A Positive Voice

This is a first for my blog; I am reblogging a post from another site.  The Old Woman I Will Be was originally posted by Nancy Roman over at NotQuiteOld. I want to share her post because it is honest, gutsy and positive and because, as Nancy says, ‘being old is not so bad.’

Mind you, I’m not claiming that Nancy’s post is an example of therapeutic writing but I do think therapeutic writing can include positive assertions about who we are, what we have learned and that life is rewarding and satisfying as well as arduous and stressful. Anyway, have a look for yourself, visit her blog and read her other posts as well.

 

From the Third Phase

Today, Writing from the Third Phase (in other words, me flexing my creative muscles) moves from the sidelines  to become an occasional post. I admit I’m a little nervous about this. It’s one thing to write posts about a topic you have studied for five years, it’s quite another to openly, brazenly put your creative stuff out there for everyone to see.

Then again, millions of people do it everyday, so here goes …

She was reading and trying to write a poem, although not at the same time. She read several pages and then the poem called to her. She put the novel down, wrote five or six lines and crossed them out. She made a cup of ginger tea and picked up the novel but the poem called again. And so it would go.

She pretended she didn’t miss him, that she was okay alone. Then she allowed herself to miss him at the same time as she appreciated the solitude. Alone, she could think about them. About him. He was pale sunlight shining through a canopy of trees, leaving a medal of radiance on the soft forest floor. She was a rock, locked into the earth, warmed briefly by the rondures of light.

She thought about poetry, what it was and what it could do. He and she, together,  were vers libre; her previous poems were pedestrian and clichéd. She wanted a poem that was the wind shifting the canopy. She wrote for a long while, shook her head several times and returned to her novel.

One of my friends suggested I try writing prose poems, a genre along with Flash Fiction, that I believe is a good choice for a blog post.  Then again, I don’t want to limit myself. I want to put my writing out into the world and read any comments you might want to make.

Reflections on the Writer’s Voice

Most of us want to be heard, to have a voice. Not being heard, not having the right to voice our feelings, our concerns, our opinions or our dissent can be dehumanizing.

From the time I was four or five I suffered from tonsillitis. My mother would send me to bed and phone the doctor. When he arrived he asked me how I felt. My mother answered his question because, by then, I simmered with fever and my throat was too swollen and sore for me to speak. After several years shilly-shallying around with antibiotics and ‘wait and see if it improves with age’, the doctor finally decided, when I was ten years old, to remove my tonsils.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ‘voice’ in novels and stories. I’m not referring to first, second or third person point of view, also described as ‘first second or third person voice’. The best description of what I mean by ‘voice’ is Eudora Welty’s moving passage:

Ever since I was first read to, then started reading myself, there has never been a line read that I didn’t hear. As my eyes followed the sentence, a voice was saying it silently to me. It isn’t my mother’s voice, or the voice of any person I can identify, certainly not my own. It is human, but inward, and it is inwardly that I listen to it. It is to me the voice of the story or the poem itself. The cadence, whatever it is that asks you to believe, the feeling that resides in the printed word, reaches me through the reader-voice. I have supposed, but never found, that this is the case with all readers – to read as listeners – and with all writers, to write as listeners. It may be part of the desire to write. The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth for me. Whether I am right to trust so far I don’t know. By now I don’t know I could do either one, reading or writing, without the other. My own words, when I am at work on a story, I hear too as they go, in the same voice that I hear when I read in books. When I write and the sound of it comes back to my ears, then I act to make my changes. I have always trusted this voice.[1]

A writer chooses from a range of narrative tools (plot, setting, character and theme, narrative point of view and narrative voice), when writing a short story, poem or a novel. Janet Burroway suggests writers need to ask, when working on a new project, ‘who speaks … to whom … in what form … at what distance … and with what limitations?’[2]

My clearest memory of my battles with tonsillitis is recovery. I felt, once the pain and the fever receded, both weary and pure, as if I had been dipped, like Achilles, into a divine fire. I’d ask my mother to make mashed potatoes and homemade tomato soup because I liked the comfort of the smooth, warm potatoes followed by the acidic soup sliding down my throat, scouring away the pain and my silence.

As Welty reminds us, the voice we ‘hear’ when we read a short story or a novel is the voice of a narrator. But the idea of a ‘narrative voice’ is, for some people, troublesome, because it implies a person, or at least a personality behind, or even exceeding, the story.

My voice has always been a concern; during my teaching career, despite not having any tonsils, I periodically suffered from pharyngitis and had to take a week off work until my voice returned. My relationship with my voice, its production and meaning, has been characterised by my need to protect it, interrupted by painful and sporadic periods when using it became impossible. I think this is why I am anxious about not being heard and I imagine people don’t listen to me. When I was younger I lost my temper and raised my voice. I wanted to ensure I was heard so I spoke forcefully and not always wisely.

I define narrative voice as a narrative (or narrating) principle, an imprecisely understood ‘presence’ that accompanies a reading of a text. This presence is neither the author nor the protagonist of the story, but it is associated with the physical act of speaking. This, in turn, implies a relationship because to have a voice is to speak to, and be heard by, another individual. The writer ‘speaks to’ the reader through the ‘narrative voice’, which is why the quality, or otherwise, of that voice is related to the quality of the story or novel; it creates the ‘relationship’ between a writer and his or her reader.

I chose, in my thirties and forties to learn, and then teach, communication and assertiveness skills. When we express our emotions freely, openly and calmly; when we share what bothers us; when we listen to our loved one; when we feel our loved one listens to us and when we are willing to admit we are wrong, our relationships improve.

When we talk about a writer’s voice, we are talking about the writer’s ability to create an engaging, exciting, interesting, believable narrative voice. If a writer believes they have nothing to say, let alone the ability and confidence to say it, he will struggle to find and express his ‘voice’.

As a child I didn’t feel heard or listened to, partly because I periodically ‘lost’ my voice and because I lived with someone whose voice often drowned out mine. The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes that, ‘to have lost one’s voice is not to keep silence: one keeps silence only when one can speak’[3]. I think this means I did not lose my voice, it was taken away from me; I did not keep silent, I was silenced. When we are prevented from doing what is natural we become frustrated and dejected .

We mourn the loss of potential, of possibility, only when we imagine that potential and dream of fulfilling it. I am not saying wanting something means we will automatically achieve our goals. It is not as easy as that. What I am suggesting is, if a desire exists, and if there is no risk of harm to others, then the skill and ability to fulfil the desire must also exist.

 

References

[1] Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 11-12.
[2] Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft 5th ed. (New York: Longman, 2000), p. 197.
[3] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception (London : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), 161.
[4] Suzanne Laba Cataldi, ‘The Body as a Basis for Being: Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’, in The Existential Philosophy of Simone De Beauvoir, ed. by Wendy O’Brien and Lester Embree (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001), pp 85 – 106 (p 94).

On Renaming and Existence

Please believe that one single positive dream is more important than a thousand negative realities.

Adeline Yen Mah

Elixir: a magical or medicinal potion. From Arabic and Greek, meaning ‘a powder to dry wounds’ or a magical substance that changes metal to gold.

Over the last six weeks I’ve thought a lot about this blog and the direction I want it to take. I am tired of being serious; I want to play more, explore more, take more risks. What will it feel like to write from the heart?

I spent time with my writing buddy this afternoon. I drank hot chocolate and ate a chocolate almond cake; she had a cappuccino and nothing to eat. We laughed. A lot. We talked about her forthcoming book of poems and my plan to enter at least two short story competitions a month. I told her I want to try writing more prose poems. She told me about her new bathroom.

Friendships are the powder we sprinkle on our wounds. Laughter is a potion that shines golden light on an afternoon in a café. Writing is a restorative. When I started this blog I had firm ideas about what I wanted to do; now I’m not so sure. To re-name is to change how a person or thing is known.

The other day I had an appointment with the Department of Human Services, Australia’s federal agency for the aged, job seekers, families, migrants and refugees, and people with a disability. Despite having availed myself of their services several years ago, and retaining the same ‘reference number’ (aka an identity number), when I reregistered with them I had to supply three separate documents as proof of my identity. At the end of the process I laughed and said, ‘And now I am a person?’ The woman on the other side of the counter smiled. ‘Congratulations,’ she said, ‘you exist.’

Yes I do, but I do so much more.