Growing a Voice

children shouting

A few months ago, I watched my kid get up in front of about 800 people, many of whom were strangers, and sing. By herself. A capella. She auditioned without telling us, and beamed when she was selected to perform. There were no sleepless nights, no mysterious stomach aches, no nails bitten down to the quick. She was suitably nervous beforehand and during, relieved when it was done, and unsure what her peers would think of her performance. She is, after all, a kid. At no point, however, did she doubt that she deserved to be there, to be heard. What’s more, there was never a moment when I thought she couldn’t do it. It was just another instance when I was left to wonder from whence this kid got her courage, because it certainly wasn’t inherited from me.

I was the runty kid who cried if anyone looked at her the wrong way. The very last thing I wanted to do when I was little was speak up or ask for an audience. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot to say…when I was by myself. I had monkey brain from a very early age, and there was no shortage of ideas and opinions, but I was out-and-out terrified of other people listening. There were guarded monologues, performed in front of my toys and secret thoughts, stories and poems scribbled in journals.

I didn’t find my voice until I was an adolescent, when a part in my favourite musical came up at school, and I knew I’d spend eternity giving myself face-palms if I didn’t at least try out for it. In addition to my persistent childhood timidness, I was at the tail end of a freakish growth spurt, and I was all bad perm, gangly limbs, and a unibrow. It took everything I had (and a fair bit of coaxing from my friends) to sing an audition piece in front of my teachers. When opening night came, I managed to catch a horrible chest cold, and I sounded like Harvey Fierstein after a month of chain smoking. But I still went on, and it was good. I was in front of hundreds of people, and they were listening. Being heard didn’t cause me to implode. In fact, it triggered a lot of growth. I probably had a fat head for a while after that, but the seal was broken, and I started making up for more than a decade of keeping to myself.

The quiet, shy kid is still part of me. I still get sweaty palms and rapid heartbeat before I have to give a talk or appear on camera. If I know there’s a meeting coming, I rehearse what I’m going to say the day before, in the car, in the shower, in front of my dogs. I worry a lot about screwing up, about being misunderstood. Despite my best efforts, I still have a wobbly, little-kid squeak in my voice, which I’m convinced is my shy inner child speaking her mind through my grown-up body. But what used to terrify me is now a rush, and I relish the opportunity to speak the contents of my jittery little mind. I now make my living screaming into the void.

There’s still room for improvement, mind you. I have not, as of yet, done a solo in front of 800 people in a school talent show.

 

A Letter To My Daughter, On Mother’s Day

Hey Kiddo,

I hope it won’t offend you to hear that I never wore rose-coloured glasses when it came to having children. At eighteen, I was convinced I would have three of you, immediately after finishing university. At 25, I thought maybe two, and not for a while. By the time I hit thirty, I was leaving the number and time frame blank. Life kept getting more interesting, and the task of being someone’s mother got progressively more daunting. Once in a while, some brave older woman would confess to her shortcomings as a mother, tell me that she had no idea what she was doing, and that she wasn’t sure she’d done anything right. I wasn’t disappointed to hear any of this, I was just relieved. I didn’t think I’d do it right either. For me, motherhood always seemed really interesting, but hard.

But you knew that when you picked me, didn’t you? You were prepared to love me, warts and all, at every stage of the game. There’s never been an off-handed comment about how I don’t wear make-up, or a snide remark about me spending too much time on my laptop. You leave me sweetly-doodled notes on my messy desk, and when you come in to our room in the wee hours of morning, you wake your father first. You introduce me to your friends as someone who does cool things and knows cool stuff. You’ve been happily letting us drag you all over the world since you were smaller than my carry-on. I think you actually dig all of my quirks and weirdness.

I have to admit, I still feel like I’m screwing things up in not living up to some “Leave It To Beaver” standard (look it up on YouTube). There will inevitably come a time when you wish I had done a few things differently, and if you choose to have children one day, they’ll do the same for you. I still wish for more sleep, maybe a little more quiet, certainly more hours in the day. But believe me when I say that when I tell you to always be yourself, it’s partially because you’ve always let me be myself. You’ve more than let me, you’ve insisted on it. The only way to really screw up would be to not recognize this as a gift, to not take it in stride.

Five Mother’s Days from now, I will still be me (even more so) , and you will still be you (even more so), and I will still be grateful that we two strange creatures bumped into one another. We work, don’t we?

With love,

Mom

despair

This Is Doubt, And It Is Your Friend

despair

I have a warm, fuzzy relationship with Doubt. No, I’m not one of those annoying naysayers who jumps on every opportunity to pull things apart. I take only a little bit of joy in proving people wrong. I just tend to be a big picture kind of thinker, and as such, I get swept away in enormous clouds of ideas. Getting down to the details and execution part of things isn’t exactly second nature to me.  I have to be dragged out of the stratosphere on a regular basis. And that’s where Doubt tends to do me a solid.

For me, Doubt is kind of like Jiminy Cricket (maybe a less naggy, whiny version of him). Somewhere in the mush that is my consciousness, there is a firm, but friendly little voice that reminds me that I’m missing something, that I’m being goofy and irrational, that I need to settle down and give things another look. Doubt keeps me grounded and honest. Doubt reminds me to do something productive with these big ideas I have. Doubt is always there, watching carefully and taking notes, and I’m grateful for it. I’d be a terrible flake if I hadn’t made friends with Doubt long ago.

It hurts me when my friend Doubt gets a bad rap. At times, I see Doubt trying to interject itself into heated conversations, or speeches given from atop soap boxes. It asks (politely) things like “Are you sure that’s true?” and “Have you considered this side of things?” It’s not trying to be a jerk about it, it’s just trying to help. But on many occasions, people seem to feel personally attacked by it. They think to Doubt or to be Doubted, is to have their voices and their views negated entirely. Maybe they’ve chummied up with Status Quo and Everybody Knows, and don’t want to offend them by making friends with Doubt.

Here’s the thing about my friend Doubt: it tends to show up when and where it’s needed. It’s not vindictive or pedantic, and it doesn’t have an ax to grind with us. It doesn’t pop in because it was bored or it was in the neighbourhood. Doubt calls attention to the gaps that would otherwise go unnoticed, and gives us the opportunity to fill them in before we fall into them. That niggling feeling we get in our stomach when Doubt pops up is a good thing. The nights we spend awake, staring at the ceiling, that’s a good thing too. We’re in a time and place where there’s more to doubt than there has ever been before. Maybe it’s time we let Doubt do all of us a solid.

 

 

More Accolades. I’ll Take ‘Em!

“Zoom In, Zoom Out” is the little book that could. What started out as a fun project I did with some very cool people at work has taken on a life of its own. In the past few weeks, we’ve been awarded a bronze medal from IPPY and a Nautilus silver medal.

Being a writer can be a lonely business, producing interactive media even more so. You spend a lot of time shouting into the void and sometimes the only response you get to your shouting is trolls telling you that they don’t like your shoes, or critics who make comments like “This book is too bookish.” I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have three separate entities tell me that the thing I pour myself into is useful, and good. I’m feeling lucky to have a voice, to have an amazing team that helps me shape it into something presentable, and now, readers responding from the other side of the void.

From this humble word nerd, a heartfelt thank you.