Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #7: Finding your Voice

 

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Writing holds me together and always has.  I have said many times, “Don’t wait for the rug to get ripped out from underneath you to find your passions.  When I went through re-invention 101, I’m glad that my passions were in a row, even if my ducks weren’t.” 

Your job is to dig deeply with raw realness, and say what you truly have to say in the way that only you can say it.  Please enjoy and please consider opening to the fact that YOU DO have a voice, and it is your own.  

To read more from me on Voice, click here!

Yrs. Laura

 

 

Essay #13: by Pamela Price

It seems like I have always had a voice. The stage was small and dusty in my elementary school auditorium when I approached the microphone for the first time to sing. I was nine and my fellow classmate was a short, dark-haired little guy who was a wiz at the piano. I can clearly see his round face, small hands and endearing smile encouraging me even after all these years. The crowd was maybe 50 people. It felt like a thousand. We performed a stirring rendition of Moon River. When it was over, the audience clapped…very loudly. And I will never forget that feeling.

I always had my music to express myself. I sang for the next 50 years, but I always sang someone else’s words. They were great and inspiring words to be sure but someone else’s words. All the words that were in my head, my words, just stayed there churning in a washing machine cycle that never hit spin.

One day I picked up Laura Munson’s book. I read it from cover to cover and then read it again. This was a voice that spoke to me. This New York Bestselling author actually had a “voice in her head.” She gave the voice a name and listened to it….double wow. Oh my goodness, I was not the only one! I searched the internet. I found her blog. I read about the Haven retreats. I thought….and thought. Could it actually be true that everyone has a writing voice?

It took several years before I convinced myself to call Laura. I just kept thinking about the words “you don’t have to be a writer to attend a retreat, just a seeker.” I identified with the seeker and secretly was excited about the writing. I was ready for a step out of my comfort zone.

My heart was beating so fast, I thought the person sitting next to me could hear it. I thought if it didn’t slow down, it could actually turn into a medical event as I sank into that big sofa in the sunroom at the Haven retreat. I hoped the big pillows would just swallow me.

It was my turn to read what I had written. The room was dead still, no sounds except for that damned pounding in my chest. A room of faces stared at me in anticipation. I read my paragraph and heard an unfamiliar voice. Not a confident, well rehearsed singing voice but a shaky, squeaky voice. A voice that had one thing going for it…it was finally attached to my own words. Words that came from me, from my brain, from my soul and had somehow ended up on that piece of paper in front of me.

I have notebooks with endless pages of words. I have files on my computer, my iPad, my iPhone. I try to write something almost every day even if it is only an email or a note. I practice with words. I read with a highlighter. I am no longer overwhelmed by those thoughts in my head. They are my voice, and I let them tumble onto a page. I read them, throw out some of them and cherish others.

I haven’t decided what to do with all these words but the picture is coming into focus. I find my best self in them, parts of me I didn’t know existed. Some things I like, some things, not so much. I am no longer afraid to write or that  my writing is not worthy. I have found a different voice from my musical one…my own.

- Pamela Price

 

 

Essay #14: Reckoning with Janteløven by Colleen Brennan

Finding my writing voice suggests I had one to begin with. Suggests I lost it. Maybe along a washboard road somewhere. And then found it. Perhaps in the ditch, floating in the run-off after a sudden downpour.

Truth is, every time I sit down at my writing desk I’m in search of that voice. Sometimes it shows up right away, like a pack of bison in the road. Sometimes it dawdles and I have to wade out into the tallgrass prairie to look for it, hoping a rattlesnake doesn’t bite me when I bend over to pick it up.

My ancestors were Norwegian homesteaders who built houses out of buffalograss sod in the Dakotas. When the wind chill is 40 below and you’re tracing the clothesline at night with your mitten to get from the back door to the outhouse, you wanna yell for help. Or at least grumble a little. Uff-da. But you don’t. Because no one will hear you in the deafening wind. And no one will applaud your success in having made it to the “pit” and back. It’s just the way it is. It’s Janteløven, the law of Jante, the principle that you are nothing special, no smarter, no better than the rest of the folks around you. You suck it up and keep going.

With this sort of upbringing, can you see why it might be hard for me to claim a unique writing voice? We weren’t supposed to believe we had a unique anything.

But what I’ve learned from Janteløven is just how much noise there is in silence. There’s a voice there, too. My voice. I was bashful, but I noticed things. Like the tiniest arch in my mother’s left eyebrow when she disapproved. Like the Bing Crosby-ish timbre my dad’s voice took on when he won at cribbage. Or how we didn’t call Harald “Uncle” Harald even though he lived with Aunt Astrid.

I was a little kid the first time I heard my writer’s voice. Slogging up McClelland hill in my plaid sneakers to the empty lot to hunt for agates, I discovered creating dialogue in my head made the hill climbing easier, made being alone less lonely. I spoke in both voices: a brother and sister living in a boxcar. (Oh, yes, I stole those characters from Gertrude Warner’s The Box-Car Children. No doubt I’d just finished reading that story, splayed out on the grass inside a teepee – a blanket thrown over the clothesline, you know what I mean.)

I took to writing in a diary. My first one had a tiny gold lock and key and I kept it in a box in my closet. If I couldn’t talk about my fear that the Abominable Snowman would step on our house and kill all of us, or about my crush on the red-headed boy who lived across the creek, or about how I hoped my piano teacher would fall down the stairs so I didn’t have to play at the recital, at least I could write about it.

It’s tough hanging onto my writing voice. Janteløven hovers close by, whispering stuff like “Just who do you think you are?” And I have to once again wade out into the tallgrass, or grasp onto the clothesline in a blizzard, or trudge up to the empty lot (where I imagine agates lay gleaming below the gravel surface) and retrieve what I lost. But once I have it again, I can stand up to Janteløven and answer truthfully, “I’m a writer with something important to say. Listen up.”

 - Colleen Brennan…website coming soon!

 

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8 Comments

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8 Responses to Haven Winter 2017 Blog Series #7: Finding your Voice

  1. Hello Colleen! I was so excited to recognize your name. What a wonderful piece you’ve written! I found myself nodding, “Yes! I totally get that!” My mother had the same eyebrow! And blanket tepees were magical. Having conversations with myself when I was growing up was normal, I was alone! Its great to hear that someone else spoke to themselves too. You’ve hit on so many sensitive and instrumental points through a life – you’re life and the world that helped make you who you are right now, in this moment. And I loved every word. You took a word and showed me a totally different direction in what it means for you. Well done! Okay so I have no idea how to pronounce Janteloven – but I wrote it down :) and will remember when I hear that voice grumble at me – it has a name. If we can name it, we can control it, or at the very least laugh, shake our head a moment and keep moving forward. Breathe Deep, Think Peace, Patty

    Hello Pamela, Wow! Look what you did! You wrote a piece that most of us can connect with almost immediately – then you take us on your journey right up until this moment! Pretty darn difficult if you ask me in the word limit Laura requested. Yet you did it beautifully. I too read with a highlighter in hand! I’ve even been so bold as to search for the pink and blue ones :) Your work touched me in so many ways. I have experienced that applause you mentioned (but I was a Mime at the time, talk about not being able to use your voice lol!) it is a rush, but life doesn’t put everyone on stage people will pay for. Life puts us on many different stages – and we’re expected to perform. To know our lines and say our words clearly and reach the back row. But for most of us, we wait to take that step into the spot light. Oh and when we do, it is frightening and brilliant all at the same time. YOU did it! You went to Haven! And it doesn’t matter that you don’t know where you want the words to take you -yet – what does matter is you followed your heart and you wrote from it and thats what “I” and I’m certain others can connect, and feel and rejoice and get it! Reading your work made me hold my breath and then relax and breath out with a smile. Breathe Deep, Think Peace, Patty

    • Colleen Brennan

      Hi Patty! So nice to hear you could relate to my piece. And because I’m such a language geek I’ll tell you that the J in that term is pronounced like a Y, and the o with a slash through it has no equivalent in English but is similar to the vowel in “uhh” (for those of you familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, it is a mid-front rounded vowel!). Thanks for reading. I value your feedback! -Colleen

  2. Tracy

    Colleen,
    Your piece is so beautifully written. With so few words for the blog you certainly sting your words together creating great value for each one. I struggle at being a writer because and want you to know I felt inspired by reading your piece today. Keep writing and sharing.
    Tracy

    • Colleen Brennan

      Tracy,
      Thank you for your feedback! Writing can be a lonely business, so it’s always heartening to hear from readers, especially those who write. We’re all in this together. Keep writing and keep sharing, you, too!
      -Colleen

  3. Carol Howard-Wooton

    Pamela,

    I love how you ended your piece… not deciding on a goal, or project yet but trusting the time it takes to see the picture come into focus. Brava.

    Carol Howard- Wooton
    .

  4. Colleen Brennan

    Pamela,
    It takes a lot of courage to show up at the page day after day. I admire you for that, and for sharing your words with us. I really like this line in your essay: “I find my best self in them [these words], parts of me I didn’t know existed.”
    Carry on!
    -Colleen

  5. Jennifer Revill

    Colleen, that’s a very special piece. The detail that called to my heart was the little diary with the lock and key. I had, and still have, several of those little diaries. My first entry in my first diary, at age 8, was “Mom and dad had an argument today.” And so, my writing about people and their lives began, and I am 55 now and still writing. Keep up the meaningful work of your writing, no matter what Janteloven may whisper in your ear.

    Jennifer

    • Colleen Brennan

      Thank you for your comments, Jennifer. Yep, I think I was nine when I got my first diary for Christmas. I filled it with calamities like my sister split her knee open on the ice rink and our dog fell in the toilet. Thanks for the encouragement — right back atcha!
      -Colleen

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