A Voice Full of Faults

 

There are moments in life that just stick with you. They plaster themselves on the big screen in your mind and replay the scene for you at random times, sometimes years or decades later, usually on the tails of some epiphany or regret. This particular epiphany hit me out of nowhere and bruised me with a harsh dose of unexpected reality. The unconnected moments stringing their stories together before my eyes.

Lately, I’ve been reading numerous books on writing to usher me along my current path. While reading through a chapter on finding your writing voice, I was hit with a memory from nearly a decade ago. It was an important crisp spring day in Vancouver, Washington, and my son had just tied the knot. After listening to several great speeches, I choked on a handful of words that I had scraped together for the occasion. I’m sure that I was expected to say something wonderful and inspiring or welcoming to my new daughter-in-law, but instead, my underdeveloped words hung in the air like an unsightly stain. I saw the disappointment and disbelief on my son’s face and I still carry that disappointment with me daily.

I had not found my voice at that time. Over the years, I kept my voice safely at the surface where nothing ever happens, only grazing the top, only skimming off what can be seen on the surface– never delving to the depths of my soul. Perhaps, I was still scared to go beneath the surface and see my faults brewing below, just out of sight. If there is one thing I have been sure of in this life, it is that I was full of faults. I never understood why I was given such an awkward starter pack. The life tools I possessed were unhelpful at best.

The voice I’ve been accustomed to using for the past 40 years or so, was biting like my mom, chomping her teeth at me as though she could eat my flesh if she chose to. All my genuine voice could manage to do was spin around in the same dirty dishwater for years while it waited for me to find it. Even when I have found parts of my voice and managed to make it work at all, it would lock up at some point, my throat choking off my very words. I never realized that finding my voice would be the missing piece to finding my true self.

I’ve always found it easier to use my voice on paper. Only there can I share my acknowledgment of these mistakes, knowing that I deserved any bite ever received from my son for all my fumbles over the years. However, I am also blessed with his forgiveness for my mistakes throughout those parenting years. His love and acceptance has lead me to become a better person as well as giving me the courage to find my voice and the freedom to use it. My quest to find my voice has helped me bring up the fresher, deeper truths, like discovering rich fertile soil in the spring. Two unconnected moments meeting together, changing the layers of my life, opening doors that I have never had a key for, releasing my voice into the world.

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My Musical Life

 

Of all the things humans create, I think music is one of the most essential ones. Music is collective and moves us as much as it moves through us. Music is structured with diverse and ever-changing patterns. Any one song, can be preformed as either uplifting or depressing just by simply changing its speed or its tone. Even without lyrics, music is universal in its emotions and complexity. It is always meant to be appreciated.

I am sure I moved from the first moment music hit my ears. I have always had a hard time sitting still if a good beat is on. Music has followed me through every step of my life, adding little bits of glee to dark years. Music can leave me with epiphanies, anthems, or just mark moments in time.

Music speaks both truth and lies. Some can inspire, while some is forceful and volatile. Music is emotionally charged and creates its own movement. It plays with us and ushers us from one thing to the next as though we were bees collecting pollen. Nothing moves me like music. Rhythm is a dancer.

As a small child, I believe I listened to whatever was popular on the radio in the 1970’s. I don’t remember it being restricted to any one genre until my years in Florida. After that I went through (in no order) a country phase, a pop phase, a 1950’s phase, a “whatever they are playing on MTV phase”, a rap phase, a metal phase, an alternative phase, a punk phase, a funk phase, a classic rock phase, and back around again.

I’ve always done housework to music. I can still picture a smaller version of myself, vacuum handle in one hand, cord in the other, smiling as I sung along with Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty. My first ever full-size record was “Grease” and I played it until every song had a skip in it.  There was a time where the only 3 albums I had to listen to were Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and Sade. Prince’s Purple Rain changed my musical life forever.

I love the feeling of getting so into a good song that you forget everything around you or it feels like everything is being brought into the moment itself. That is the same quality I want my writing to have.  I want it to feel essential and universal as it moves through my reader. I want my writing to be emotional and appreciated. Most of all I want my reader to enjoy it as much as they do their favorite song.

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The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Personal Essay #50

Over the years I have written hundreds of pages but 2018 is coming and this is the year I finally submit. I have had numerous pen pals, exchanging thick handwritten letters on a regular basis. Of course, there were plenty of papers and homework from high school through college. Then there were the personal journal rants and venting essays as well as the occasional but wandering attempts at short stories and juvenile poems. I have literally only submitted my work a couple of times and that was decades ago. Whether the lack of submitting my work has been out of fear or reluctance, who is to say? Either way, I know that by not submitting my work, I am undermining my own credibility and stunting my learning.

Everyone’s heard the old phrase about how you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play? Well, it is the same with writing. Whether my writing is good or bad, it’s not going anywhere if I don’t send it on its way. I am the only one in control of that outcome and the only one who can change it. And like anything else in my life, if I don’t do something with one of my written pieces, it will end up underdeveloped and quickly forgotten. Since writing and sharing are cornerstones of human growth, it is my duty to not allow this to happen.

Now, mind you, I feel I’ve made great strides this year even though I still have a long way to go. I am especially proud of myself for publishing this weekly blog consistently (I’m on 50 of 52) for the writing project #52essays2017. Accomplishing that in itself is a small miracle for me. The fact that people read it and actually comment in a positive way still blows my mind. Even though to me this is barely considered publishing— it’s still a great first step out of my comfort zone.

I’ve been studying submission heavily over the last few months and feel fairly prepared. I’ve studied it before but this time it is like watching a flower bloom in a fast-forward video. I am learning so much about starting this very scary process. This is my next big step on the road to improvement. The act of submitting starts to connect the dots and helps to paint a larger more encompassing picture of the entire writing process.

So yes, 2018 will be my year of submission. I will find good homes for my best and most well-polished pieces. I will take my time developing beautiful art. I will even submit to the painful process of naming my pieces, which is one of the hardest parts for me. While on this next leg of the journey, I will also continue to submit to my learning while I grow as a writer. I am ready for this final step in the writing process, the completing of the cycle, the bringing of my love of writing full circle. 2018 will be the year I submit myself fully to the entire writing process. I’ve never been more ready to dive right in.

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Personal Essay #49

Are you coming into middle age? Welcome to gray hairs that have minds of their own and skin that seems to hang a little looser than it used to. Welcome to noisy joints and slower moving muscles. Welcome to a mind full of experiences, knowledge, and perceptions, yet still able to learn new information, making middle age the most fertile ground since infancy—only now mixed with the largest number of possibilities. It’s also a time for re-evaluation and making life-altering directional changes. So, settle into the middle part of your life’s story and see what more you want to write.

When we hear the phrase ‘coming of age’ we usually think of the ages between 13-21 depending on various factors. But I never hear anyone talk about the ‘second’ coming-of-age, (the stage that happens between ages 40-60) other than the overused negative phrase ‘mid-life crisis’. I believe instead that this is a mystical and magical time in ones’ life, this middle life, this second chance that not everyone makes it to. For me, I personally feel like I am coming into middle life like a toddler who is learning to run, but I simply keep propelling myself forward as fast as I can, in order to keep from falling flat on my own face.

So, what does this next section of life feel like (other than the aches and pains)? Well, hopefully by middle age, most of us have enough life experience built up and are brimming full of knowledge and wisdom. Yet at this point, most of us are still young enough to use that wisdom as a tool while still being young enough to try new things and to push ourselves to new limits. Many of us also now have grown or almost grown children giving us a huge portion of our time back and with this new found freedom a second childhood or second attempt at creating the life we truly want.

This can also be a time for stepping out of comfort zones, trying things that have sat on the back-burner while we raised families or even the secret longings forgot since our own childhood. Perhaps this step is fueled by the sands of time sliding past the narrow neck of the hourglass, by the knowledge, that time is absolutely running out. There’s so much life still left to live, we are at the halfway point, looking at our future with the fuzzy vision of declining eyesight. Unfortunately, it’s also common for potentially fatal health issues crop or pop up, disrupting any and all of our plans. As my granny used to say, “When you have your health, you have everything.” Life has no quality to it when you no longer have good health.

In this next stage of the adventure, we continue on with everything we have left. It’s the time to make a difference in the world–if we can. The perfect opportunity to figure out what else we can bring to the table of life. The focus is often on overall improvement and trying to make good on things we might have gotten wrong earlier in life. It’s a time for enjoying the years left ahead of us to the fullest as well as accomplishing things that have merely been dreams. Some say it’s all downhill from here and perhaps that is true but it’s more enjoyable than that. I feel middle life comes with a unique freedom that other stages of life are lacking. What will you do with this precious stage of your life? What dreams do you have left unfulfilled? If you are lucky, you still have plenty of time to find out.

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Personal Essay #47

While I have considered myself a writer for most of my life, it’s only been in this last year that I have really made lifestyle changes to not only reflect that but to ensure it. It’s like anything else in life, if you see it every day, you don’t notice the gradual changes. It’s only when you step back and look at the timeline of things that you actually notice a change. The difference in my grandchildren as they move from infants to toddlers is a perfect example. I don’t think about it much until I see a photo from a year ago when the changes are plainly visible.

A year ago, my writing photograph would have looked like this: I only wrote when inspired. I tried to write stories based on scenes I envisioned in my mind and sometimes they didn’t even go together. My writing was often jumbled and nonsensical. I had never written a genuine story with a beginning, middle, and an end (not once, yet I thought I could write a book somehow—laughing). I did not write every day but I did read nearly every day, which was about the only thing I was doing right. I wanted to be a real writer, a published author. My dream was only that, a dream that had never magically happened for me like I thought it should and like I thought it did for everyone else.

I’m not sure what book or article I read that truly inspired me to make a solid commitment or what changed within me that made the difference. But something did during the month of December 2016. First, I chose to meet a challenge called #52essays2017. That got me not only writing something regularly but got me to publish it publicly every week, getting my feet wet. The second change I made was joining 750words.com. I get up every morning and write my 750 words before I start my day and since I started doing this at the end of January, there have only been two days so far that I haven’t written at all this entire year. The third thing I did was to try to learn as much as I could about how to write a novel while at the same time I worked on improving my writing in general.

The next thing I changed was the process. I have always edited as I write, which I have been told is a writing fatality but I never heeded the warning. I decided this time I must. So, although I really struggled with it at first, I managed to keep my novel moving along, just writing, no editing. I started off with yellow legal pads and pencil. I still wasn’t really getting anywhere. My story lagged and I could not keep the momentum going for any length of time. I was beginning to lose hope, I kept extending my personal deadline. I never realized how hard actual writing could be. I also started getting up at 6 am to write, which anyone who knows me is next to impossible.

Midway through October when I realized I didn’t have a shot in hell of finishing on time, I threw up my hands and decided to try something that truly scared me. The National Novel Writing Month aka Nanowrimo. I almost chickened out of the pre-writing meetings with the regional chapter, but I swallowed my fear and stood up and did it all anyway. It was good that I did. I met some cool people, I learned a few new tricks, I gained some much-needed confidence and I plunged right in, not knowing how to swim. I had more information though than when I started and I hoped that would be enough. I also upgraded to using a pen, much faster.

At about the halfway or midpoint I faltered. I froze. My story froze. Fear caught me and wouldn’t let go. I hacked it out and after a couple of days was back on track. I am currently one week away from the finish line. I am a little above target but more on track in my soul than I ever have been in my whole life. Not sure what changed again, or how or even why. I just know that now I am “getting it” in a way I never have before. I feel like a floodgate opened but instead of it bowling me over its washing over me like beautiful music.

My story keeps moving as if on it’s own. Yet I put forth that effort every single damn day. It doesn’t feel difficult anymore though. It seems as natural as breathing. Yesterday I crossed off my 40k mark. I am still in awe. The best and the worst part of this whole thing is that I truly don’t know how my story will end. Since the general plan is a series, I feel that is okay because I have a general idea of how it needs to end. But so much of what I have written has surprised me that I am not sure how it will end exactly. So, for now, the best part is that I can’t wait to find out. What a difference a year can make when you add dedication, discipline, and determination into the mix. Finishing strong.

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Personal Essay #39

I loved flying alone as a child. Flying meant freedom. Flying meant independence. Flying meant to escape. Flying meant being welcomed by warm inviting faces. I am not sure exactly how old I was on my first plane ride, most likely under 3 though I don’t remember it. I do, however, remember the first time I flew somewhere all alone.

I was 5 or 6 and I am thinking I might have been in kindergarten or 1st grade because I still had my front teeth in pictures. Things were different at the airport in those days; security and rules were nothing like they are now. My mom escorted me onto the plane though she had no ticket. We met the pilot and they let me look around inside the cockpit. It was Delta Airlines and they gave me a pin to wear that looked just like the one the stewardess was wearing. My mom strapped me into my seat, wished me a safe flight and exited the plane.

The stewardess checked on me often, smiling with her perfectly made-up face and her Delta scarf wrapped around her neck, tied and pointed outward in the flamboyant style of the 1970’s. I can still remember the scent of her perfume over the thick smell of cigarettes. Throughout the flight, she loaded me up with gum, snacks, and a deck of playing cards. She was very nice and kept me from getting scared during the take-off and landing (which are still my least favorite parts).

I was traveling from South Florida to Atlanta, GA on an Easter trip to see my Grandma V (her name was Vivian). She was my dad’s mother and as in most divorce cases back then, I didn’t get to see my dad’s side of the family very often (years). So to me, this vacation was a nervous treat.

Both of my grandmothers couldn’t have been more different from each other. My mom’s mother was a down to earth woman and lavished me with love and learning. My dad’s mother was younger and more put together but always slightly reserved— but a bit distant. She was a talented singer and always had an air of performance around her. I don’t remember her voice anymore but I remember what it felt like. Her voice rang of hope and faith, no matter what she was singing.

I remember her being a shapely woman while I was a super gangly child. My legs and arms too long to fit right into clothes and my bony body still skinny and short. My features were huge and stood out on my smallish face as though someone had put me together haphazardly. My Grandma V, on the other hand, was graceful and wore stylish clothes with a figure that seemed unnatural for a grandmother to have. I don’t remember ever seeing her hair messy or her face without makeup. While she always seemed happy, I felt a sadness behind her eyes when she looked at me. Perhaps she could foresee how difficult my early years were going to be, knowing there was nothing she could do.

While visiting her, I remember things like feeding the ducks in the pond by her condo and getting my first bout of motion sickness in her husband’s car as we rolled through the Atlanta hills with the top down on the red Oldsmobile. I remember hunting for Easter eggs in my favorite dress that was now too short. I loved that dress mostly because it had strips of red velvet sewn onto the sleeves, waist, and trim. I remember loving the soothing feeling I got from rubbing my fingers against the pieces that dangled from perfect bows. The dress was considered a ‘special occasion dress’ and because of that I only wore it twice and the last time it had fit perfectly.

While I remember other flights by myself, that one sticks out because of the fear I overcame and the acceptance I felt. While many of my flights involved some measure of excitement and sometimes their own kind of fear (fleeing a hurricane), that particular one was my first step into myself. It was the first experience I had with learning about myself and with traveling alone. It was a good lesson to learn at an early age and while I hate being on a plane and all that comes with it, I love the experience of going somewhere new, on my own or with others. It still means escape, freedom, and independence even though I might take it for granted.

So, while I fight back the motion sickness with Dramamine and use breathing techniques during take-off and landing to calm my nerves, I am grateful that our society is able to cut travel time by defying gravity. It is still my least favorite form of travel. However, it reminds me that I myself can defy the things that scare me, that I am able to step out of my comfort zone despite fear and anxiety and that just because something seems hard, difficult, or impossible, doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes you have to hold onto hope and have a little faith.

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