15 February 2017

Losing Your Voice, Finding Your Voice

Finding Your Voice

I suppose it was my mother who gave me the idea that finding one's voice was essential to living a full and meaningful life. She encouraged me to find my voice, told me often that I was a wonderful story-teller and could be a fine writer.  I suppose a part of me believed it. She always encouraged me to find my own voice, even when I had none.

My mother was a tragic figure to me, she was gifted, intelligent, charismatic and creative, but at every critical turning point in her life, she had no voice. She could never really say what she wanted, or speak out against the people – her husband, most often – who undercut her, made decisions for her, ignored her wishes,  or belittled her.

Even worse, he took her voice away. This drove her nearly mad, the only voice she could find was rage, it ate at her all the time.

For all of her ranting and raving, she could never speak up for herself, or demand that she be heard, even though it cost her almost everything she ever really wanted in her life.

I am startled to learn that much of my life is now devoted to the idea of helping people find their voice. I think being voiceless is very familiar to women, although not only women. I've been teaching for a number of years now, and I have come to see that many women have been, like my mother, shut down, ignored, silenced or trivialized.

I can't count how many women over the years have told me that their stories are not important enough for anyone to want to read or hear.

Much of social media, I fear, is about the destruction of individual voices. People quickly learn to fear speaking honestly and openly, and that, is the only way I think, to find one's voice. Ideas, the foundation of voice, are not permitted to live on Facebook, they instantly run into a wall of argument, self-righteousness, worry and anger

For all of the struggles and disappointments in my life, I have never in my adult life felt voiceless or been voiceless, or doubted I had things to say that people wish to hear. I credit my mother for that.

So this has become somewhat the focus of my teaching, my writing, and even of my life. Maria well understands what it means to have your voice taken away, and her art and her writing on her blog – have in themselves become  powerful vehicles and inspiration for many people, including many women, to find their own voices – sometimes literally, sometimes in their art and work, sometimes in their writing or their own blogs.

I hope I have done the same thing.

It is a cruel thing to lose one's voice. Although I always felt my stories were important and would be heard, I also lost my voice in a different way. I had no idea who I was, I was utterly lost, alone, friendless, loveless and disconnected, another way to be voiceless.

I recall Joseph Campbell writing about how many hundreds of women he taught over the years who gave up their dreams and ambitions and their very idea of life because a brother, father, husband or lover told them they couldn't, shouldn't make their own choices. They had no voice, he said, with which to defend themselves.  They lived substitute lives.

I will be honest and credit my blog for helping me find my voice, in my writing, in my life. I did not think I could survive 2008, and not sure I wanted to, on many a cold night I thought about climbing to the top of my windswept hill and lying down in the cold and wind to die. I remember one night, the only thing that kept me from doing it was the fear that Rose would lie down with me and perish in the same way.

I just couldn't handle being responsible for that, I wouldn't doubt that she knew what she was doing.

Day by day, I wrote my way out of it. I was honest, I told the truth, I began to learn the meaning of authenticity. I wrote every day.

I found a community of people struggling in the same way, and permitted them to help me. I got help. As I healed, my voice grew stronger. The sky didn't fall when I told the truth, I stopped writing to protect people, including me.

Then I found someone who loved me, and would encourage me, as I encouraged her. My voice grew stronger, so did hers. I never imagined that one day soon she would take it to Kolkata.

Maria and I encouraged one another, encouragement is an essential tool for finding one's voices.

We all need someone, somewhere in our lives to tell us that our stories are important and deserve to be heard. We need to convince ourselves.

It is so easy to lose one's voice and let our true lives slip away, to live a  hollow or empty life of regrets. I commit myself to the idea of finding one's own voice, in whatever form that takes.

In our culture, finding a voice is complex. We are silenced by the fear about money and security, by the indifference or selfishness or worry or anger of other people.

I realize over time that I have to credit my troubled mother with this idea about voice.

Time and time again, she complained bitterly to the world that her every ambition and need had been denied, or beaten down, or ignored by my father. But shouting at the world is not the same thing as finding your voice. I remember asking her once why she just didn't say no to him.

No, I won't close my gift show down. No, I won't move to a place I don't want to live, away from everything I know and love. No, I won't give up my job in an art gallery. No, I won't live a loveless and suffocating life.

Why don't you just say no?, I asked. I remember her look of utter bewilderment.

Because I don't know how.

I came to see that voice is life, it is identity. I will make sure to never lose mine again, and to do everything I can to encourage the people I love and know and write about to find theirs.

Posted in General

Bear Hug. Grandpa Is On The Case

Bear Hug

Right after Robin was born, I went to a classy baby shop and bought her a soft bear and shipped it up to New York. I forgot about it until today and Emma sent me this photo asking if I had sent  it. Robin, she said, has fallen in love with it. For some unknown reason, this is one of my few skills in life, matching people up with the right presents, especially kids.

Kids love surprises, almost any kind.

I am told the kid is quite alive in me, and perhaps that's the reason I can pick good presents. I'm sure I will often miss, but it is nice to see this bear hug. Grandpa is on the case, the smile is a great reward.

Posted in General

Mansion Dinner. Building Up Egos Of Life

Mansion Dinner

Dinner at the Mansion is an important time. The food was good and healthy, people were engaged in talking to one another, it had a warm feeling about it. The Mansion residents have been stimulated and uplifted by the attention many of you are paying to them.

Being old, giving up on some things and admitting you can no longer care for yourself is difficult on the ego. You have boosted the dignity and spirits of people who could easily succumb to depression and aimlessness. When I see how much work Connie is doing and how excited she is about it, I want to cry. Thanks so much for sharing this experience with me. You can write to the Mansion residents c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

I had a lot of fun, it felt like family to me as well. I am always learning how to listen, and trying to understand the power of compassion.

Posted in General

Mansion Dinner: Here Come The Scouts

Here Come The Scouts

Towards the end of dinner, a troop of Boy and Girl Scouts came in, they sat among the residents and it was a lovely thing to see the kids loosen up, ask the residents questions and talk about their own lives and aspirations. What a beautiful idea for a program. The residents love to talk to young people as much as they love to see dogs.

Aging is, in a sense, at least in America, about being cut off from things people love the most. To see Red and these kids there was uplifting, and the residents loved it. I imagine it was meaningful to the Scouts too, it was interesting to see them loosen up and learn how to talk to people so much older than they are, and at the other side of life.

I loved going to the dinner, I hope I get invited again one day. I'd love to bring Red regularly, and I imagine Maria would also love to come once in awhile.

Posted in General

Dinner At The Mansion: 60 Valentine’s For Barbara

60 Letters

After dinner, Red made the rounds to greet his friends. He often sees Mary, on the left, and Barbara raises hell if we don't get to her. Barbara is a lot of fun, and she speaks her mind.

She wagged a finger at me, and said "you're in a lot of trouble! Because of you I have 60 letters to read, they are in a big box by my  bed."
Then she smiled and thanked me. She said she reads some of the letters each night before she goes to bed, and it makes her feel like she is part of a family again, she laughs and cries. They mean so much to her, it is hard for her, Barbara says, to believe that that many strangers care about her.

They are not strangers any more, I said, they are family now. You know, she said you are right. They help me to sleep, it is wonderful to get them. If you wish, you can write  Barbara and the other residents at 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

The Mansion is preparing a new list for me of the residents, the names change often. One or two residents do not with be named or have their photographs taken or receive messages, so I will leave them off the list, as I have been doing. Exact counts are difficult, I will do my best.

Good response to my not-so-subtle suggestion about Easter, thank you. I am committed to showing these people that there are good people out there who care about them and will not abandon them. They are beginning to believe. I thank the Army of Good.

Posted in General