The liberation of voice

Sometimes I hear little whispers that tug at me until I listen. Maybe I’m going crazy. Maybe I’m just intuitive. Maybe I’m finally making space to hear the Spirit. All I know is that for the past few days I keep feeling the tug to pick up Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, again.

Today, I finally listened. With the background noise of one kid playing video games and the other watching unpacking videos on youtube (if you don’t know, don’t ask - it’s consumerism on steroids for kids - and I’m not proud of how much one of my children loves those videos), I snuck away to the other room and opened the book.

I flipped through the chapters. My eyes scanned the pages and occasionally read a sentence here or a paragraph there. Then I came to the last chapter and tears flooded my eyes as I read line after line after line.

Buried towards the end of the chapter there was a little word that screamed at me. Liberation. She talked about how the writers in her class describe a sense of liberation after having written. I know that feeling. I miss that feeling.

Let me share a little secret with you…Most of the time when I sit down to write a blog post it is because something has triggered me. Something happens and I feel a familiar tightness in my chest, a familiar heat and tension. Words tumble around in my head and emotion runs high, until I sit down to write. Then it all pours out. And when I am done there is a sense of liberation.

I am no longer tight and small, my throat no longer burns. I may shake as I hit publish, I may have a bit of a vulnerability hangover, but it is only in having written the words and pushed them out into the world that I can finally feel the peace of liberation. The weight is lifted. The door is open.

Yet, in the past two years there have been countless times when I have felt that tightness, felt the fire to write, and held back. I have stopped myself half-way to the computer, if I even got that far. The page would burn. It would leave scars.

There are a lot of reasons for staying my hand (some I am aware of, and some I am not), but that is one of them. The page would burn. It would leave scars.

Most of the time when I am triggered and run to the page to write, the issue is personal and my own. But, sometimes what triggers me to write is due to the actions or words of someone else. 2018 was a year of expansion for me, stepping out of my small world of home and caregiving, into the broader world beyond my front door. My expansion was still sheltered, controlled, and in small focused areas, and it feels like it’s fading quickly as life folds back in on itself, but it happened. And it brought with it an experience I have yet to make sense of or know how to handle.

Often what made me feel the weight and tension that I know is only relieved by writing, was something that involved other people, experiences that were not personal, but communal or even corporate. My voice felt blocked, held, restricted. There was a lot I liked about taking on a job outside of the house, about being more than just “caregiver”, but this was something I hated about it. I felt like I had to block the outlet that brought me liberation.

How do you write when what is yours to share gets tangled up with what is not yours to share? How do you speak freely, in a way that liberates, while avoiding causing pain or injury?

I don’t have answers to these questions. But I know I miss the feeling of liberation that comes with writing and sharing my voice. I know some experiences must be tied up and held on to, folder for a later fire, or something to rip up into tiny pieces that can be used to light stories false and true that aren’t ready to be told yet.

I know there are still stories that need to be tucked away, that cannot be shared, but I don’t want to keep shackling my hands or muffling my voice. I am a writer. It is not just what I do, it is who I am. It is calling and vocation and identity.

They say that like begets like. And I believe it. Creativity begets creativity. Writing begets more writing. And holding my tongue in some instances led to holding my tongue in nearly all instances. I don’t want that to continue. It’s time to come back to this space, to come back to opening my mouth and putting thoughts into words. It’s time to come back to hitting the little publish button at the bottom of my screen. It’s time to come back to liberation and stop living with a burning knot in my stomach.

I don’t know what that will look like. I don’t know if it will mean sharing bits and pieces of the past or stories of the present or little fictional scenes from the novel I’m working on. Maybe it will look entirely different from what this blog has been. It wouldn’t be the first time that this site and blog have shifted in intention and purpose. I don’t know.

But, I know that I am a writer. I know it more deeply in my bones than I ever have before. I know that I must write, or risk shrinking and shriveling until I lose myself. For me, this is the path to liberation. This is the path to life.

Anne Lamott ends her beautiful book with a few quotes that I think sum this up well. I will end with them now as well.

“To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts it, How alive am I wiling to be?…Your parents and grandparents will be shouting, ‘Don’t do it, don’t sit down, don’t sit down!,’ and you’ll have to do what you did as a kid - shut them out and get on with finding out about life."

“There are moments when I am writing when I think that if other people knew how I felt right now, they’d burn me at the stake for feeling so good, so full, so much intense pleasure. I pay through the nose for these moments, of course, with lots of torture and self-loathing and tedium, but when I am done for the day, I have something to show for it. When the ancient Egyptians finished building the pyramids, they had built the pyramids.”

“We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

Grace and peace,

Bethany Stedman