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.

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