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November 25th, 2017

The Quiet Voice

About once a year, my Catholic grade/middle school would send each class on a retreat to the church. Most of what happened at these retreats was unremarkable. No different than anything else we learned during religion classes. I barely remember most of them at all. There are two exceptions. The first, a scene that made it into Magic Inc. Book One, an innocent connection with the first boy I loved before he grew to hate me. The second, right before I found out the second boy I loved had asked out my best friend, went something like this…

The priest was trying to make a point about “God’s voice” being the quiet one amidst all the chaos of the outside world. That temptations and pressures from around us were much louder than the inner voice telling us to follow the light and do the right thing. He decided to illustrate his point by having the quietest student in the class stand on the opposite end of a tunnel of other students (making lots of noise) to lead the “loudest” student along the path while blindfolded.

Of course, when he asked everyone who the quietest student in our class was, they all immediately said my name. And so I was forced to stand on the other side. I barely made a squeak, far too afraid to do what I was asked. Being quiet was my only chance at protection from the cruelty classmates often showed me. It was a mortifying experience. And it stuck with me even in a year particularly filled with heartbreak.

~

I have for a long time felt a deep connection to my own inner voice. I would not call this voice God’s voice, but I do believe it to be my intuition - which, in turn, is connected to whatever higher power exists out there. This sense of self has guided me through so many years of pain. The bullying. The multiple times my panic attacks almost sent me to the psych ward. The times I felt like the world wanted me to change into someone more “normal”, so that I could blend in and not cause waves.

This inner voice is what compelled me to write. To become a vegetarian. To believe in soulmates and synchronicity. To be compassionate and creative in a world that often seems cruel and ready to attack those who seem different and follow their own path. This voice only grew in strength in my years of near solitude following dropping out of high school from anxiety. I still struggled with self-doubt, with major body image issues, and high anxiety. But my inner voice eventually guided me back. And I became more and more certain of my path.

Until recently. The last year, I have struggled with self-doubt so large it has threatened to knock me completely off course. The voices of the outside world have been so loud, so hurt and angry, that I have lost track of that quiet inner voice inside of me. That I have doubted my path. Wondered if I’m really meant to tell the stories inside me. Worried that I might cause more harm in this world than good.

Writing was once the only thing I felt sure about. I knew I was meant to write. I had no delusions of being “the best” writer. I always knew there would be more talented, more experienced, and harder working writers out there. But even when I doubted my writing would live up to anyone I admired, I believed in the power of stories and that I had been given stories I was meant to tell.

Now, I am fearful. Over the years, I’ve watched so many stories being ripped apart (sometimes with good reasoning), and it has frightened me. It has brought me back to the days where any wrong move could lead to an attack from my peers. It has made me question the one thing they were never able to steal from me. My voice.

Because being quiet in school didn’t matter as long as I could escape into the worlds in my head. As long as I could spill out my emotions in writing. That was my true voice, anyhow.

~

There is always more we can learn. I have learned a lot the past year. I believe many important issues are being brought to light. And that is very good. But I also believe our polarized world has often lost sight of compassion. Has turned into angry shouting matches. And it scares me. Because while I certainly lean far more one way than the another, I have never fit perfectly in any group, any box. And my stories will not either.

No story is perfect. Because no writer is perfect. Because no human is perfect. But I believe we can learn a lot from listening to each other’s stories. Some stories have had the advantage for far too long, and I hope that is changing. I want to read more stories from diverse writers. I want to learn about experiences that are not my own. I want humans to realize we have far more in common than different. We all feel love and pain, have hopes and fears, have good points and flaws. We all make mistakes. And I want us to learn from them. To apologize when we’ve done wrong, even on accident. But I also don’t want to fear being demonized for making missteps.

I believe writers should be aware of the messaging in their stories and pay attention when the community presents issues of concern. But I don’t think writers should be expected to tell perfectly moral tales. Life is imperfect. People are imperfect. Therefore, stories and characters should be allowed the same.

~

I am trying to reconnect with my quiet inner voice. I’ve written quite a bit the last few weeks. Let Jane's voice speak out again. But I still am scared. After years of being hurt by those around me, that last thing I would want is for my work to be hurtful or harmful. But my fears have turned into repression. I’ve started believing that who I am is somehow wrong. That I don't deserve a voice or to have my stories told. Started hearing the voices of the past more loudly, telling me to hide away. To disappear.

I want to believe in the power of stories again. That writing is healing way to deal with both darkness and light. I think (nearly) every story deserves to be told. I need to have the freedom to tell mine. To write about my love and pain, hopes and fears, good points and flaws. I am not perfect, but I will try my best. If I make mistakes, I will try to learn from them.

Writers are only human after all.

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