On Finding a Voice

Photo by Joshua Earle
“You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.” — Austin Kleon

I’ve felt for a long time, the way I think we all do, that I have something to say to the world — something inside of me that is important and strong and valuable — and that I want to start sharing it. The trouble is that I don’t know exactly what IT is.

And yet, there is this feeling that I am wasting crucial time, that every moment I’m not writing it down, sending it out, I’m suffocating, I’m losing it. It is there — an expressive, creative swell, waiting to be articulated and given shape and shown. I am haunted by Martha Graham’s claim:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”

So why have I not been sharing and expressing this creative force? Is it laziness? Not making time for it? Aversion to the lonely, frightening work of sitting down, of giving this creative force time and attention to work itself out, may be part of the problem. But I’ve written lots for myself over the years, in journals, and in pages and pages of Word documents. I just haven’t shared the work I’ve done.

Perhaps I’ve been operating under the myth that I have to figure out exactly what it is that I want to say, to know precisely who I am and to clearly articulate my voice, before I can present myself to the world.

I listened recently to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show. It made me think twice about all this. Wilmore talks about how he always just thought of himself as a comedian and never as someone who had strong political ideas, until he suddenly had a platform in which he was expected to give his perspective about the goings-on in the world, four nights a week. When forced to comment on the events of the day, he suddenly realized that he, in fact, did have opinions, and the more he said them aloud, the more they started to cohere into a point of view, a voice of his own.

Really, saying that I believed the myth that, “I need to find my voice before I speak” is bullshit. The truth is that I have just been afraid. Afraid that I if I go ahead and speak, I will not have thought it through enough or said it perfectly; afraid that I might say something now that I will disagree with or regret later; afraid that I will be criticized or worse, ignored; afraid of vulnerability, and shame, and well, afraid that something that I say may have…consequences. It’s always felt safer to stay silent.

And yet, that nagging feeling of stifled expression, of lost opportunity, will not go away, and I’ve started to realize that NOT speaking is becoming more dangerous than speaking.

So, I’m taking heart, and courage, from this:

If you say things of consequence, there may be consequences, but the alternative is to be inconsequential.

So, time to stop being inconsequential, afraid, and silent. My voice sounds small and strange and weak to my ears right now, but I have faith that the more I use it, the louder and clearer and stronger it will become.

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