In the months immediately following my separation, I had laryngitis three times. My throat hurt all the time and I lost my voice. My Reiki practitioner put it down to me finally speaking my truth. According to her, I hadn’t exercised my voice in years.
How did I lose my voice? When did I stop speaking my truth?
When I look back, speaking my truth, how I really felt about things, wasn’t encouraged in my family. We made peace and played nice and didn’t really talk about the things that bothered us or we were angry about.
The one person in our family who did use his voice was my dad. Although quiet and reserved most of the time, he was quick to criticise if something didn’t fit his way of thinking. So I grew up in a household where the man of the house’s word was law. I didn’t see any families around me that were different so I figured that must be the way relationships/marriages/families worked.
A girl learns a lot from her dad. Most importantly, I learned that it was OK for men to constantly criticise those they loved.
I spent a few years of my 20s exercising my voice loudly. I lived in Washington DC and used weekends and evenings to protest for women’s rights and the right for sovereignty over our own bodies. (This put me in conflict with my dad as his views were different to mine. He made sure I knew that my opinion was wrong.)
Eventually I met and moved in with a guy in Sydney who seemed to appreciate me for me. He loved that I was opinionated. He loved me. But then we got married and within a week moved to the UK. Living near his parents and family, on his familiar territory, I was left on my own a lot as he traveled for six and eight week stints for work. When he came home, he made sure I knew that I was not up to scratch by criticising everything I did. Whether it was unpacking the dishwasher or breastfeeding our children, he ensured I knew I wasn’t doing it right.
I had no friends, no family and no support network. Everything revolved around him. At first I fought back, being the woman he had met in Australia. But eventually, everything about me changed. I couldn’t tell anyone how I really felt, how alone I was, how depressed I was, how much I hated it in England, how much I hated being married. I was miserable and tried to find my tribe but it took years before I found a group of women who became close friends. If I had found them earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have lost my voice. But I didn’t and so I shrank. Slowly, I lost my voice.
In the past four years, finding my voice and speaking my truth has become paramount to me. Writing this blog not only exercises my voice but helps me share this journey with others who, through various circumstances, have lost their own voices or their own way in life.
I spent yesterday learning more about voice in creative non-fiction writing at a workshop at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. The workshop, run by Sarah Krasnostein, author of The Trauma Cleaner, was full on. Lots of information. Lots of note taking. We started the day by going around the room to introduce ourselves and each read a passage from a non-fiction book that spoke to us. The passage illustrated the author’s voice.
I chose a passage from Pussy: A Reclamation by Regina Thomashauer. I love this book for a whole lot of reasons. Regina writes like she lives. Bold, brave, fearless. She’s a total bad-ass.
“I am the definition of a powerful woman.
I love with my whole body, heart and soul.
I say whatever the fuck is on my mind.
I make huge mistakes proudly.
I rage with as much passion as I grieve.
I live my poetry, my art.
I mother my child like a she-wolf.
I risk my life to live my truth.
I laugh easily, mostly at myself.
I would sell my soul for a night of ecstasy.
And every day I’m serving my Goddess, and my God, with every cell of my being.
In other words, I am just like you.”
I think even in that short passage, you get the idea of who she is. And what her voice is throughout the book. And why I love the book so much.
One thing Sarah reinforced for me at the workshop is that the voice of a book is facts plus the perspective of the messy human being crafting the book.
Hmm. The perspective of the messy human being crafting the book. So two people could have the same facts in front of them, but they will write two different books due to the perspective they each bring to the story. The lens they look through to see life.
Last night I read On Mother by Sarah Ferguson which chronicles the days after her mother’s death and the subsequent inquest by the coroner. It’s a love story and good bye from a daughter who lived on the opposite side of the world from her mother and wasn’t there at the end. As a daughter who lives on the opposite side of the world from her mother, I felt the anguish the author conveys and could empathise. The author told the story very much from her point of view. In fact, she states on the last page of the book, “I’m sure some of my facts are wrong and I know if Anthony (her brother) was to tell the story of our mother it would come out differently but we love her together.” She, unabashedly, is the messy human crafting the story through her perspective. I too know that if I were to tell the story of our mother, my brother and I would each tell it differently even though we both love her together.
The book I’m researching and beginning to write is about my maternal great-grandmother who had her voice taken away violently by a man. And the legacy of that one act on the women of our family who came after her. The voice I use to write this story is mine; it’s my perspective as the messy human being crafting the story out of the facts. This voice will be different to that of my mother or my daughters whose story it is also a part of and who could also write the story with the same facts but different perspective.
Although I loved the workshop yesterday, the highlight for me was talking with Sarah afterwards and getting her advice on my voice for my book. She listened intently as I explained the plot and characters to her and suggested two other books for my research. She heard my voice loud and strong coming through; talking for both me and my silenced great-grandmother.
It’s a powerful place to start the story.