The other day, my *almost* sixteen-year-old daughter read to me out loud her response to one of the questions on an assignment in her advanced English class. The question was:
“Who or what has had the biggest impact on the development of your voice?”
Me [best attempt at no expression]: “Ooh!!! Good question.”
Me [inside]: ME!! PLEASE SAY ME!! But it might not be me. Shit, I don’t have a poker face, Christy, get it together here!! If it’s not you, you don’t want to make her feel bad. Whatever she says is fine, whoever it is. OH PLEASE LET IT BE ME!!
Spoiler alert: It was me. 🙂 !!!
I want to share this with you because as a writer, a mom and a human being trying to do the best I can to live my life in a positive way in the time I am gifted with on this planet, voice is as essential as air, water and wi-fi.
Voice is everything.
I have been trying to find my authentic voice for my entire life. Mustering the courage to use it. Trust it. Believe in it. Believe that I had a right to use it. Express it. Believe that my voice mattered. And use it for good, not evil.
As a writer, voice is what sets you apart from everyone else. There are no original ideas at this point. We are all just trying to say what we see, feel, think, want. It is all filtered through our own experience and perspective. But there is one universal truth.
We all have a unique voice.
I’ve read that true craftsmen spend 10 years perfecting their craft. I have dedicated my life to writing, including almost 7 years (part time while working so you don’t think I’m a dope or lazy) in graduate school studying every type of literary work to learn the secrets of the masters. This included countless hours writing drafts few, if any, would see. Submitting endless stories that were mostly rejected and occasionally published. [I kept writing.] Reading my work aloud in front of audiences in small and large venues, despite terrifying anxiety that made me want to throw up before every event. All of those rewrites trying to find “me” and “my voice” and translating it to the page. To share my truth. The real me.
The real me: WTF??? No way!!!
I was terrified. For reasons that only those whose voice has been suppressed can understand. I was afraid of hurting people I loved. People who were supposed to love and protect me. Of what would happen to me if I told the truth. As I got older, I was afraid because then I would have to do something about whatever “it” was. And I had no idea what to do. It was much easier and safer to hide behind fictional characters and metaphors or just…stay silent.
But the silence was slowly killing me inside.
I have spent the last four years of my life rebooting my hard drive and undoing a lot of years of bad programming. In that time, I have learned to use my voice. My real, authentic voice. I used it tentatively at first, and only with a select few that I trusted. It was scary, but I knew that if I wanted to make real connections with people and truly change, I had to push past the fear and anxiety. Let my voice come out.
Speak my truth.
What I didn’t realize is that my girl was watching me all the while. Listening. Taking it all in. As I learned, I tried to share with her. Undo the past and right the wrongs. I was a girl on a mission: the shit would stop here. Now. With me.
My voice was rough at first. I was terrified. I shook as I started saying what I really thought instead of what I thought I was supposed to say. Sometimes it came out in awkward ways. Angry. Bitter. Reactive. It was messy. New. But the people who loved me tried to understand. They hung in there with me as I navigated this new me. But most importantly…
Slowly, my greatest fear about using my voice began to subside. I learned that speaking my truth felt good. Scary. But good. The more I did it, the better it felt. The more “me” I felt.
And me is okay. Me is pretty fucking great, actually.
When my daughter wrote about her own voice and how she feels I contributed, I realized that everything I’ve done – all the hard work, the tears, the sacrifices, the painful self exploration – it’s all been worth it. And she is coming to know that she is pretty fucking great, too.
I can’t change what happened to me then. But I can change what happens now. My girl is going to have a better life because I did what needed to be done. All those nights wondering if I did the right thing, said what needed to be said, lying awake turning things over in my mind, writing letters trying to tell her everything I wish someone had told me. Wondering if I made a difference. If any of it mattered.
My daughter is finding her voice. And she is using it.
I will be forever grateful to this teacher for giving my daughter and I this special moment. I tell her often: you have been given the gift of words. Use your power for good, not evil. I love you.
Life goes so fast. I don’t always have time to think about this stuff. I’ve been busy working and keeping our life going and juggling good days, bad days, so-so days and a few shit days in between. (Thanks, life, for keeping it real!) Then a simple class writing assignment comes along and…
Everything that came before fades.
I start to believe what, shall we call my “Yoda,” has said from the beginning of our work together: “My crystal ball says your future looks very bright.” Yoda says it over and over, as often as I need to hear it, especially during the years when I felt like I was trying to pull up the Titanic. To this day, I ask to hear it again when I need it.
This is progress for me. I always thought I had to go it alone from the time I was a kid. That I was a worthless piece of shit if I couldn’t get it together and figure it out on my own. Everyone else seemed to have it all together. Don’t admit weakness. Don’t ask for help. Whatever you do.
I know better now.
“Your future looks very bright.” At first, I thought, yeah, okay, right, what the fuck ever, Yoda-bullshitter-like-everyone-else-who-came-before. But secretly, in my heart of hearts, I clung to those words like a life preserver. Those words carried me through some of the darkest times of my life. I wanted so badly to believe in them. In something good. That things could be better. That me, little insignificant me, could make good things happen. That good things could happen to me.
That I deserved good things.
And here we are.
Me and my two musketeers in our little boat on this giant sea of life, weathering the storms. Waking up to yet another sunrise every day. Together. No matter what life throws at us. We are still here. We hug a bit tighter these days. Laugh a bit longer.
We will never be silent again.
Whatever you are working through right now, I wish you everything good. I want to share with you a few things that I tell myself and my kids…things that inspire me…help me keep going when I am having an absolute shit day. Simple words. But to me, they are everything:
Your crystal ball looks bright.
Don’t give up.
You can do this.
The world needs you.
One day at a time.
Your voice matters.
Get knocked down seven times. Get up eight.
You attract what you are.
You are so much stronger than you know.
Tonight’s musical inspiration. Cycled through about five thousand songs before coming upon this old fave. Hit the spot on this dark, chilly night.