For several weeks the depth of snow has limited my ability to walk on our 26 acres. Last week we had a couple of inches of rain that arrived with the scent of the sea and tropical warmth, followed by a hard, fast freeze. The rain melted a great deal of snow and we had flooding. The sudden freeze created a hard crust on the remaining few inches of snow, and as we returned to subzero winter temperatures I decided to see if I could get down to the river.
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The crust supported my weight — sometimes! Other times I broke through and floundered up to my knees, the icy rind bruising and scraping my lower legs in spite of long underwear and heavy canvas pants. I saw tracks of deer and moose, rodents and birds in the snow. The river, ice encased, had thawed slightly and flooded during the rain, so the cracked ice was piled in slabs. In some fissures I could see open water. In other places thin new ice had formed and old, yellow ice lay flat but spiderwebbed with cracks.
As I stood next to the river catching my breath and marveling at the power of winter, I could hear the voice of the ice. It’s an odd sound, because it comes from beneath one’s feet rather than the sky or the world around. The ice pops and groans, sings and mutters and snaps. It’s a wild, unearthly voice, a chorus of cold water, cold air and cold crystals, the medley of flowing, living water and rigid winter armor. I wondered what it sounded like to the creatures hibernating in the river bed and the beavers in their dens.
The trees here have voices as well. When the wind blows they creak and groan as they sway, and their branches rub together, making a classic haunted house rusty hinges sound. In the deep winter when it’s very cold, sap freezes, expanding, and the trees explode with a sound like a gun going off. Sometimes they split right through the trunk.
So many voices in this world. Every place has its own special choir, every season its own song. The sound of a beetle chewing bark, the Barred owls calling to each other in the snow-bound January night, the agonized shriek of a vixen calling for a mate on a February midnight of crystal and moon, and the barely discernible high-pitched talk of the bats as they leave their roost at dusk are all familiar voices to me.
I’m a seeker of voice, a listener, partly because I’m a writer and partly because I know what it is to be silenced. Our world contains so much pain and suffering, such unimaginable horror and injustice that my compassion is frequently overwhelmed. I cannot staunch the wounds and wipe the tears of the world.
But I can listen. I can bear witness. I can stand and wonder and marvel at the wild ice, the mating owls, the hunting bats and also the handful of people in my life. For a few minutes, I can encircle another with my presence and attention, allowing their voice to speak freely, truly and fully. I can choose to have no agenda about the voices of others, no expectations or judgements.
I can also give that to myself. It’s only in the last three or four years that I’ve reclaimed my own voice. That, more than anything, is why I began writing this blog. Once a week I sit in front of a blank page and write in my true voice. Blogging, for me, is not about validation or statistics. It’s not about trying to please anyone, creating click bait or competing. It’s about contributing my voice because I am also here, not more important but as important as anyone else.
Using our voice does not require a listener.
Listening to the ice and the world around me has allowed me to realize, for the first time, how deeply I’m committed to appreciating and supporting authentic voice. My appreciation is a thing apart from agreement or disagreement with what I hear. Speaking our truth is not a matter for criticism. It’s an offering of self, and listening without judgement is an acceptance of that offering. I feel no need to annihilate those I disagree with.
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The dark side of voice is the voice that deliberately drowns everyone else out, the voice that silences, controls and distorts our world and our sense of self. The voice that deliberately destroys is an evil thing, a thing afraid and threatened by the power of others. Dark voices throw words like a handful of gravel in our faces.
An essential part of self-care is learning to recognize, minimize and/or eliminate our exposure to voices we experience as destructive or silencing. This is boundary work. Note the difference between appropriate boundaries and dropping an atomic warhead. Healthy boundaries do not disrespect, invalidate or silence others.
I wonder what the world would be like if all criticism, jeering and contempt were replaced with “I hear you. I’m listening. I believe in the truth of your experience. You are not alone.” What would we be like if we gave that gift to ourselves?
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And what of lost voices? I don’t mean unheard or unremarked, but those voices who spoke, faintly, for a moment, and then were silenced so brutally and completely no one but the silencer heard their last cry. Such a person lives, breathes, walks, eats and sleeps, but he or she is a shell mouthing superficial words. Attempts to draw close, to understand, to share authentically and elicit a true voice in return are all in vain. The phone is off the hook. Silence and deflection are the only response. No one is at home. Love and listening count for nothing and behind the mask is only emptiness. Connection is denied.
How many voices can we truly hear? The world is filled with a cacophony of sound made by billions of people. Even here in the heart of Maine the voice of the river is punctuated by traffic noise. We all seem intent on increasing our exposure to voices via social media, 100 TV channels, streaming, downloading and YouTube. Does all this clamor make us better at listening and honoring voices? Can we listen to our child, our mate, the TV, and read Facebook all at the same time?
Some people say they can, and perhaps it’s true. What I know is I can’t. I don’t want to. I don’t feel listened to when I’m competing with other voices. I can’t hear myself when my day is filled with racket and din. I can’t extend the gift of presence to 100 friends on Facebook. I can’t discern between an authentic voice and a dark voice in the middle of uproar.
Voice is precious. It’s sacred. No created character lives in our imagination without voice. Silencing voice is a horrific violation. I have promised myself I’ll never again abdicate my own voice.
Honoring voice, yours, mine, theirs, and the world’s.
All content on this site ©2018
except where otherwise noted
I’ve been blogging now for a year.
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I remember the first time I stood on a high diving board as a kid. The safe haven of the water was impossibly far away. I did eventually jump, but I stood, hesitating, for a long time.
Beginning to blog was like that. Could I manage the technological learning curve? Would I have time to do a good job? Did I have anything to say? Would I have to deal with spammers, hackers, hecklers and hate mail? Would anyone read it? And, the biggest Boogeyman of all, what would people think when I revealed who I really am?
I researched. I read dozens of articles on blogging. I made lists of do’s and don’ts. I bought a book on blogging.
I hesitated. I worried. I doubted myself. I clung to limits, obstacles and fears.
Then, in the middle of a personal and emotional catastrophe, the very last time I would have chosen or planned such a risky, frightening new endeavor, I suddenly started. I suppose I felt I had nothing more to lose.
This summer I’ve been taking stock of what I’ve created, what I’ve learned, my long list of mistakes and my intentions for the future. I’ve been a member of She Writes and Medium. I follow several other bloggers. I went into my Favorites and deleted most of my Blogging folder and then started filling it up again with new articles on Intermediate blogging.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of articles about blogging on the web. What I notice is 19 out of 20 are geared to successful blogging, which is to say blogging with the most possible likes, looks, shares, clicks, referrers, subscribers, advertising and side bar businesses, all of which can translate directly into income for the blogger. The Holy Grail is to go viral with your blog. To this end, the advice is repetitive. Use sentences of five words or less. Use short paragraphs of two or three sentences. Use lots of images, video, bullet points, colors, fonts and section titles. Keep your posts short and to the point. Carefully construct a title that will result in as many clicks as possible. Convince the reader you have something of value they need. Don’t be emotional or personal. You can’t be successful unless you have several active social media accounts.
I read, saved, took a few notes, and then realized I didn’t want to do most of what these articles said I should do. I paused and thought about that for a couple of days. I looked at my stats. I talked with my partner. I groped for a bottom line.
I absolutely love blogging/writing.
Because when I do it I’m real. Every single week I write about something real. Most weeks I struggle with what other people might think, but at the end of the struggle I again choose to be seen. I stare down that fear of using my voice and speaking up. I’m taking my power back, week by week, post by post, line by line.
Blogging and writing are my way of building bridges and fostering connection, to myself, to others, and to life. It’s the medicine I can offer to aid in healing. It’s my hug, my love letter to the world, my kiss of peace. It’s my outstretched hand, regardless of whether or not others choose to clasp it, ignore it or spit on it.
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My feeling of success about writing a book and creating a blog isn’t attached to any of the general markers of success among bloggers. We have all kinds of programs that help us gather statistics on the web, but my heart doesn’t thrill to hundreds of clicks or fall if there are only five. None of these stats tell me anything about the quality of my contribution to my readers, and that’s the only stat that interests me. I don’t have anything to sell you. I don’t assume I have anything of value to you. I never expected to make money on my blog.
I just am. Myself is all I have to give, and what I really want from you is just … you.
I’ve been honored to achieve simple connection with others through Our Daily Crime. Some I know about, because people comment. I may be making other connections that remain invisible to me. Contrary to the best advice, I don’t have social media accounts. I don’t have a Facebook page. If a reader connects with my words or finds some kind of value in the experience I share and doesn’t comment or email me, I don’t know anything about it, but I have faith. I believe there are others out there who think about relationships, empowerment, being a woman, and what it means to be alive on Earth today. I believe there are readers who can deal with sentences more complex than five words and read a paragraph of several sentences. I think a post about rules for success should be titled, clearly and honestly, Rules For Success. I’m not a click bait engineer.
I don’t regret a minute of research or reading I’ve done about writing and blogging, and I wish those writing advice the success they seek. They’ve helped, especially their content that I couldn’t use. All those rules set off a lot of feelings. I hardly ever met a rule I didn’t want to challenge, and my feelings showed me the way into my own definition of success.
I find it useful to have goals and intentions, to know what kind of outcome I want, but the fact is I don’t always know. Some things are so unknown and such a personal leap of courage or faith that to insist on exactly defined goals before beginning is to never take action. Jumping inelegantly off the high dive into blogging was all I could manage last summer. I couldn’t define an audience, a goal or an intention, except that I was damned if I would let fear stop me from trying. It’s only now, 50 posts later, that I begin to understand what I’m up to, and it’s not necessarily the same as what other bloggers are up to.
Here’s my favorite story about success. This version is from One Bird One Stone by Sean Murphy.
For 40 years, a fisherman in China used a straight needle to fish. When someone asked him, “Why don’t you use a bent hook to fish with?” he replied, “You can catch ordinary fish with a bent hook, but I will catch an extraordinary fish with my straight needle.”
Word of this came to the ear of the Emperor, and he went to see this fool of a fisherman for himself. Laughing at the sight of the fisherman’s straight pin, the Emperor asked, “What are you fishing for?”
The fisherman said, “I’m fishing for you, Emperor.”
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Thank you for reading my blog. You’ve helped make it a success.
All content on this site ©2017
except where otherwise noted
I’m getting ready to turn over the manuscript of my first book to a developmental editor. Getting ready means I’m doing one final read through and combing out overused words and phrases using the search (and destroy) feature in my word processor. Over the months and years I’ve been working with my book and mastering the mechanics of writing, I’ve learned a lot about language and my own personal tics and patterns. The biggest problem I’ve found in my writing is unconsciously using passive voice.
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On the face of it, the process of cleaning up a manuscript is straightforward and occasionally mind-numbingly tedious. Looking at 4000 plus occurrences of the word ‘was’ throughout 1000 plus pages is not filled with giggles and takes a long time. I entertain myself with battleship noises every time I eliminate ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘had’, or ‘have’. I also come up with amusing similes for the process. My favorite is that editing is like combing nits out of a child’s hair.
On the plus side, this practice opens up a lot of time in which to notice my unconscious language patterns and think about how word choice reflects my choices in every other aspect of life. Editing word by word in this way is also a great habit breaker. When I write ‘had’ or ‘have’ now I notice it.
In the past, I’ve also overused ‘gently’, ‘lightly’, ‘quietly’, ‘a little’, ‘went’ (that’s a common one), and ‘softly’. As these patterns become visible to me, I ask myself with some annoyance, why not ‘fiercely’, ‘loudly’, ‘a LOT’ or ‘strode, galloped or dashed’?
I’ll tell you why not. Because I’m female and my culture has successfully taught me to make myself small. That lesson is so central and ubiquitous I’ve only recently been able to identify it and organize resistance. The message is impossible to see until you see it, and then you can’t unsee it.
Do you know the old French fairy tale of Bluebeard? A serial wife killer instructs his latest victim to refrain from opening a door in his castle, the door a particular little key opens. Then he leaves her alone with his keys (of course). In his absence, Bluebeard’s young wife and her sisters explore the castle, opening every door, and (naturally) the wife is persuaded there’s no harm in just peeking behind that last forbidden locked door. In the room they discover a row of headless bodies and a pile of heads belonging to Bluebeard’s previous wives. They exit the room (as you might imagine) and conspire to pretend they never unlocked the door. The only problem is the little key that unlocked the door begins weeping drops of blood and nothing they can do makes it stop. Bluebeard returns, discovers the infraction, and … I won’t tell you what happens, because different versions of the story end differently. This fairy tale is embedded in my own book. The point is, once some things are understood and seen, they can’t be unseen. There is no going back.
So, consider this commandment with me: Make Yourself Small.
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- Adhere to the arbitrary cultural ideal of acceptable attractiveness. If you can’t, hate your body, torture it, starve it, distort it, color it, shave it and beat it into compliance. Make yourself conform.
- Let media, social media, experts, professionals, your favorite news channel or radio host, your religious leader, your parents, or the men in your life tell you what to believe and what to think. Don’t you bother your pretty little head trying to understand anything.
- Make your sexuality, passion and lust small. In fact, make them invisible (you slut).
- Make your intelligence nonthreatening.
- Tame your creativity.
- Don’t ask questions. Don’t search for clarity and truth. Don’t do your own research. Restrain your curiosity.
- If you must have needs, make them as infinitesimal as possible. Your needs are dust in the wind compared to the convenience, habits and preferences of others.
- Be silent! You are disqualified from having an opinion. Don’t tell your truth. Others are speaking. Censor your voice. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable.
- Capture, restrain, cage, shackle, chain and abandon your dreams. Who do you think you are?
- Deny, belittle, smother and minimize your feelings. Control yourself!
- Shame on you! Cringe, cower, hide your head! You’re bad and wrong!
- Be self-contained. Be self-sufficient. Don’t take up too much space. Move lightly. Don’t spend too much money. Don’t be too dramatic. Don’t be too sensitive. Don’t order dessert. Don’t attract attention. Don’t breathe too much air. MAKE YOURSELF SMALL!
You get the idea, I’m sure. This list goes on and on. The message is everywhere, and we’re all affected. It cuts across social, racial, economic, political and gender divides. Failure to toe the line, whatever that line is, results in harsh social and professional consequences, up to and including death. Show me a headline and I’ll pick out this theme. I trip over it a dozen times a day in my own life. Spend five minutes on Facebook reading any thread on any subject and you’ll find this underlying message.
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The surrounding cultural mandate to make ourselves small is toxic, but it’s not the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is our internalization of the mandate before we’re even aware of it, and then it becomes so woven into the fabric of our experience we no longer discern it.
Ironically, stubbornly pursuing my passion for writing and my determination to be bigger is what reveals to me the outlines of my own self-sabotage. My habit of making myself small has trickled all the way down to the words I choose. Editing my manuscript has become editing my thoughts and choices, and noticing the words I write and think in helps me notice my feelings.
My feelings contain a lot of fury and a lot of rebellion, far more than I was aware of when I created this blog last summer. Minor friction with my partner about planning a day or how we utilize counter space taps into a deep vein of lifelong rage and pain about allowing and participating in my own repression and oppression. I have systematically colluded in my own erasure. I’ve agreed to make myself small. I’ve agreed to abdicate my power.
No more. I opened Bluebeard’s chamber, and saw what it contained. The key that unlocked the door was writing, and I’m deleting all the blood-stained words that make my art small. If I fail as a writer, I’m not going to do it softly, gently, lightly or a little. I’m going to do it thunderously, monumentally and profoundly.
It’s time to make myself big.
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All content on this site ©2017
except where otherwise noted