Voice, both literal and metaphorical, the sound produced by the vocal organs or the distinctive expression of an artist or the ability to express a choice or opinion, is critical to being heard. If you have no voice, no one can hear what you’re trying to say, whether it’s because you’re unable to talk, or what you say is silenced and ignored, or you’re afraid to express yourself (perhaps for good reasons).
Since leaving my job at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about voice — my voice in particular. Working as a leader in the movement to end violence against women, it was a rewarding part of my job, as well as a passionate commitment, to give voice to victims who are voiceless. Whether that was speaking to reporters about the reality and tragedy of intimate partner violence after a woman was murdered by her husband or boyfriend, or testifying to legislators about the need for a statute to better protect victims, or meeting with government officials to urge changes to policies that would better support battered women and their children, I felt the force of all the victims who could not speak for themselves behind what I said. It was an honor to provide a voice for those who were silenced by shame or poverty or fear, women who had never learned that they mattered, and so what they said mattered. I made sure I stayed close to direct work with victims, and talked often with victims myself, so my voice could reflect theirs.
Now the voice I’m focused on is my own and what I’m working to express, distinctly, is my singular creativity. This hasn’t been easy. Speaking for the disempowered to promote more attention to their needs was easy because it wasn’t personal and it wasn’t for me. I could use my verbal skills on behalf of someone else. Transitioning to a life focused on expressing deeply personal experiences and reflections has been a more difficult journey than I expected.
After all, I’ve been writing poetry and short fiction since I was a child. I’ve published and received fellowships, I studied creative writing in college, I’ve always been part of writing workshops where I regularly share what I’m writing. I imagined a smooth shift. But making my personal writing the center of my life has been hard to do in the wake of making the needs and struggles of others the central expression of my voice. Who cares if I write another poem about the faint rose that first rises in the eastern sky at dawn and then circles around to light the horizon to the west? What difference does it make in the world if I change a comma in a poem to a semi-colon to add weight to the following clause?
This is circular thinking for me, because it was exactly the need to have a more direct impact in the world that led to my long career at the Coalition. I started my adult life as a writer, but couldn’t get enough traction with writing as a way to make a difference in the world. As well as make a living. Following my passion for social activism into social service jobs and then to the Coalition made sense. When I left my job over two years ago, it was to give myself — my self — an opportunity to live in the middle of my own focus, to have my voice count. So the struggle to value time spent on my own creation is nothing new, and wondering how it makes a difference to the world is a same old story for me.
But this week I’ve had an opportunity to change that story. I’m taking an e-course, Renew Your Creative Voice, being taught by Sarah Whitten, a voice and yoga teacher and the creator of The Mindful Singer. Through breath work, meditation and journal prompts, and conversations on a Facebook page, I’ve been connecting with my creative history, obstacles, champions, goals and energy. It’s also been a week when I’m figuring out a more natural rhythm to my day that includes intentional and focused time to write. The inner critic and the inner activist seem to be on vacation, because they haven’t been around to question what difference all those edits I’ve made to poems this week make.
The difference? The poems are sharper. And I can hear my voice.