As I approach my 50th year on this sometimes sordid yet mostly miraculous planet, I’ve been reflecting on my life and where I am now versus where I used to be.
Many of us wax philosophical and nostalgic at this milestone. Fifty years is half a fucking century. That’s a long time.
And yet, reaching this age makes me think of how little time I’ve had, as well as how little time remains.
Time can hang like the fog around these mountains where I call home, only to evaporate once the brutal sun shines as it rises, without mercy, taking with it the ethereal beauty of stillness.
It’s been a banner year in my career as a writer and now, published author. My first publication came in January, and since then I have had work published several more places, with more to come. Believe me, I’m not complaining.
As obscure as I continue to be in the publishing world, I have managed to get myself out there where others are reading my poetry, stories, fiction and nonfiction. My words have resonated with several who have graciously told me so. How many others have I reached and touched? I couldn’t say. However, it’s gratifying to know that at last, my light has begun to shine and my voice is being heard.
Of those who provide feedback, follow my blog and column, and share my work with others, I have noticed a thread of unmistakable reverberation. Though most of my readers are women, many are men, and the resounding message I receive is, “Thank you for speaking to truths I cannot speak to.”
So, I want to take a moment to address what I consider to be a crucial matter, and that is the discovery of your own voice, and dispelling the myth that you were not meant to be heard and shine a light into this world.
So many of us were taught “to be seen and not heard,” especially in my generation, and more specifically, as women.
What happens to a human being who is essentially told their thoughts and feelings are unimportant—that what they have to say is invalid, ridiculous, whiny, bitchy, or…in the case of my male friends and their feelings…unmanly?
In my experience, we begin to die a slow and lonely death. Within the confines of our hearts and minds we watch as the world berates us and others, stifle the urge to speak up, refuse to cry or get angry, and become the true walking dead.
Our words become buried treasure at the bottom of a vast ocean of “should” and “would” and “if only I could” but “I can’t” paradigms. We believe the lie that we have nothing of consequence to say and it’s a waste of other people’s time. Whether we are writers, artists, musicians, philosophers, historians, teachers, soldiers, protectors, parents, students, or employees making our way like worker bees and drones to feed the queen of the hive, we feel we have no choice but to silence ourselves for the good of the collective.
The tragedy herein is we do not share our stories. We lock our words up inside a vault and provide the canned responses to daily living.
“Hey, how are you?”
“Oh, fine. You?”
“Good, good. Work is a bitch, but you know, what are you gonna do?”
“It is what it is.”
“I heard so-and-so passed away. Did you go to the wake?”
“No, we couldn’t make it. We sent flowers.”
Sound familiar? This casual interaction is often deemed appropriate. We can’t all go around crying and telling people how we really feel, can we? No, because that’s not acceptable.
And yet, most of us have a desire to speak more truthfully to the ups and downs of life.
For those with the mixed blessing and curse of self-awareness, holding back our thoughts and feelings about life can wear us down. We become angry, depressed, withdrawn, or numb. We go through the motions of life without any feeling of purpose, which is ironic, because we fill our days with so much to do it seems we have a purpose. We feel that lump in our throats, but we suppress it. We self-medicate and zone out. We exist.
How about showing up for life? Recognize that you—yes, YOU—have a unique voice and it is not only your right, but your responsibility, to give your words the light of day.
For me, a stifled writer of almost four decades, once I found my voice I had to learn to sharpen it. The only way to do this is to write or practice your art.
I don’t mean just a little bit. I mean, all the time. Do it for yourself and no one else at this stage. Learn who you are, what you think, how you feel, and what you like. Practice fending off the urgings of your former conditioned life to stay silent and not be seen or heard. Throat punch those fuckers. Just do your thing and to hell with all the rest.
As a writer, I’ve heard you must write a million words to become a good writer. You know what? That’s bullshit. Yes, it takes a lot of writing to become a better writer. But listen up, kiddies—you were born with it. You were endowed with a voice and a purpose before you could walk or talk, so own that shit and take it back.
Whatever it is you wish to put out there, do it. Don’t stay behind your protective walls. Be fearless. Love fully. Give without expecting in return. Know you’re going to be hurt and disappointed. Realize that rejection is part of the process of making you a fucking badass. Accept that not everyone will like what you have to offer. Dismiss the need for approval.
In the last several months I have made some treasured friendships with people I may have otherwise never met because of the raw, honest, and no-holds-bar way I write—and share my writing with those inclined to read it—on my blog and in this column.
This kind of thing does not happen in a vacuum. In order to connect in a meaningful way with others, we must be willing to risk them seeing our light. What that light may be is defined individually by each of us, but regardless, it’s ours to give to the universe.
In doing so, we help others recognize parts of themselves they may have suppressed or denied. Our willingness to lend our voice to those who cannot yet speak is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to another human being. So why wouldn’t you do it? You may recognize some of these reasons:
Do you see a pattern here? Stop playing it SAFE. Nothing—absolutely nothing—wonderful and beautiful comes from this life when we try to live in that safety zone of comfort.
For my friends and my loves, those who have expressed to me that they wish they could…but they can’t…YES YOU CAN.
Now, dive deep for that treasure.
Find and hone your voice.
Go shine your unique light.
Be who you were born to be.
Kim Bailey Deal writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. She is currently revising her first novel and finishing her second, as well as co-editing an anthology. Publications: MORE Magazine’s Member Voices, The Pull of Strays; Issue 3 of Firefly Magazine, A Journal of Luminous Writing; Writer’s Digest as part of editor Robert Lee Brewer’s blog. She lives in Chattanooga, TN and is the mother of four grown children, three boys and one girl, and “Nim” to her husband’s grandchildren. To connect, she can be found at kimbaileydeal.net, Kim Bailey Deal Page on Facebook, @wordjunkie1966 on Twitter