It’s been more than 30 years since I first learned how to write, yet it’s only been a few since I started learning how to speak up. Looking back at my history of writing, I cannot help but notice in comparison to the encouragement I received to write, that the encouragement to speak was unmatched. Surely there are people who are good at writing but not strong in their speaking and vice versa. But should the two things instead go hand in hand? Is it healthy for us as a society, or in our family systems, to encourage only one or the other?
At the age of 4 I consider myself to have been very lucky to have a babysitter that started teaching me how to read and write. This gave me an abundance of confidence and a sizeable head start 2 years before my peers. When the time came to read and write in 1st grade, I was ahead of the class and had a strong sense of pride in my abilities. I never had difficulties reading, writing, spelling or with vocabulary. I was able to memorize words and often could recall the context where I had heard words previously, even if I did not understand them at the time. This lead to lots of encouragement from my teachers and family to keep writing as often as I could.
Looking back at this time in my life, there was no focus on speaking outside of normal reading aloud for my age. In fact I remember coming from a family where the adults were all born into much older, conservative generations. My grandparents and parents were raised not to interact with their children, but to make rules for them followed with discipline if those rules were not followed. I recall being at my grandmother’s house where my older brother was bullying me, and instead of my voice being heard, we were both punished the same. I remember being wise beyond my years in some ways, and not being listened to. I remember having ideas or interests that always fell on deaf ears - that is if I was not being told to be quiet. I remember being called a liar and not taken seriously.
This also spilled over into my social interactions. By the 3rd grade I was so used to not being listened to, and being told not to speak, that I didn’t feel comfortable speaking up in any situation. Even when it was for my benefit or safety to speak up, I did not speak. Of course I could read aloud in class, but if it was not a lesson in school, my anxiety would keep me from speaking. My comfortability with speaking in controlled environments always gained praise that I enjoyed. My writing had a similar effect; I always did well on writing assignments and my family enjoyed reading what I wrote. When I was reading and writing I was not only happy but felt pride in my abilities, something I didn’t experience much in other areas.
I would often witness my mom receiving a wrong order at a restaurant or receiving bad service and saying “Forget it, let’s just go”, as she would hurry me out of an establishment into the safety of our car or home. Looking back I can recognize that my mom had a secretarial career that may have encouraged praise for writing rather than speaking up, just as I was experiencing in my own life. Both of my parents in fact have a family history that does not encourage speaking up or expressing your feelings, along with any serious communication being met with hostility or disassociation. I never witnessed the family around me speaking up, and if they did, they were put down and ridiculed for doing so. Although my family was always loving, we did not verbally communicate in healthy ways and we certainly weren’t skilled in making ourselves heard.
I wish I could say that I survived the coming years of junior high and high school by escaping reality in my writing, but that is not quite the case. I enjoyed the practice of descriptive writing that painted pictures in the reader’s mind, but unfortunately I don’t recall having the creative freedom to write about interesting subjects throughout the rest of my public school days. So I never quite pictured myself writing for fun or as a profession later in life. I do however wish I would have made that connection for myself: that I could speak my mind through my writing. It never occurred to me at the time that what I wrote would be more easily accepted and tolerated than anything that came directly out of my mouth.
An interesting connection is that as my voice becomes stronger, so does my writing. By junior high I had different friends, and my family dynamic changed as my older brother moved out and extended family became distant. It was becoming more critical for me to learn to use my voice and speak up. At the same time my friends were highly skilled in speaking their minds and were the first to encourage me to speak up for myself. I remember developing TMJ at this year, a condition where stress causes you to grind your teeth while you sleep, causing terrible pain in the jaw. From an energetic standpoint, this was the physical manifestation of having a blocked throat chakra, which is directly linked to not speaking up. I had no idea how powerful it was whether I did or did not speak my truth. But I can see now that I’ve always had the writing skills to make a difference, and through finding my voice I find the confidence to write unapologetically.
Taking college writing 20 years later has shown me there is a major correlation between our voice and our writing. My previous student experiences trained me to be proper and stay within the boundaries that someone else has set for me. College writing is challenging me to put my passions on paper so that others can witness the beauty of my individual style. It’s taken me 20 years to be able to speak up for myself even when I know there will be dramatic responses to my words. But I’ve learned the importance of understanding that sometimes no matter what you say or how you say it, someone else won’t like it. I’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about having an unpopular opinion and the time has finally arrived where I’m more concerned with missing my own opportunities than being disliked.
Without finding my physical voice, I cannot imagine my writer’s voice being truly expressed to the reader. I am not just enjoying the freedom of writing in my college courses, I am also writing a blog to truly express my strongest opinions. My hope is that finding my voice will encourage others to do so. Every time I write with the full embodiment of my soul I am rewriting history for myself and others like me. And every time I make my voice heard I pave the way for others to do so.