My Voice Ain't Lost- Why Do I Gotta 'Find' It?

No, you haven't lost it, obviously. I mean unless you've got that sexy, raspy, Scarlett Johansson half-voice thing going on, most of us can physically speak loud enough to be heard in a crowd. We can ask for more room in our coffee or for a bus transfer. And those of us who know how to write are writing words, most likely, and we are forming sentences and phrases and occasionally full paragraphs (though that's becoming more rare by the day). So then what is this 'finding your voice' business I'm purporting through these workshops, blogs, and endless adorable instagram posts??

Truth be told, there isn't really one simple answer, but perhaps it would help if I explain a little bit of how and why I came to have a passion (and I truly do- a deep, abiding passion) to facilitate writers and not-yet-writers in 'finding their voice'. Bare with me, I'm going to be a little bit vulnerable, but I hope it's to a good end. 

I grew up in a truly fab home- both my parents were super encouraging of myself and my two sisters- we played all the sports, took all the choirs and bands and drama classes, pretty much tried anything our little hearts desired and were validated no matter our skill level. I know. I recognize how extremely fortunate I was and how this really discredits the brooding, eternally shoulder-chipped writer image you may have had of me (um- have you checked my 'About' page? I'm a grinning blonde lady wearing lace- about as unbrooding as they come). But when I got a bit older, I found myself in a position within a group of male friends where it became very clear to me that my voice as a young woman was not only not valued, it was downright mocked. Yes, the young men I hung around with were probably just insecure, developing teenagers like myself (this was the height of the ‘emo’ stage- lots of side-swept bangs and black hoodies), but somehow I became the brunt of all the jokes focused on making me feel small, "know my place", and my dreams of being the Prime Minister, or a missionary (yep- those were the two dreams...) were laughed at, and it was pointed out that these were not places where a woman was allowed to lead, or speak. I experienced my whole teenage life like this- feeling overwhelmed by the realization that I would need to fight desperately if I ever wanted my voice to be heard. 

Flash forward to my late teenage years and early 20s, and the travel bug took me to a bunch of rad places around the world, including central Mexico, Costa Rica, Albania, Greece, Morocco, and India. Throughout my travels, I began to see extreme poverty firsthand for the first time in my life, and felt ashamed about my fears of never having a voice; compared to many of the marginalized people I encountered and spent time with- the very poor in the slums of Mexico, the travelling Roma in Greece, the orphans and battered women in a shelter in India, my voice could be heard loud and clear. I saw that not having a voice could mean more than simply not being given a chance to be CEO, but could mean not having access to food or clean water, having your ancestral land stolen, losing your life. I saw that not having a voice didn't mean that one didn't have opinions or intelligence or thoughts, but that it meant the people in power would not listen to or validate them. 

Finally, in the second half of my 20s I found myself teaching at a college in Toronto for a couple years, specifically a remedial writing class to students that were failing at writing so badly they would flunk out if they didn't pass my class. I was their last hope at finishing their education (an intimidating fact causing me to drink waaay too much coffee and then take ten pee breaks each lesson).  Now Toronto is a magical city that is full of people from every ethnic background around the world, often mixed backgrounds in one family. For example, I had a student who had grown up in Toronto, but their mother was Chinese and spoke a mixture of “broken” English and Cantonese, and their father was from Jamaica and spoke English, though it was Patois English, which is almost its own lovely, fascinating language in itself. This student could barely string together a sentence that would be deemed acceptable in "academic English", as we were taught to call it at the college, but I found that his language was far more interesting than any I'd ever heard- made up of an intoxicating mix of Cantonese translation, Patois slang, phrases from his Vaughn high school, and many other bits and pieces cobbled together from 21st century techno-pop culture. This wasn't just this one student- every one of the students in my remedial English class had this trait- a completely unique language inherited from a diverse childhood. I found myself day after day in that classroom struggling to teach “proper” English, because one thought kept ringing through my mind: who the heck was I to strip away their fascinating original language and force them all to sound the same?? We don't need more people that all sound alike! We need diversity, new perspectives, eclectic language to describe unique experiences! What I realized through these students was that 'voice' was more important than learning proper syntax, grammar, compound sentences, blah blah blah- (yes, I know we do need some ability to communicate in a common language in order to get our opinions, thoughts, and ideas across, but if it's at the loss of our own unique voices, I caution this immediate preference for the former). I came to believe that their own original, unique voices would make them far better at standing out in a crowd later on in life when it came time to communicate their viewpoint- whether for creative writing, business, sales, politics, or whatever sphere they found themselves in. 'Finding their voice', therefore, had less to do with finding something that was gone, then helping them discover the treasure they already had. 

SO- if you have stuck with me thus far, thank you for your patience, and I'll try to wrap this up for you. Whitespace Writers was born out of my belief that everyone, every person, in any circumstance, should be given the dignity of a voice- meaning we should, in all spheres of life, be prepared to listen to the story, the experience, the individual knowledge that is inside of every person, regardless of their gender, economic status, or place of power. Through the telling of our own story, we help fill another gap in the human experience and do all sorts of healing, teaching, growing, and unifying. But the problem is that many of us A) don’t know how to tell our story, B) think our own story, whether real or imagined, is boring, and C) focus most of our time on trying to sound like everyone else! However, I for one don’t want my Chinese Jamaican Canadian student to sound like everyone else; the reason I’m so fascinated and willing to learn from their story is BECAUSE it isn’t like anyone else’s- it is uniquely theirs. Through the ‘Finding Your Voice’ workshops, then, my goal has become to give an opportunity to people like my former students, people like the marginalized I encountered overseas, people like the little girl I was, fighting for my voice- to discover what their own original, unique voice and story sounds like. My passion is to help you discover not how to sound like everyone else, but how to sound more and more like yourself, and thus assist you in standing out from the crowd so that your story can be heard, and all the life-transforming things can happen that are bound to happen when we speak up and tell the truth of our experiences.

That is why I want to invite you to consider ‘finding your voice’ again- not because it’s lost or because you never had one, but because it is so strong, distinct, and deeply engrained in you that sometimes we are the ones who have the hardest time knowing and believing our own original authentic voice is interesting, unique, and holds immeasurable value. Like when you hear your own voice played back to you on a recorder- none of us can believe that’s what our voice sounds like- but to everyone else it could only ever be you. I want to help you find that voice, learn to recognize it, strengthen it, and use it to change the world.  

As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat you! write!"