Every year at this time, I give my Haven Blog over to the alums of my Haven Writing Retreats both to show the support that writers need to have for one another, to give myself the sacred dormancy of winter to work on my own book projects, as well as to help parse a theme that burns bright inside me.
People often say to me that they have finally found their Voice (I especially love when that happens at Haven!)…but what does it really mean? If we find our voice, does that mean that we have been voiceless? Does it mean that we didn’t know we had one in the first place? And if so, where did we learn such a destructive myth? The reasons why we might feel voiceless are endless. What I hear over and over again is this: “Even if I did have a voice, someone else already said what I have to say, or said it better. Who am I to think my voice is unique, or even matters in the first place?”
To this I say: Who are you not to?
So for the next few weeks, I will be posting essays by Haven Alums on this theme and you will see their minds wander in this wondering of just what it means to Find Your Voice.
To read more from me on Voice, click here!
Essay #9: Hearing Voices by Christine Watkins Davies
My tea steeps in my favorite mug as I glance at the chaos throughout my home. I’m too overwhelmed by the half-deconstructed Christmas decorations to make a move toward them. I prefer to be still, staring at my tea allowing its rich aroma to soothe my thoughts this morning. Instead of attacking the clutter in my usual “get it done” manner, I decide to write. There’s much on my mind.
I’ve been thinking about my voice this morning and the multitude of ways in which I’ve used my voice powerfully, and the multitude of ways I’ve used it to keep me safe.
My powerful voice stands in front of groups of people presenting new ideas and concepts to them. My wish is that they leave my presentation with a new practice or idea that could help them live happier, healthier lives. My safe voice uses the word “spouse” in front of them in order to stay safe. I don’t always know who is in my audience, and I do not know if they would approve of the fact that I’m married to a woman. I need to stay safe. My powerful voice cowers. She lingers over insignificant details in an effort to thwart too personal a question for this lesbian, yet simultaneously allowing me to look confident.
My powerful voice sings with pride that I was born a woman. There is nothing I cannot or should not do based on the gender with which I was born. My safe voice often times stays silent when I hear men make degrading or shaming comments about women in their lives. “I’m the exclusion” my safe voice tells me. “I’m sure he wouldn’t say that about me.” My safe voice tries to comfort me, but my powerful voice knows the truth.
My powerful voice announces to the world that I cherish and respect all religious beliefs and cultures. “Who am I to judge someone of a differing faith?” my powerful voice projects. My powerful voice stands with Jewish friends for a public menorah lighting ceremony even with the risk of being in harm’s way. My safe voice stays silent about the fact that my daughter was born Muslim and that we’ve celebrated her Muslim born name and birth country since the day we adopted her. “I need to keep her safe in these trying times,” my safe voices whispers as my stomach quivers.
I don’t like my safe voice. It hides my authenticity. It candy coats the details. It buries my pride.
I never thought about the difference in my voice until I began writing. Writing for me is a way for my safe voice to feel more empowered. Writing is also a way for me to begin to hear my own voice. It’s the tool I can use to extravert my thoughts, ideas and feelings out into the world. Finding my voice in the woods of Montana at a Haven Writing Retreat has given me the permission I needed to hear to stand boldly in my authenticity and share my voice with the world. To model for my clients, my friends, my family, and mostly my daughter what it looks and feels like to stand in my integrity. What it feels like to be heard.
I still listen to my safe voice. Oftentimes, there’s wisdom in her whispers. But, I’m learning to ask myself if her words are there to keep me safe…or simply keep me small. There’s more wisdom in this awareness than in her conformity.
Right now, I’m listening to my powerful voice. I better finish my tea and get these Christmas decorations packed away.- Christine Watkins Davies (website Coming Soon!)
Essay #10: The Voice Effect by Brenda Johnson Kame’enui
“Finding your voice,” or my voice, or anyone’s voice, is a well-worn phrase, a little like “be your best self,” “on a journey,” and “impact.” Everything has a big impact, from a new puppy to your toenail polish. What happened to a big effect or consequence? And everything seems to impact everything else, from a snowstorm to a rodeo. What happened to affect? Worse yet, some things are “impactful.”
After the presidential election last November, my distraught 9-year-old granddaughter asked, on the car ride to hula class, “But what can I do?”
Her mother answered, steady at the wheel, “There might come a time when you can be the voice for someone who needs you.”
Her 6-year-old sister piped up from the back seat, “And Mama doesn’t mean a person who can’t talk. She means people who maybe can’t stand up for themselves.”
I was reminded to get my nose out of the air and think about that stifled or hushed or emerging voice that someone brave is developing. It was time to get over myself and let others be their best selves or begin a journey or find the movie impactful.
When my husband of 32 years left, I lost half of a good part of me. I lost the one I returned home to and told stories of the day. I told him about the woman on the train who asked a stranger to escort her two-year-old to Sacramento while she got off in Portland. I lost the one I told about my 7-year-old student whose father sat on her mother on Mother’s Day. “And he’s BIG,” Shayla told me. “My mom ran out of breath.”
I missed the daily exchange, and in its place, I began to email my adult daughters in distant places. “I should like to tell you about trapping four mice in the kitchen in the last week and forgetting the trap in the oven before I turned it to 350 to bake lasagna.”
My voice took hold on paper, but I knew I wasn’t “good enough” to be a real writer. I can’t compare to painting in poetry like Mary Oliver. I don’t create characters like Carol Bly or Alice Munro, and I have no idea how to build suspense like Stephen King. Who would want to read my words when they have countless rewarding authors?
My daughters were so responsive to my weekly reports, however, that I wrote successive ones. By the time I completed 15 pieces, I was signed up for Haven I.
As I prepared to leave Haven the following September, I jumped off the swing with the long arc that overlooks a pond floating in geese. I was dragging my feet at leaving this sanctuary in tamarack and pine. When my ride arrived, spitting gravel in the driveway, I turned to thank Laura again for an extraordinary experience. She responded, “You’re a very good storyteller.”
There was a smile in my voice as I said, “I’ll be back.” The next week, I signed up for Haven II.
- Brenda Johnson Kame’enui
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February 22-26 (full with wait list)
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