July 19, 2013 § Leave a comment


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“Good movement, strong voice.” These were some of the remarks a creative writing professor had written on some of the pieces I found shoved in my nightstand this morning. Bent staples, old CDs, some leftover Euros, my high school yearbook, and close to a hundred pages of writing spanning 5th grade to last year. I struggled to open the drawer.

“Strong voice.”

I thought this comment over while I counted the Euros. It felt like a higher compliment than “good movement,” somehow. A superior achievement to making a good transition. But what did it mean, anyhow? My “voice” was strong? What did it mean to have a weak voice? Every author has a voice. They’re speaking on paper, from beginning to end, right? Or do they? Can a poor author write an entire manuscript and not have said a word? Be voiceless?

Or is it that so much writing feels like one big voice, with the same intonations, the same emphasis, perhaps even the same words? You read one thriller novel by John somebody and another by Kate somebody and you say ah, yes, I know this voice, I’ve heard it before, I trust it, I’ll follow it to the end to find out he’s multiple personality and really did commit all those murders.

So then, maybe a strong voice means breaking through. Everybody’s chanting at the some volume in the same rhythm and suddenly someone starts whispering to a different beat. You pick up a new book and it shocks your senses. Something you haven’t heard before.

This is perhaps the greatest challenge for any artist. Breaking through. It’s more than just being different, being unique. We are all unique. Not all of us have a “strong voice.” You must not only break through the clutter of everyone else, but of yourself. A strong voice comes from an authentic place, a real, truthful feeling. Think of it as a little light trapped under layers of sand. You’ve got to dig, past the defense mechanisms and the impatience and all the modern world distractions to get there. It ain’t easy, but you’ll be rewarded.

It should be mentioned that a “strong voice” is not an eternal state of being. God, no. Just thinking it makes me feel exhausted. If I’m lucky enough to break through to that place and stay there and write, write, write, once I’m done the sand fills back in the hole again in a rush, and I fall back and let it. You don’t win the battle every time. I get frustrated when I write something that’s crap, nothing special, and jealous when others can seem to turn out “strong voice” pieces like it’s nothing. I’m struggling to stutter, and they’re singing in the shower.

But here’s the beauty of it: If you’ve tapped into it before, you can get there again. The young hipster woman with too-large black glasses thought I had spoken with a “strong voice” in that one childhood memory piece. I thought I had too. I had felt it rise within me as I wrote, asserting itself, saying I’m here, I’m here, let me speak. And I felt the exhaustion and closing back up when I finished.

Some people don’t even know that little speck of light is hiding under there, or don’t care enough to do the work to get there. They’re content to stay up above. Digging is messy. It’s time-consuming. Who’s to say you’ll find anything?

Here’s what I find, though: Breaking through to that voice, letting it yell, uninhibited, into the world, and resonate, and reverberate off the walls and ring in your ears-this is how we assert ourselves, make our presence be know. Tell the layers of clutter they ain’t got nothing on us. Really speaking-it gives me hope.


Blue Moon and Lonely Lovers

July 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Some of it is hazy, and I don’t know if it was the Blue Moon or the summer air or just how many times you turned and bent and touched my body, but I do know that one moment we were quietly playing the piano and the next you were inside of me. It hurt and I yelled out, but it was a good hurt, a hurt that makes you want to hurt again, like the satisfaction of a bloody knee falling off your bike for the first time, I wanted to dare again, I wanted another ride, I wanted to show off my battle scars. You were no one special, I knew that, I was no one special, you knew that, but here we were on a Sunday night tangled in one another’s warmth. And when the sun came up, it was as if the magic faded, and there were empty bottles on the floor and my makeup on your clothes, and my mind and body throbbed and yours slept. And I still think everything would have been okay, I would have never wanted us to go to a restaurant or a carnival or for you to buy me roses and sing songs outside my window, except in half-sleep you played with my feet with yours because mine were cold and yours were warm, and I knew then that I was doomed, at least for a while, to another almost lover, like that beautiful song says, a skinny love, like that other beautiful song. It was as if I had tasted love, what maybe others talk about, the subject of movies and musicals and songs and classic literature and trashy romance novels, but it wasn’t love, not even close, I couldn’t listen to those songs and pretend they were mine, because they weren’t, and when we untangled and you dropped me off at the train station, all anything had been was some piano playing and then your body dipping into mine and making us two of God’s intertwined and desperately lonely creatures.

“There is nothi…

July 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

I think Hemingway was a little right here, and a little wrong, which makes sense with Hemingway, given that the man was a genius and an alcoholic all at the same time. Because writing well does not mean you have thousands of imaginative plot lines and an extensive vocabulary up your sleeve. It doesn’t mean you’re somehow wiser than the rest, that something sets you apart. If anything, you’re the most human of anybody, because you’re so damn aware of that humanity. To write, you communicate the truth of that human experience. You speak what is, and nothing more.

But while you do sit down and bleed, it’s not like the blood just pours out and makes a nice little pool. The body doesn’t allow that. It fights back, tries to repair, stop the flow, clot and prevent the bleeding, not totally, but the best it can. Every time when I write I try to bleed, try to open myself up, and my body flies into preparations to save me, close me right back up again, make me whole, and I end up with a fuzzy head staring at words that slash.

There is certainly something to writing. As writers, our biggest challenge is to let the words out, let out wounds breathe. One does not simply cut and sit back and watch. We have to push the walls down, let the soul out, let ourselves bleed out, and fight the temptation to reach for the band-aid.

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