Last week I attended a reading here at BYU featuring Terry Tempest Williams. She’s a prominent figure in the LDS nonfiction creative writing world . . . which, as it turns out isn’t a particularly large world, but I digress. She’s fantastic! Her newest book, When Women Were Birds, is lovely. We’re studying it in my creative writing class, and I’m consistently in awe at how beautifully she articulates womanhood, the natural world, and religion’s complicated role within both of those spheres. Her lyric essay skills are impeccable, and I’m loving every bit of her work I’ve read so far.
She also taught us some valuable “writer life lessons,” one of which stood out especially: Find your voice. It might be uncomfortable. You might be terrified of the consequences. Maybe you don’t think anyone wants to listen, or that they’ll hardcore judge you for your opinions. It doesn’t really matter. Say what you need to say, and do so with confidence.
I’ve learned this week that those fears that keep us silent, not necessarily in writing alone, but in broader areas of life, don’t do us much good. How much pain would we save ourselves, how much freer would we be, how deeply would we understand each other, if we were just a little more willing to be honest?
This week I wrote a new essay*, an essay that did not quite fit in the typical “Mormon Mold.” I asked questions about my faith. I voiced frustrations, admitted weaknesses, expressed deep envy at what our religion does not offer and others do. It wasn’t a particularly happy essay, and I was about to release it to a classroom full of happy Mormons! The horror!
I did take some precautions: I sent it to my mom, and asked her if she thought I was becoming apostate. She said no, that my essay delivered perfectly reasonable points that did not indicate hostility or satanic influence. Whew.
So I pressed “send.” It felt good. I had no clue how people would respond, but I’d found my voice, and they were going to hear it whether they wanted to or not (yet another reason creative writing classes are wonderful! No reader’s freedom whatsoever).
The responses were . . . as all over the place as usual, but overall good. They heard me, and they understood me, and they wanted to know more. Of course everyone found places I could improve, and that’s both expected and helpful. There were a couple of written responses along the lines of “Leaving the church, are we?” to which I replied, internally at least “No. Really. I’m not.”
But the VERY BEST PART of this whole experience? I got people thinking, and it felt SO good. We discussed my paper for . . . much longer than I thought we would, and I didn’t even have a chance to ask questions. I opened a dialogue on our religion, and if I’m being honest? Really, truly, super honest? This discussion made me feel so much better about the things I was struggling with. I learned that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, that there is room in our faith – or at least our little basement classroom at BYU – to talk about these things, and that sense of inclusion is so important.
I think that’s why I like writing so much. Since starting this blog, I have been surprised at who it is I’m reaching with certain posts. I wasn’t expecting some of the skinniest people I know to like my post on being okay with a larger-than-average body, and I certainly didn’t expect so many people to take interest in my middle-school days of behaving like a terrible person, but guess what? It happened. People heard me, and maybe, possibly, even learned something in the process. I learned too. We’re just a bunch of happy, open, sharers and listeners, and that is great.
We need to find our voices and use them, because as it turns out, people are listening, waiting for you to inspire them or challenge them or at least think about something differently. Maybe it’s not the audience you’re expecting. Maybe it’s that one kid who always sits in the corner and you’ve never once talked to. That doesn’t matter. If you have something true to say, something trapped inside of you just waiting to be released to the masses, SAY IT.
You might be wrong. You might be right. There will undoubtedly be people out there who disagree, but what’s it to them? Maybe after shouting it, loud and proud to the world, you’ll change your mind. That’s okay too. What matters the most is that you are sharing an intimate part of yourself with others, and the best people are those who will respect that and respect you even if they don’t agree.
This isn’t license to do something crazy and horrible like, I dunno, become a neo-nazi or a drug pusher. I have my limits. We should all set limits. Don’t do bad things.
But if there’s something you need to say to help yourself, and maybe even help those around you? You’ve gotta come clean.
Maybe someone hurt your feelings. Maybe you’re upset at the culture around you. Maybe you need a good rant. Maybe you’re having a rough patch and want to openly tell the world that you’re just so tired, and looking for something, anything, to wake you up again and remind you why life is beautiful and, despite all its troubles, worth living. There will be people hearing you, and they will know how to help in ways you cannot even comprehend. It will take time, but for now, do all that you can, and speak. So often we silence ourselves, but that is not necessary. Really.
You are loved. Someone out there wants to hear your weird niche ravings. Don’t discount yourself. We each have a voice unique to us and our problems. Use it.
*I really need to stop referencing essays without sharing them – someday, once they’re perfect! Sorry…