I know now that my writing reflects a complicated relationship and history with my own voice. It took me a long time to be comfortable with my speaking voice. Because of my naturally high pitch, and perhaps for being the smallest kid in the room, I was constantly censured and poked for “talking baby talk.” This lasted well into my young adulthood. When telemarketers would call, they’d ask if my parents were home, and I’d have to say, “No. Not anymore. I’m 32.” When I had landed a phone interview for an internship with Harper’s Magazine, my grad-school professor said, “Wonderful. Now, if we could only do something about your voice…”
I didn’t grow up in a religious home, but when I was young I wanted to try out church— until I showed up and everyone was singing. Already self-conscious about my voice, I was very intimidated. I didn’t know this was a prerequisite for getting nearer to God. I felt unworthy and left longing. I didn’t know the first thing about singing.
But I could write. I mean, I could go there, to that place, the page or that space in my mind. There it was just me and the words and details, where I had time and freedom to be big and loud and strong and say anything I wanted. That was where I could just be myself. That was where my voice could be judged not by pitch but by my ideas and the words I chose to express them.
Then one day on a road trip, a boyfriend said, “Hey, let’s write a song!” I laughed. Pshaw! But then I opened my mouth and out flowed words and a melody—just like that. I was as surprised as he was. It wasn’t a hit song—“Yuck, Albany Smells”—but it was a start. And it was a long journey from there before I would share anything with anyone else.
It was through songwriting, though—usually alone in my car, writing and rewriting, singing each line over and over, having to get past the discomfort of hearing that voice, my voice, that had never been good enough, because I was so driven to finish and find out what stories would unfold in each song—that is where I finally came to accept and, eventually, believe in my own voice.
I’ve realized that as part of this journey, I have always been in tune with, almost collecting, voices. I am attracted to and remember voices. Most of my stories and songs are written in other people’s voices. They matter to me. I hear them and see them. I love receiving inspiration as a first sentence or stanza comes to me, then finding out the story behind the voice.
I endeavor to share my stories and songs, these products of my journey. I hope other people enjoy them, of course. But I am having fun, regardless, in the pages, in the melodies and rhythms, with each word and detail, my friends.
At 44, I know now I am a songwriter, a storyteller, a believer. I am voice worthy.