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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Moving: Settling into a New Home, New Life, New Way of Thinking

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my new writing space: my backyard

Awhile back, I wrote a poem where a willow tree played a prominent visual role. I don’t know why or where it came from. It just…appeared. Followed by the words. As I write – as often happens – ideas, images and lines come to me. Creative gifts.

I’ve learned not to question.

Shortly after I wrote that poem, I decided it was time to move. On a Thursday night, I reached out to Rich, a real estate agent/friend who has helped me buy two marital homes and rent my post-divorce home. (Yep, I rent. At this stage of my life, I travel light.) I’d been looking for the past two years on and off, but nothing felt right. Not the house, not the location, not the time, not anything. By Friday morning, he had a listing – very rare, met all my criteria: closer to school; extra bedroom for my office; and two bathrooms – a must after three years with three people/one bathroom, all in a town where rental house inventory is scarce. I toured the house on Friday afternoon. Took the kids on Saturday afternoon. By Monday morning, I was negotiating. By Tuesday, it was mine. Two weeks later, my kids and I moved out and in. (Special shout out to my sister for helping!) Four days later, I packed up and flew to California for work. Flew back.

And finally, my first Saturday evening free in my new home, I sat writing in my new backyard. And I saw it.

A willow tree.

I used to believe in so many things.
I love my magical beliefs. 🙂 Everything will turn out alright in the end! You will get through “fill in the blank!” The universe or God or someone is looking out for you and protecting you! Everything happens for a reason!  Your soul mate is out there! Everyone means well, you just have to lower your expectations! No, lower! Okay, wait, lower. No – lower.

All of it. I was all in. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but – you know what? Fuck it. That stuff helped me survive. I’m still here and those “silly” beliefs carried me through some of my darkest, loneliest hours. The truth is, I still believe in that stuff…with caveats. Because I’m older and I’ve seen shit not work out. I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. I’ve seen bad people get away with bad shit. I’ve done shit. Shit’s been done to me. Soul mates in the age of swipe left. And then…

This willow tree.
My magical, starry-eyed wonder at the universe rushes right back in like it never left. I didn’t notice it on the first walk through. I didn’t notice on the second. It was only when I finally had a chance to breathe. Write. Look around.

Settle in.

To this house. This life. Three years ago, I had no idea where things would end up. Where we, the three musketeers, would be. It often felt like I was trying to turn the Titanic around. And now this.

Space

Light

Rightness

So this is

Who and where 

I’m meant to be

In this moment

So this is what peace feels like

And now…
Two teens driving. Busy. Independent. Scarce. Me and the dogs looking at each other. I find myself feeling keenly what one of my new favorite authors, Laura McKowen, captures so eloquently:

It started this morning when I dropped my girl off for camp and kissed her goodbye. She’ll be with her dad for the next few days. That little, nagging ache of longing. I went through my day, took a long run, did some work, and it kept creeping in.

Took a nap, because I can, and when I woke I realized: it’s a long holiday weekend and I miss having my little family. I miss having that part be known, to settle into it without a plan, because you are the plan. Home is each other.

Oh. That plan. That home.

That ache.

But this is now. 
My days of buying sand toys in plastic netting, scheduling events around naps and planning big holiday parties are far behind me. Yet close enough to make me choke up in the middle of Ikea when I tell my kids to think about their new furniture as stuff they can take with them in their new lives when they move in just a few years.

😳

My 15-year-old daughter says she is SO out of here, heading to California or as far away as she can get!! YAY!! Adventure, possibility, opportunity!! Of course!!! (Right? lol) My 17-year-old son sees the pained look on my face, hugs me – right in the middle of the store – and says, “I’ll stay at home with you as long as you want, Mom.” I hug him back. Fiercely. We both know he needs to stay longer.

I write extra long in front of my willow tree that night.

The thing is, I don’t have a plan. 
Which is weird. Up until a few years ago, I survived with a loosely, illogically, spontaneously constructed yet rigid set of rules, plans, backup plans, contingency backup plans, lists, constructs, magical beliefs, lines…shit, lines were drawn everywhere. It was at once brilliant and messy and frightening. But it WORKED.

Until it didn’t.

For so long, I thought if I just did all the right things, followed all the rules, did as I was told, kept giving and giving and giving, then good things would happen. Then everything would work out. Then “they” would see the light. Then all the wrongs would surely be made right. Then I would be loved. Okay sure, I might have to pay my penance: walking the beach with wind-swept hair [cue soul-searching music] while I stare pensively out at the ocean, kicking a seashell or two with my cute bedazzled sandal along the way. But surely it would all come together in the end! Everything would be fine! My prince would come get me! We would find a way! Live happily ever after! No one would ever get sick or die! Ever! Happy ever after! The end!

[Protagonists stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. Exit stage left.]

[Upbeat music up and out. Roll credits.]

And now. 
I sit in this new yard in this new house that is mine but not mine with no fucking plan other than to be me and do this day. And I’m only sorta kinda freaking out a little. Full disclosure, I still don’t sleep well. I don’t think I’ll ever learn how to do that. I’m anxious as hell in any given moment and I’ve stopped trying to control the nine hamster wheels in my head that keep me up at night but GOD they make me feel alive and want to write and write and write and see willow trees where there are none until…

suddenly

one day

there is one

Freedom
Still getting used to the texture, feel and fit. Growing pains. Never going back. And neither should  you.

In this moment

I wish you

a willow

a light

a sign

that everything will be okay

whatever that means for you

xoxo

 

Tonight’s musical inspiration. Yeah, I know, it’s July. But it feels like September.

 

Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream

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my writing desk. reminding me to show up.

This post is for anyone who has ever had a dream. The passionate ones. Creative ones. Visionaries. Artists. Storytellers. Meaning makers. Lost ones looking for the way back to something they feel but can’t see.

You.

I was cleaning out my closet this past weekend and it got me thinking about dreams.  Those big, hairy, audacious ideas for something you love to do but don’t. It’s scary to put your dream out there, let alone go for it. A dream is a tiny flicker of a flame and there are dream crushers everywhere. One wrong look or word and poof!

It’s gone.

But the dream keeps tugging at your sleeve: Listen! Pay attention to this! This is good stuff! Let’s see what we can make happen here!

It’s soooo easy to defer your dream.
If you follow me, you know my story. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. Two degrees, a professional writing career and 43 years later, I’m just now getting back to making space for my dream of being an author. There. I said it.

< insert terrified look here >

It’s one thing to say you want to do or be something. It’s quite another to make the commitment despite the doubts, insecurity and gigantic hairball of fear that tells you oh no, you can’t do THAT. That’s not going to put food on the table, pay for goalie gloves and new brakes for the truck. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are, thinking you can do THAT??? And then there’s life. That thing that happens when you’re busy making other plans.

But then there is that little tug on your sleeve.

Continue reading “Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream”

Plan Be: What It Really Means to Be Strong

Crossfit Training Lifting Kettlebell Front

Ever since my divorce in 2014, I’ve thought about getting another tattoo. But I couldn’t think of anything that really “nailed” what I wanted to convey permanently in art on my skin. Something I could look at every day and say – Yes. That.

Maybe I’m over thinking it. One of my strengths is that I’m good at thinking things through, but the flip side is I think too much. 🙂 But as I approach another birthday, I find myself pensive, as usual. Taking stock, looking back, peeking forward.

And then my friend Joe posed a link to this article/love letter/online dating profile for her husband by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a writer and fellow Chicagoan I adore: You Might Want to Marry My Husband. (Special thanks to my friend Susan for recommending her to me years ago.) I remember reading her witty books when my kids were babies and was heartbroken to learn of her illness. I am in awe of her grace, humility, prose, and beauty. Her strength, even in the midst of a dark time, is touching beyond any words I could muster.

This got me thinking about strength and what it really means to be “strong.” I used to want to be “strong” so badly. Continue reading “Plan Be: What It Really Means to Be Strong”

Enter “Happiness” into Google Maps: Where Will You End Up?

Sunset landscape

There is something about
Watching an orange sherbet sunset
framed by weeping willows
Sink quietly into darkness
that soothes the soul
(despite the weeping)

There is something about
Walking on eggshells
that changes you
Cheats you
Damages you
Shames you
Silences you
(did you know you could live your whole life this way)

Being told
Don’t tell
Don’t cry
Don’t question
Don’t feel
Don’t be you
(how long exactly does it take for a heart to die?) Continue reading “Enter “Happiness” into Google Maps: Where Will You End Up?”

Keep Dancing: Bouncing Back from Life’s Curveballs

danceAs kids, we think about becoming something. A fireman. An artist. A parent. A better version of our parents. Lots of things. But life throws us curve balls and where we actually end up tends to deviate from what we once imagined. What is that phrase – life is what happens while we are busy making other plans?

In the last three years, I’ve experienced tremendous change. Divorce. A special needs child finally properly diagnosed after 15 years of struggle. I lost my home. Money. A few friends. My job. At one point, I felt like I lost me. Other times, I lost hope that things could ever be right again. I made mistakes. I tried to make amends. There are still days where I feel like Charlie Brown when the football gets taken away at the last minute and I fall flat on my face.

Some days I still think the universe is punking me. 🙂

But amidst the change and loss, I found so much more. Continue reading “Keep Dancing: Bouncing Back from Life’s Curveballs”

Dealing with a Tough Situation? Recover Faster by Asking the Right Questions.

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Anyone who has ever been stuck in a bad relationship – whether it’s a marriage, a job, dysfunctional family, toxic friends – you know how crappy it feels. There are a million articles out there about how to identify these situations, seven signs of “fill in the blank.” I know. I read everything I can get my hands on. 🙂 And you can get lost in the why. Why did this happen to me? Why did ‘fill in the name” do this to me? Why did my brother die? Why does my child have a disability? Why am I stuck? Why am I here?

This is an important part of the recovery process, don’t get me wrong. But often, we can stuck there, trying to process the why. We can stop there, filling in answers that don’t really help us move forward differently. I believe the only way to move forward and make real, lasting changes in your life starts with asking different questions.

Continue reading “Dealing with a Tough Situation? Recover Faster by Asking the Right Questions.”