bark on the too rare occasions she visits her parents in Swansea, where she grew up. She runs and hosts There Goes The Neighbourhood a spoken word night in Hackney where she lives. So far her relationship with Hackney is her longest love affair, but she's working on that, too.
100 Voices for 100 Years - Miranda Roszkowski
“I can’t do it. I have nothing to say.”
Me - last Friday, after a particularly existential rejection and knowing that full well less than a week later I would be sharing my story for the 100 Voices for 100 Years project. 100 days after launching the project publicly, and about 120 days after first uttering the idea out loud, to myself, then others.
It’s not always easy to ask people for something, but in this case that was the whole purpose of the project — providing the platform for others to share work. And they did — day after day, amazing female storytellers have shared their poems, stories, thoughts, desires, fears and above all achievements. It wasn’t always smooth. Life got in the way, for my contributors as it did for me. Sometimes, when at 10 pm I really didn’t know what I would be posting the next day, I thought about what I would say if I were to step in to provide the next voice. It wouldn’t have been very long, at least. But somehow I scraped through, and as the end of the project came closer I knew I wanted to speak myself. “Are you doing one?” people would ask. At the end, I had replied, giving myself space to be a last resort substitute and also, to come up with something.
On that Friday, I knew I had to do it. Even if it felt like I had nothing to contribute, I would have to think of something.
I listened (again) to the Voice of The Day. It was a perfect antidote to all the negative emotions I was experiencing. I emailed the writer. “I understand,” she said when I told her what was going on for me. I knew she did. Later that day, on social media, one of my contributors reposted the piece she had recorded less than a week before, a piece that was full of struggles and hope.“I am so far from optimistic now” she said, needing a reminder of that other version of herself who had been able to recognise all the things that she had done. Another contributor was going to redo her piece, tidying it up, that’s all. “I’m just not in the right headspace today.” I knew exactly what she meant.
Neither these contributors, nor I, had fundamentally changed from the people who one day, two days, 100 days before had felt invincible. When things are going well, for me at least, I remember all the steps it has taken to get there. My achievements feel solid like scaffolding holding me up. When something knocks me, I feel like I’m in free-fall. So asking people to talk about something they have achieved isn’t as straightforward as it seems. I didn’t know what to expect when I sent out the first call for submissions but I thought there might be more stories about bungee-jumping, about winning court cases maybe. Instead, the stories are beautifully crafted, vulnerable and in many cases about resilience. Some people came forward like a shot. Many needed persuading. One or two lost heart half way through.
I was asked in an interview how easy it had been to get contributions. “Not as easy as I thought.” Most people agreed they didn’t think it would have been easy to get British people, especially women to talk about how proud they were of something. One of the writers who I met too late in the project to include her piece, Charmaine Wilkerson, approached me with a quote she was told as a child “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are an abomination to the Lord.”
Are we as female identifying individuals conditioned to keep quiet? Or is it that we don’t know how to form the sentences to show our pride - because we don’t see other women doing it? Is it because the stories that we are told, even if they are about women, are not quite relatable because they are written by men? I think that this could be true, and that’s why it was so important for me to have this 100 strong list of stories and story tellers and why I am so grateful to those who could contribute and those who weren’t able but are still out there plugging away at their words.
So even though I had nothing to say. I sat down and made a list. And the longer I thought about it, the more I realised I was proud of.
“Do you think I should do it?”
Me — mid January to my housemate late on a Sunday afternoon.
I had drafted the email to my contacts — almost every single one I had picked up in the last ten, twenty years of my studies, courses, working life. People with whom I had toured to the outer reaches of the UK in a rusty van, people who had given me that job, people who I had met through well connected friends, people who I had met in the swimming pool, people whose birthdays I knew off by heart, people who had directed plays I had written, people who had performed at the spoken word night I have run for two years, people who I had never met in person. Tutors, lovers, friends. Everyone who was important. I had so much to lose, in my head at least, if they thought it was a stupid idea.
“Really? Should I?”
“Do it.” My housemate said and I pressed send. Within thirty minutes people I respected hugely replied enthusiastically.
“I have to do it now.”
I am so proud, not just for pressing send but because all of the years before when I had thought I was just jumping from thing to thing without a plan, I was collecting. I was creating this wonderful network of stunning humans and I am proud that they are in my address book and now, supporters of the project.
Not only that, I have met 100, actually, far more people through the project. I could not have done it without them. It was often hard going — for a start I have never created a website, I know nothing about audio files. I asked a couple of friends who have podcasts. I asked a friend of a friend about websites. I asked a stranger in a shop. I found I was not afraid to ask for help. I found I was not afraid to get things wrong. I didn’t have time. I was working a full time job which had just got about as busy as it has ever been, I was writing a book, I was running my spoken word night, I was building a relationship, I was supporting my flatmates, I was trying to work out what was going on with my sister’s wedding. So instead of worrying about getting it wrong, which I do - so much. I put that to one side and when I didn’t know how to do something, when I was overwhelmed, when I needed a hug. I just asked.
I didn’t learn this by myself — I learned I had to speak up from Emma Halliday, Carys Jones, Eloise Williams, Della Dervill, Lissa Barry.
I learned that no-one will give you that chance unless you ask for it from Charly Lester, Miriam Elin Jones, Deborah Martin, Branwen Davies, Sian Brett.
When things got hard I listened to Jo Goodbody, to Diane Simmons, Sandra Arnold, Debbi Voisey, Louise Taylor who all managed to find hope in a very dark place. And to Rebecca Rouillard whose humour inspired me to keep my head up.
When I was anxious I turned to Suzanna Bowen, Gaynor Jones, Felicity Goodman who had all made it through, and on the way that learned it was ok to go easy on yourself.
I called the project “my baby” and it was a demanding child. I had to plan my life around getting to my desk to programme the next day, or plan ahead when I was going away - I never do that! I knew it wouldn’t be easy - I was guided by the mothers Jo Howard, Reshma Ruia, Victoria Richards, Ceri Ashcroft, Antonia Seaward, Sarah Hegarty, juggling twins, hiding in cupboards, turning down executives, finding their voices, standing on the edge of cliffs, closing green curtains, worrying about results and wondering if you can ever be both. You can.
When I didn’t get the right people on board, if things didn’t work out I wanted or demands from elsewhere meant I was getting things wrong all over, I remembered Louise Jensen, Jacqueline Haskell, Sarah Burnett, Lucy Simm, Emily Devane, whose resilience and energy kept me going. Sarah Jones, Angela Martin and Jane Riekemann told me to keep fighting (sometimes in song). I listened to Emma Flint, Laura Windley, Anne Summerfield and Louise Mangos who told me that the “yes”, the success, would come with time.
The bravery of my contributors pushed me on - Sarah Alexander, Helen Rye, Sarah Armstrong who went to a war zone and Usha Rowan who came to the UK as a refugee herself.
If I felt like I was just scraping it by the skin of my teeth I remembered Freya Kelly and her slide, Alice Lipscomb-Southwell’s bike, Kerri Smith’s ski season, YL Huang’s challenge to just say “yes”, Sabrina Mahfouz taking to the stage for her first MC session, Angela Wallis, Emily Garside, Ciara McVeigh and Louise Houghton who had all left comfort to pursue an unknown future. They had all gone for it, and so had I. They also inspired me to apply for a career break - it starts in July.
When the end seemed so very far away I thought about Peta Cornish, Elinor Johns, Sophie Haydock, Emily Holyoake who had all run over 26 miles. I related to that. “Take a step, take ten. And maybe one day you will run a Marathon.” In some ways I felt did. Katherine Vik told me love wasn’t always smooth bit you could keep it going.
When I got it wrong, when I messed up the website or social media or worse, made people upset, I tried to remember Robyn Addison, Aliyah Keshani, Julia Woolard who all learned to accept themselves as they were. I agreed with Lesley Traynor when she reminded me - we are not superwomen. Jude Higgins helped me to realise I wasn’t alone.
If I ever wondered what the point was I would think about Grace Pilkington, Emma Berentsen, Sophia Olivia Ali, Elisabeth Alain and all the others who were dealing with horrible situations that are perpetuated by a sexist society. I looked back with the help of Maureen Wright, Jane Roberts, Ros Ball, Viv Buckley, Sakina Ballard and the team behind Suffragette City. I looked forward with Beth Stevens and Sharon Eckman.
I kept the candle of my idea burning with oxygen from Alex Keelan, Vanessa Hammick, Olivia Chappell, Christabel Johanson, Melangell Dolma, Kate Ellis, Maya Kay whose pieces dealt with dreams and joy and freedom to be yourself. Tamara von Werthern reminded me sometimes it’s ok to break the rules. Stefanie Moore taught me the joy of winning, and the calm of letting that desire go.
Amie Taylor, Sharon Kanolik, Susmita Bhattacharya, Tamara Pollock and the fabulous Sarah Kosar all made me praise the small achievements. For me Sogol Sur’s piece about sisterhood for International Women’s Day applied to the whole community of 100 voices. My own mother, Anne Roszkowski’s piece surprised me and changed the way I will see her forever. I’m proud I saw in her story a lot of the drive that I feel to do something worthwhile. Jessica Hayles piece about her amazing grandmother moved me, Amy Kirkwood’s honesty, Stevie Taylor’s dirtiness, Damhnait [DOWN NIT] Monaghan’s farcical encounters, Stella Klein’s worry she was a “Bit Funny in the Head” all delighted me. I applauded Miranda Keeling, Kate Jefford and Amy Foster for singing, cartwheeling and astrology. Isabelle Clement and Alison Hitchcock’s dedication to helping others made me reach higher.
And anytime things were tough - absolutely every time - I would get an email from one of the contributors, egging me on. You are all wonderful humans.
But from Rachel Barrett, whose story arrived first - on my birthday - and was played first, and who gave me the confidence to go ahead - her piece about asking for help but getting on with it, I learned so much. As well as a recipe for lemon curd..
“I did it.”
Me - today.
A massive thank you, to everyone who has helped. The contributors of course, but all my friends, family, boyfriend, housemates. It makes it easier when you know there are people to catch you.
I hope the project has touched people and made them think. Data tells me that we have listeners in Vietnam, the US, all over Europe. And even if it is all down to the amazing quality writing I was lucky to receive and the championing from the contributors and other supporters - I did create the platform- block by template block and I am hugely proud of that. The project was featured on The Pool - an article I wrote was featured on the Pool! We were long-listed for the saboteur awards. Women’s Hour said the project “sounded interesting “ - look that IS an achievement because they are very busy.
I haven’t listed all my personal achievements here (this is already way too long - hoho) but writing this piece has made me stop and think about them. They’re quite good. Though I will never beat Sharon Kanolik’s record of 30 years of Neighbours’ viewing.
So how did it happen?
I published pretty much everyone who approached me. I took a chance and the quality of the stories was amazing, surprising and original. Other publishing channels might not take so many chances but it doesn’t mean your writing is bad - your voice is worthless. Hopefully other women will create similar projects, platforms, initiatives that we can all take part in.
I didn’t think it through. I wasn’t careful or well prepared. Turns out you don’t have to be. You just have to have a go.
Leap and maybe someone will catch you. Or maybe you can swing off that scaffolding.