The truth is that it’s actually not possible for anyone to have your voice, even if they try. At Haven Writing Retreats, we work off of the same prompts in our morning classes, and we all get to see the living proof of this fact: no one can write like you can. I’ve said many times: ultimately it’s not about the words at all. It’s about what’s behind them, what’s between them, and what’s left in their wake. And here’s how to know if you are in that confluence of pure truth and intention: it’s easy. It’s flowing almost effortlessly. You are not in the way of it. It is as natural as it can be for you to be exactly who you are from thought to the form that is self-expression.
Please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own. Whether in your writing, speaking, thinking, feeling. And it is quite possibly simply waiting for you to give yourself permission to let it finally out. Or as my college professor used to say, “Stop clearing your throat…and speak.”
To read more from me on Voice, click here!
Essay #11: How Writing Helped Me Give Words to the Voices in My Head by Kris D. W. Ferrell
I hear voices, but not the voices that spawn pea soup spewing type movies. No, I hear the voices of squirrels named Alfred, of dogs named Smooch, of Christmas trees name Dougie; I see conversations between paperweights, desks, chairs and robot clocks, I color in vowels and paint in prepositions and dangle participles all over the place to speak my truth. I could tell you more of what it is like to live in my head but it is better to show you.
My story begins with nine strangers in a Montana yoga studio. I am not sure what sort of rift in the universe brought us all to that exact moment in time and space to sit together on the floor and discuss our intentions for attending a retreat at the Haven. Nevertheless, we shared our desires for writing, our intentions for the retreat and our motivation for sitting cross legged 45 years after it went out of style. I said I came to “break the back of my inner critic” and “finish a book” I wrote during the National Novel Writing Month three years earlier. I was determined to move forward at all costs.
Like many attorneys, my novel languished in a file on my computer, the cursor blinking, always blinking, always B-L-I-N-K-I-N-G. It blinks at me even now keeping steady time like a metronome, daring me to delete what I have just written. I pump my fist and say, “damn cursors, you dainty devils delivering distraction and disappointment,” and come back to reality. In five days at the Haven outside the town of Whitefish, Montana, I broke through and found my voice. I also found my aversion to kale runs pathologically deep.
The first day of stretch writing I told myself “go with it” I heard “trust the process” so I squared my shoulders and wrote. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote because the promise was support without criticism. I read my ‘writing’ and for the first time to someone other than my dog and I heard validation, appreciation and acceptance. On the second day, I discovered my process is a lack of process, I shouted “move me, shake me, make me write bad poetry” and produced a poem that made my wife cry when I gave it to her this past Christmas. And on the third day the stone was removed and I emerged flying by the seat of my pants, my shorts hanging out and my hair on fire. I shouted to my middle school English teacher, the one who said I could not write, could not speak, had nothing to say and needed to make sure I sat more ladylike “screw you and your toenail clipped wig collection, yes I can, yes I can, yes I do and screw you and your ladylike bourbon breath, I don’t want a process or to be processed or to be processing or to be you.” I shouted to those nine kindred souls in that yoga studio on the final day, okay I didn’t shout because it is a yoga studio after all, but I did proclaim I write to misbehave!
Now the process sometimes feels stalled and forced and hard and gritty. But the best part is I write to misbehave and misbehaving is hardly ever work for me!
Essay #12: Becoming Reliable by Michelle Roberts
“Come on. They won’t mind. I just want to show you my cubicle.” I ushered my friend into the building. He’d been the one who took my frantic call and offered me his couch. As if mania allowed for actual rest.
We walked in through the publications department. These were the writers and graphic artists I mingled so easily with compared to my fellow engineers. I stopped at the first desk.
“Shannon! Hi! This is my friend Paul. I lost my virginity to him in college. Funny, I never thought about that. My first middle school crush was a Paul, sex for the first time was with a Paul and then I married a Paul. Huh”, smiling at her as if she shouldn’t be surprised to see me while I was on medical leave.
I don’t remember her reaction or Paul’s. Hate to think of it even now. My memories of those months before and after my hospital stay are disjointed. Manic me is the definition of the unreliable narrator.
When I met with a new therapist years later, I had changed jobs and was managing my bipolar symptoms without medication.
She asked, “What do you do when you’re manic?”
“Well, I’m more social. I go dancing. I write. I paint. I exercise.”
“Do you think maybe mania is your binge on all the things that are missing from your everyday life?”
She was right. Even though there were early signs in high school of hypo-mania and mild depression, it wasn’t until engineering took me away from dance, creative writing and art that my symptoms became severe. When I was manic, I uncaged my creativity like an animal rights activist freeing animals. I let loose and later lived with the shame of the things I said and did. Knowing those were just the things I remembered.
After my hospital stay, I stopped talking or writing about anything personal or meaningful. I was still mortified by my unhealthy voice and didn’t trust myself with what I might say or the emails I might send.
Then, in 2012, I read a Call for Submissions for the Haven Winter Blog Series. The theme was Breaking Points and I finally put that week in the hospital into words. Ten years later, even my closest friends and family had never asked what it was like in a Behavioral Health facility. Most people hope they’ll never know.
I read my submission to my therapist at my next appointment while I was waiting to find out if it would be selected. She was sure that it would. I remember sharing it with my mother over the phone and I cried when I opened the email from Laura Munson confirming it would be posted the following day.
I’d used my most authentic voice to describe the scariest thing I’d ever experienced and it connected with others in ways I hadn’t in a long time. Mania convinced me I was too much for most people to handle. I started to accept that might be a lie.
This past October I attended Haven Writing Retreat. Sharing in a room with other writers, I realized mania was a binge for my voice almost fifteen years too soon. In my early thirties I wasn’t ready to speak from my truth, be heard or bear witness for other truth tellers. Now at forty-five, I understood that being open is healing, if also a little terrifying, and our voices are meant to be heard. This special retreat in Montana is called Haven because it’s a safe place to begin.
- Michelle Roberts
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February 22-26 (full with wait list)
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