Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inner voice... like writer's voice

needs freedom to make mistakes. When you want to give your inner wisdom a voice, it helps if you can experiment in an internal freewriting kind of practice. That means you can't judge the content quite yet. The emotional grammar police aren't allowed input. Friends who "know" the right format for your life (as deadly as foisting a five paragraph essay structure onto autobiographical narrative) need to be gently shushed. They mean well, but they are not you... they don't know what your inner self is trying to articulate.

It's taken a long time for my quieted, judged, mocked, misunderstood, ignored, reproved, overlooked, shamed voice to emerge... even a wee bit. Hard to believe, I know, given how naturally I speak in front of a room, how easily I monopolize phone lines with detailed introspective comments to close friends. I ooze verbal confidence which hides my self-doubt.

Listening to inner wisdom is not the same as talking about insights. The process is somewhat similar to how writing must feel for lots of people. One of the hardest things about writing is the anxiety that Mistakes Will Be Made. That need to get it all down correctly on the first go has paralyzed the writing voices of many verbal people. I know that my writing voice isn't hampered by bad punctuation or mistaken content or self-indulgent ranting.

But I have treated my inner wisdom differently. I was told for years that I can't trust myself, that I needed an objective measure to avoid Making Big Mistakes. I worried: What if I'm wrong? What if I stake my life on my beliefs and it doesn't work out? 

But I should have asked: What if in the tiny, every day ways I ignore warning bells (emotional exhaustion, tedium, wrenching pain, loneliness, hopelessness, confusion, contradiction between logic and experience)? 

I applied "formats for living" to my unique life, trying to fill in the blanks according to the Life's Instructions. You know how you write an essay that must have a thesis, supporting paragraphs with points and particulars, proper evidence and proofs from reputable sources, and a resounding conclusion that will lead everyone to your conclusion, conclusively!? That's how I've treated my life, much more than my writing. I've scripted my inner wisdom by supplying it a list of rules, outcomes, supreme authorities and source materials; then I told it to get busy voicing and concluding.

What I've needed, though, is to permit illegal thoughts, hunches, concerns, worries to percolate to the surface where they could sunbathe, get a little light on them so they wouldn't be so pale.

For instance:

I let people bully me. I assumed if someone took the trouble to tell me my motives, they must know something about me I didn't know about myself. Confusion and self-doubt would swoop in. Then I'd fight off the anxiety with defensiveness, but in the end, often capitulated to their vision of me.

Now, if someone tells me who I am or what I think, I stop them. If they don't come from a place of curiosity, humility and kindness, the content is irrelevant to me.

To write my life with my inner voice means risking relationships, it means making mistakes (over-asserting a boundary, not creating a strong enough one, experimenting with my morality, disregarding what matters, making something matter that doesn't).

To freewrite with my inner voice requires quiet. One surprising source of support for this process has been the Episcopal church, which I get to visit occasionally. I cry the best "inner wisdom" tears on a kneeler... the silences move stuff around inside me, all without words.

Today I read that to follow one's "gut" (inner wisdom), you don't need reasons to act. Reasons can be sorted out later (and sometimes delay action). Better to act on your inkling first because sometimes that's what saves you from injury (emotional or otherwise!). Being a "nice girl" is not ever a reason to ignore what you "hunch" inside.

I've bumbled along in this quest to be authentic, self-protecting and nurturing, other-oriented and generous. I've over-extended, I've miscalculated, I've used a machete when a scalpel would have been better. I've slaked my thirst with sugar drinks when I needed water. But that's the nature of free voicing. Wisdom comes in the revising phase... it's not all at once, it's not neat or tidy or even correct at the start. It's most certainly not arrived at in a first draft. Inner voicing is a process that includes reacting instinctively without always understanding why, and then slowly gathering meaning along the way.

I tell my writing students all the time that "writing voice" simply means that their writing sounds like them. When I read what they write, whether they are joking around or crafting sophisticated academic papers, the ring of "who they are" comes through the writing. That's writing voice.

Today it occurred to me that living by your inner wisdom may be similar: You'll know that what you "voice within" is true to you when your life looks like who you are.


Carol said...

This is lovely. :)

Julie Evans said...

Ditto what Carol said. You are a beautiful soul, Julie. It makes me happy that I get to be your friend:)

Nicole Rae Studio said...

I am so glad you are writing again. This is just wonderful. Thank you.

margaretm said...

So glad to read your writing again. Thank you!

amandalia said...

First of all, is it weird that I'm reading your blog? Secondly, I love reading your blog. It feels like we're having a conversation where I just get to listen, which is my favorite. Thirdly, I like the idea that your life should feel like you. It seems like it should be the most natural thing to do, but it never is.

julieunplugged said...

It is absolutely not weird that you are reading my blog, Amanda. I'm honored. :D

Susanne Barrett said...

Aaaah, there's just nuthin' like a kneeler to make one search the depths...sometimes in revelatory tears.

Love that you're writing here again--I've missed your honest voice ringing in my mind asI turn over the thoughts you've furrowed to my surface.

I agree with Carol--lovely! And honest. And true. Thank you for putting yourself back out here==a gift for us all. :)

jo(e) said...

Beautifully said. I really like the comparison to learning how to write.

I think you can extend that even farther. One of the things that helps me as a writer is to be part of a community of writers, be friends with other people who are writing. I think that in trying to get in touch with my inner voice, I've been helped by friends who are also trying to figure out their lives, get in touch with their inner voices. It helps to be around people on similar journeys. Or at least, to read their blogs.

julieunplugged said...

Jo(e), you are so right about this. A community is essential. You've been one of those voices for me in both writing and living!

SUSAN said...

Wow, so true! Every word rang true but this thought stands out for me, in the life I am living right now:

"But that's the nature of free voicing. Wisdom comes in the revising phase... it's not all at once, it's not neat or tidy or even correct at the start. It's most certainly not arrived at in a first draft. Inner voicing is a process that includes reacting instinctively without always understanding why, and then slowly gathering meaning along the way."

Thanks you,

Colleen said...

And yet another great post that resonates with me (and many others, I'm sure). You expressed all this so well, Julie.