“I sometimes say that, for a composer, the first thing to do is find your voice and the second is to get rid of it. Mostly I try to get rid of it.“ ~Phillip Glass
These words from one of America’s greatest composers reminds me of a pair of underwear I recently bought from Walmart. (I do occasionally visit Walmart, because–quite predictably–they carry the widest selection of RV products that this trailer princess can find.) They are made of lavender cotton, with these sparkly letters emblazoned on the ass:
“BLAH BLAH “.
Brevity (written or spoken) has never been my strong suit. So these undies remind me to temper my words. The cheap elastic is super snug, which somehow drives the message home harder.
Of course, Mr. Glass is talking about more than what we say. He is talking about voice, which is a finer aspect of self-expression. Yet both he and the sparkly letters on my ass seem to be saying the same thing: that a little humility and humor can go a long way.
Five months ago, I wrote here about a persistent feeling of not being heard. Most writers and many people in general experience similar frustration. So I was admittedly whining. Still, things soon improved: I landed a couple new freelance writing gigs and got some positive feedback on my writing.
Maybe I’m not just whistling in the dark, I imagined. Maybe someone is listening.
Then I got pneumonia and literally lost my speaking voice for a whole month. My social life froze. My long-anticipated voice-over lessons had to be canceled. I quarantined myself in my apartment and worked, albeit weakly, from home. No undies were required, since I couldn’t talk and my usual BLAH BLAH was downright impossible.
The quirky songwriter Dar Williams writes, “Sometimes life gives us lessons sent in ridiculous packaging.” Was the universe trying to tell me to shut up? …to get more comfortable with silence? …or, straightforwardly, to take better care of my lungs? C’mon, universe. Talk to me.
While I’d love to report that my self-imposed quarantine was a time of great contemplation, that would be a fat lie. Mostly I was just cranky. I grumped at my poor boyfriend, who was only trying to bring me soup. My respiratory funk lingered, making me feel decrepit on the brink of my 40th birthday. And humility? It swallowed me like a tidal wave.
It took time–and a tropical vacation (which is a post for another time)–but I have finally emerged healthy, inside and out. What’s more, I have different regard for voice.
Voice is important, but it obligates me to an audience. And an audience is great, but ultimately not essential to my writing practice. As Wendell Berry writes:
True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.
Much as I’ve kvetched about it, I am grateful for my quarantine. While I was too sick to write–I had plenty of time to simply hear my own thoughts. My two weeks of solo travel in the tropics furthered this. Now, I’m left with clearer thinking that I can pay forward not only to the page, but to anyone I encounter.
Writing makes me a better person. I’ve known this since I was a kid and started my first journal. Putting words on a page clarifies my mind and makes me stronger. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that this is why I do it–not for a dose of approval.
I’ve been keeping a regular #journal since I was three years old, and my mom would take dictation. My first entry features a breakfast of Alpha-Bits, a shopping trip for Winnie-the Pooh shoes, and a drawing of a cheeseburger. #amwriting #diary #tbt #writersofinstagram
I do care about reaching people (and I’m glad you’re reading this.) But deep down, I know that the process of writing itself is way more important than the product or its audience. When I get freaked out and worry who’s reading, I’m not paying enough attention to my practice.