Wednesday morning, a dear friend of mine came over with her mom so that the kids and I could help her stuff and stamp wedding invitations.Only two of my four kids were available. My 12-year-old daughter, a task-oriented girl, devoted herself to the work, happily stuffing and licking envelopes. She completed a giant stack in record time.Meanwhile, my eight-year-old son placed stamps on reply cards, working slowly not only to do the job neatly, but also because he paused a lot to chat. He would look up from the task to make eye contact, leaving a stamp stuck to his thumb that emphasized complicated plot twists in his story during his theatrical gestures. As we worked together, he talked and talked and talked and talked.
He could talk that much because my friend and her mom listened and listened and listened and listened.
We finished the job and ate lunch together, continuing the conversation. After we cleared the dishes, my friend and her mom packed up to leave. They thanked us for our help. My son looked at them and then up at me. “I’m just glad they came here to do the invitations,” he said. “I love having people over who listen to me.”
I remember feeling that way. I suppose I still do.
In this week’s book club post at HighCallingBlogs.com, Laura Boggess quoted from Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write:
…I believe that each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to “develop” it; rather, we need to discover or, perhaps better, uncover it.
In the comments, I responded:
On page 159, Cameron writes, “Sometimes we do not know we have a writing voice because there has never been anyone to listen.”At a recent gathering that included some members of my family of origin, I began at least three sentences only to be cut off a few words into them. I spent my formative years being shut down like that; just when I would put words to an idea, opinion, or thought, the door was slammed shut. I ended up saying very little during our recent visit, just as I struggled to express myself as a child.As a result of this upbringing, many years passed before I found my voice. I discovered it through writing, both private (journals) and public (creative writing classes).When I won a poetry contest in college, I was asked to write a little bio to go in the publication. I included this thought: “I write … because no one listens to me.”Over the years, I learned to do what Cameron recommended–to listen to myself: “When we begin to listen ourselves, the inner voice grows stronger.”
I know what it feels like to be shut down and cut off. I need to be sure that my son has opportunities to develop ideas and share his thoughts. I want to listen and listen and listen and listen.
So he can tell his stories.
So he can be heard.
So he can find his voice.
In the meantime, I still have a few things to say, too. So I tell my own stories in various ways and forms, including books and blogs. And in community, I have found listening ears.
Here are some of the responses flowing through the comments following mine about being cut off and shut down as a child:
Marilyn Yocum June 22, 2010 at 1:04 pmI connected with that comment by Cameron, too, Ann. My growing-up home was noisy, with very little listening and it was in my nature to withdraw rather than join the fray. I became an avid letter writer – cousins, pen pals, etc. First signs, I think. After a spiritual awakening in my teens, my voice began to come out, both on the page and with people. God has ways of drawing out what He has put into a person, often despite upbringing.
Jessica McGuire June 22, 2010 at 1:52 pmI can relate so well to this Ann…my first journeys into creative writing as a child and young student were actually laughed at by others. To not have the voice to speak…to have no one who really hears.I love this article that Laura recommended. It speaks right into my life at this moment. Where I sit on the edge of guilt and frustration: guilt when I am writing, frustration when I am not. Finding that space in between.Great discussion everyone…I am learning so much.Thank you.
Yes, thank you to everyone.Thank you for listening.
Photo by Ann Kroeker © 2010