Finding Your Voice in a World of #MeToo

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me and my girl one fall day
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. 

For everyone.

For me.

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.

Not anymore.

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.

Dammit. 

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…

They stayed. 

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. 

Much love,
Christy

Tonight’s musical inspiration. Cycled through about five thousand songs before coming upon this old fave. Hit the spot on this dark, chilly night.

 

 

 

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Happy 18th Birthday to My Boy

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My son turns 18 today. All he has asked for is a Zippo lighter with a puppy on it. He had an early celebration tonight with his dad, who cooked his favorite bacon burger and put him into a “food coma.” Tomorrow we will go to Red Lobster for the Endless Shrimp, at his request. His dad and I have been divorced for more than three years now and as we have ever since, we will celebrate the birthday together as a family. Because no matter what has come before or what may come after, for better or worse, we are family.

This is what family does.

I want to take a moment to give my boy a moment of appreciation. Recognition. My words, which have been my gift and at times, my curse, until I learned to use them wisely. Kindly. Always working on this. 🙂

My boy. How do I express everything that I feel at this moment, the night before you turn 18 and as you told me tonight, “Tomorrow I’m an adult!” I smile and say, one day at a time, kiddo!

* gulp *

My boy, almost a man yet still a boy, I want you to know that I remember everything. That first moment I felt you flutter in my stomach. I was in a literary grad school class after work. I was thrilled about a passage of words that resonated with me and I thought, oh! It resonated with you, too! (Crazy, but my first connection to you.) I knew right then that you were smart. That you were with me, a part of me, a person. That you were special.  That I loved you. That I was blessed.

When you were born, you were the first blood relative I ever laid eyes on. I am adopted, so this miraculous moment – your first moment of life – had extra special meaning for me. One who had never known anyone who was connected to me by more than just paper or words. And of course, because life is what it is, you looked nothing like me and exactly like your dad. 🙂

They told me you were going to be a girl. I knew they were wrong. I dreamt of a blonde baby boy. I painted the room yellow. Little did I know this would be my first time learning to disregard what “they” said and learning to trust my instincts about you. Who you were. What you needed. And then, eighteen years ago today, there you were.

My boy.

I loved you instantly. Every tear you cried (know that I cried three tears to every one of yours). Being there for you when I didn’t know how to help or what to do. Holding you. Praying for you long after I had given up on religion. Worrying for you. Loving you harder when I didn’t know what else to do. Making you laugh. Kissing away your tears. Holding your hand. Keeping your secrets.

I always knew you were special, boy. That you were destined for great things. For happiness. No matter how difficult things were, I knew. I believed in you. I had this magical belief that if I just marinated you in love, someday, one day, you would see it, too.

And then one day… you did.

And now here you are, 18 years old. Making your college plans. Driving. Telling me you want to buy your own car because I have done enough for you already and you need to be a man, stand on your own two feet, pay your own way. I glance at the stuffed animal puppies on your headboard and the Xbox Halo posters on your wall. I hug you. Neither one of us lets go first.

You tell me every day, “Mommy, have I told you how much I love you today?” I always say no. Even though we both know you did. 🙂

Boy – the word I use when you don’t want me to use your name – I am the luckiest mommy in the world. I am so grateful for you. Please forgive me for writing about you. I know you don’t like to be on the “internet.” But you are so special. You have overcome so many adversities and you have never once said, “Why me?” You never give up. You always keep going. It humbles me.

You deserve to be celebrated. Recognized. In today’s world, it seems as if the worst stories and behavior get the most attention. You have challenged and inspired me to be a better person in so many ways. You have touched so many people with your kind heart, your kind words – even when they didn’t understand your way. You always prevailed. You never gave up.

You always stayed true to you.

I want to shine a light right now on what a wonderful human being you are. A person who has overcome so much,  worked so hard, and asked for so little in return. Just the other day, your team at school showered you in compliments and you shrank in your chair. (Of course I touched your arm and told you to sit up straight.) So giving with your kind words yet so challenged to take them in.

Your heart and light burn so bright. I always told you, even in your darkest hours, the world needs your light. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. 

And now, here you are. Eighteen. Almost a man. Taller than me. I hug you and my face is in your armpits. Not a fun place to be. 🙂

In your eighteenth year, I wish you so many beautiful things. I promise you I will do everything I can to help you continue to grow into the amazing man you are destined to be. I can’t promise I won’t close  my eyes and hold my breath when you don’t brake fast enough. I can’t promise I won’t stay up every night until you come home so I can make sure you are safe and hear how your day went.

God, how I love to hear how your day went. How you are. See you smile. Laugh. Be here for you. Be a part of your life.

I promise I will always tell you to put on a jacket because I am cold just looking at you. I promise that when you hug me, I will always hug you back harder. I know how incredibly lucky we are to have you. How lucky the world is to have you, too.

My heart aches. My heart is full.

Thank you, boy. For teaching me what I needed to learn. For giving me so much more than I could ever give to you. For loving me. For being you. Loving, sweet, smart, creative, wonderful you.

Happy birthday, boy. I can’t wait to see where you go from here.

Love always,
Mom

PS My musical inspiration tonight is not cool, according to my teenage daughter and probably many others. I don’t give a shit. I heard this melody awhile back and felt something, so I held onto it. I’ve learned to recognize when something moves me and pay attention, whether it’s cool or not.

I like that about me.

True Love: I Never Saw It Coming, Baby

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I loved you child

From the moment I knew of you

*
I was there for your first

Breath

Word

Step

First mashed bananas

Smeared on your soft, plump cheeks

The whole body shudder

At your first taste of peas

I ate them first, said yum!

So you ate them too

Then spit them right out

I laughed

I remember

Your baby giggle

Your gentle hands

Reaching for my smile

*

I was there

For every heart

Ache

Break

Boys, school, friends, wins

Losses

Seeing it in the slump of your shoulders

The weight of the world

In every word you

Never had to say

*

I was there

Telling you what you needed to

Know

Don’t forget your key

Put a jacket on I’m cold just looking at you

The boy always comes to the door to get you

The boy always opens the door for a lady

Hang up your bath towel so it doesn’t get mildewed

Put the toothpick in the center of the cake

To make sure it’s done

Use a Q-Tip, girl, to clean up your eyeliner

If it smudges

Yes, boy, you have to wear deodorant

Yes, boy, every day

Look the other person in the eyes

When you shake hands

When you apologize

Shake like you mean it

Say it like you mean it

Buckle your seat belt

Take the turns 

Slow

*

I was there for all of it, I know

I remember every day like

One lazy, never-ending river

Was there ever a time

Without you?

*

Now you tell me you know

Because I’ve already told you

I tell you again anyway

I say it’s not for you

It’s for me

I’m old

I forget stuff

We laugh

I remember the tenderness

of your baby fingers

on my cheek

*

I loved you child

From the moment I knew of you

Funny, it’s hard to find love

Yet with the mere knowledge of you

My heart

Grew

*

Living every day

Thinking of you

Worrying about you

Making the sandwiches

Picking up the towels

Washing the clothes

Cooking the dinners

Wiping away the tears

Calming the fears

Driving you wherever

You need to go

*

The hardest thing

I’ve ever had to do

Is hold you

Soothing not solving

While you cried in my arms

Holding your hurt in my heart

As if it were my own

My hands always outstretched

To catch you

If you fall

*

Seasons are changing

We stand together

Side by side on the ledge

Look down at the water

Clear yet deep

Look at each other

Count to three

Jump

*

You still call me Mommy

I still say “What-y?”

We both still giggle

*

I loved you, child

From the moment I knew of you

I will love you

Always

Forever

Just because you’re you

Mommy

 

Tonight’s musical inspiration from my friend Ben. It has just the right tempo for what I was trying to say. It was a beautiful day here in Chicago today, sunny and 75 degrees, a rare treat this time of year. I wanted to go to sleep early. But this. Turning in the back of my mind for days. Trying to find the words, the shape, the form. The music helps me find it. Frame it. Tell the story that needs to be told. It’s raining a little as I read this again. Refine. Listen to what my heart wants to say. Make sure the words are honest and true.

 

What Motherhood Has Taught Me

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My loves, my sillies, a long time ago. Or was it yesterday?

As another Mother’s Day nears and my kids grow another year closer to adulthood, I am thinking back on it all. The tattered hard copy of Goodnight Moon recited by heart. Bath/book/bed routines. Play groups. Walking through the grocery store when they were littles and feeling SO proud of myself for getting a shower in and dressing up in something other than sweat pants, the kids well behaved in the cart and I thought – yeah, I’m on it! I got it all together today! Go me!

And then in the checkout lane, the woman behind me whispered, “Excuse me, but did you know that you have a lollipop stuck on the back of your skirt?”

Motherhoood is a sticky business.
When I first announced to the world that I was pregnant, there is one phrase I heard most often: “Your life is going to change!” This was usually followed by knowing smiles or laughter. I remember saying, “Yeah, I know.”

I didn’t know shit.

Seventeen years and two kids later, I get it. I’m going to try to capture just how life-changing motherhood has been for me and a few of the lessons I’ve been humbled to learn in no particular order. For mother’s day. For moms everywhere who show up every day fighting the good fight.   Continue reading “What Motherhood Has Taught Me”

Supermom is Flying Straight to Hell: The Power of Magical Thinking on Tough Days

me and my goofballs…somewhere

It’s been a week. Already. And it’s only Tuesday. 🙂 Have you ever had a string of days where you thought, what the ??  Yeah. It was that.

In the last week, my only work computer crapped out and had to be restored from scratch. The furnace crapped out. The storm door broke. The back porch drain backed up. Been cleaning up water from all the April Chicago rain for days. The only toilet in the house backed up. Seriously.

I should tell you that the plumber took great pleasure in ripping reams of toilet paper off the roll and throwing it with great flourish into the toilet to show me –  okay, I have no idea what. I’m sure there was a point there but I still fail to see it. He did it three times!! All I could think was – do you know how expensive toilet paper is?? And how much of it we go THROUGH in a week??? He asked me five million questions. I was starting to think I should have just looked this up on YouTube and did it myself when he asked me for a wire hanger. I’m like – um, you have a guy standing right next to you and two vans outside – you don’t have a tool or something? They laughed. I got the hanger. I’ve never met such a needy plumber, for God’s sake. Continue reading “Supermom is Flying Straight to Hell: The Power of Magical Thinking on Tough Days”

Cavalier about Croutons: A Reflection on Cooking, Food and Family

FullSizeRender I just finished my first Blue Apron meal – have you ever tried it? This is the Spiced-Rub Roast Beef with collard greens and potato salad. This is not a review of Blue Apron or cooking – as anyone who follows me knows, I don’t review recipes or food. 🙂 But the experience of trying this service got me thinking about food, cooking and relationships. The writer in me can’t help but think about the life parallels and metaphors.

My relationship to food is – like for a lot of people – complicated. To say I was a picky eater as a kid is an understatement. Nothing could touch on the plate. I had to eat one thing at a time before I could eat something else. I had many rules and rituals. I loved sugar. I snuck white bread with a huge layer of sugar whenever no one was looking. I loved to eat Cool Whip straight out of the tub (and put it back – yuck!!). Sugar is my cocaine. (Which is why I cut out desserts and sugar-laden foods six years ago.) There are many things I haven’t tried – burritos, collard greens until today. The list is long and ridiculous.

I am trying to change that and be more adventurous now. Never too late, right??

Meet my grandma: The woman who taught me the meaning behind the food. Continue reading “Cavalier about Croutons: A Reflection on Cooking, Food and Family”

What Does Creativity Feel Like?

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View from the writing nook in a castle. Dublin, Ireland. © Christy Miles

It always amuses me when researchers try to pin down the “science” of creativity. Like this Fast Company review of a new book, 7 Surprising Facts About Creativity, According to Science. There’s nothing earth shattering here – 72% of people have creative insights in the shower? Okay. What else you got?

Call me naive or childish, but…why can’t we just let creativity be magical? Can’t we just let it happen and be? Do we have to analyze it to death? I am reminded of my days at Purdue, the starry-eyed writer surrounded by logical, scientific, linear-thinking engineers. One day, sitting outside at twilight on a hot summer day between classes with an engineer friend, a huge plane flew overhead. We sat in silence, watching it pass by. I couldn’t contain myself and said, “Wow, isn’t it amazing that a huge, heavy plane can just…fly??” My engineer friend immediately began to explain aerodynamics to me in pain-staking, exacting, excruciating detail. It’s how he was wired. I get it. 🙂

But I’m not wired that way. I’m wired for wonderment. Amazement. Appreciation. Observing. Synthesizing seemingly random data, words and visuals into new and different ideas. Detecting patterns and playing with new ways of constructing and organizing them. I don’t want to understand the science of creativity. I just want to feel it. Every damn day that I’m lucky enough to be here.

So what does creativity feel like?
Here is my feeble attempt to use words to describe it. I wish I was an artist so I could show you, but even my stick figures suck. So here goes: Continue reading “What Does Creativity Feel Like?”