God Spoke Light into Existence, Genesis 1:8
Voice is very personal, yet it is driven by faith and relying on God to get you to where you rightfully belong. View these images and accompanying text with open eyes, hearts and minds. Finding a unique voice involves struggle but it is an honorable one, especially for nascent writers.
As we see in Jeremiah 29:11, God’s Will for us is so much greater than we can actually conceive. Our vices and worries often get in the way of clearing the weeds that choke our environment. Once we do the work with confidence, the galaxy is the limit.
Oftentimes we must take the time to be silent, as reflected by the following Bible verse:
In my personal journey of voice, I have learned to turn the volume down on life so that I can listen to God’s voice. When I try to rely on my own merits entierly, the task for my voice to emerge strongly and clearly is overwhelming and I become enveloped in anxiety and fear. But then I remember I must trust God’s still, small voice that whispers in my ear.
In developing voice, expect to be criticized, ostracized and even completely ignored.
As you can see, I’m not looking at you Miss Santa Croce (last name translates into cross in Italian, pronounced “cro-ch(hard ch)-ay”) because you were one of the early ones to tell me I needed to speak only when spoken to; therefore, my big eyes turned sharply against you even when my Mommy instructed me to “smile pretty.” My excitement was contagious at times, but you conspired with my Aunt Michelina one week before classes began to label me as a trouble-maker. I was an ear-witness. Aunt Michelina, the blackest of all sheep in our family, served only to stir the pot of family division, at the expense of a then five-year old. Was I trouble because I eagerly wanted my ideas to be heard and my writing to be seen? Labeling can begin at an early age, but I was in no way ready to surrender my voice, because I was born with a loud one:
My sister’s demonstrative chagrin was short-lived because she played a literal role in teaching me to speak and express myself in truly unique ways, including poetry and story-telling. With every writing project, she urged me to push boundaries and approach assignments in new ways. I will never forget when, as fifth-graders, we had to advertise a product and mine was “Mamma Medea’s Miracle Munchies,” a breakfast pastry that was sold to the audience via an Italian accent. I even dressed the part of a little old Italian lady, bearing a head kerchief, an apron, a winning smile and a waggling finger. The accoutrements of the advertisement were my sister’s idea, while the product was mine. I will always be in her debt for helping me to develop my adolescent voice. My immigrant parents also encouraged me to utilize my voice, since their English was limited when I was a child. They taught me to speak up for what I believed in and press for help when I needed it, but to do both things respectfully.
Voice is also about acceptance and remaining loyal to those people who encouraged you from the time you were a child. I was lucky to have a Nonno (grandfather) who, tough as he was, a survivor or World War II and poverty in Sicily, engaged me in the enthusiastic expression of my voice. I am the expressive woman I am today, in part, due to him.
Despite all the sustaining nourishment one receives, there will continue to be be high figures of authority who will challenge the very utterance of your voice. I wish I still had the photo of my eighth grade graduation walk to church, but it has been lost in moves. Here is the best approximation that I could find:
Sister Josephine Cabrini was wearing black and her veil was flying into the electric wind as we rushed to the church before rain fell on that muggy June evening. I am behind her, not dressed as a nun; but rather, garbed in my white cap and gown. A classic Chillemi sarcastic expression twists my lips as my Valedictorian cords fly in that electric wind. The reason? Months before, on one of the rare occasions that my mother advocated for me (I was promised that I could take a test because I had been ill, but she reneged), Sister Josephine addressed my mother with unkind words: “You should throw her in a dumpster, she will make you crazy and she will never be a lawyer.” Guess I won on that one Sister Cabrini! And double win: you didn’t sour my faith in God, not one bit. “Cuz you made me that much stronger, made me work a little bit harder, made my skin a little bit thicker…thanks for making me a fighter” (Christina Aguilera, “Fighter”).
Letting your voice be heard instead of squashing it before it rises through your throat is a difficult hustle to maintain when you are in your formative years. My Catholic high school peers often labeled me as a geek and this sometimes stopped me from giving my opinions. When you tell your “friends” you were on the radio late at night because you were querying a member of the former Soviet Union about life after Communism, it is not cool. “What, you weren’t on Hot 97FM? Get out of here.” And I was quiet for a long time, until I found the Forensics program, where I blossomed in sharing my voice in poetic and dramatic pieces. My advice to young people who don’t fit in: find something you love and give your all to it, it will make you more confident and self-assured in using your voice. Also, if someone is bullying you with their voices of hatred, tell someone you trust. You should not have to endure this alone and moreover, cyberbullying policies exist for a reason. Lift your voice for your life and your health. Do not suffer in silence.
Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we all know that voice-killers are out there, even in what is supposed to be the professional world. Take a note of my worn-out, lucky shoes:
These shoes were worn in both academic and professional settings. In law school, I was told that joining a law journal would be too advanced for me. Though the shoes bit into my bare skin, I went to every meeting, met with my advisor assiduously, and had my piece published in the school’s Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law. Professionally, I was told I was too inexperienced to appear in the Appellate Court, but I stretched, wearing these same shoes, pretty well-disguised under my pants’ legs. I needed a small stack of books to reach the podium (no one was the wiser as I arrived at court ahead of time to ensure my reach). I plead my case and my client won. Correction: my voice won because I refused to be boxed into an artificial category of “new attorney.” I eventually wore these shoes so much that the strap broke, but I still keep them as a reminder of exercising my voice despite what seems to be a tidal wave of disapproval. These shoes have miles to go before I sleep.
It is easier said than done, but my advice to those finding their voice is to distance themselves from toxic influences, which unfortunately abound in our world. You also need to be the force that challenges the status quo. You cannot start a fire without a spark. This is not only a Bruce Springsteen lyric, but also a reference to Blinded by the Light, a brilliant 2019 film about the life of a Pakistani-British teenager living in a small 1980s London suburb. Watching it reminded me of my own struggle to develop a unique voice while I was growing up in my preppy high school. I include the trailer here:
The movie is all the more powerful because it is inspired by a true story. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/08/240602/blinded-by-the-light-based-on-true-story-bruce-springsteen).
Like Javed in the film, I too have thrown my poetry out (albeit not as dramatically as the character in the film), deeming it to be rubbish. Thankfully, both of us had the presence of mind to collect our worn, crumpled paper and smooth it out into legibility. Voice develops. There is something powerful to be said about raw, visceral words that are freshly inked or penciled onto a page.
I think it is important at this juncture to leave my young self (little Medea) ten life lessons she wished she had:
Now voice does not stop with the self. It needs to be used for serious advocacy, to agitate the waters of the status quo. I leave you with my spoken word call to action, designed to inspire nascent writers, who will be agents for change in the maelstrom worldscape in which we live. Do not ever forget that we speak not only for ourselves, but for those who do not have the cultural or political capital to do so.
Brannon, Lil and C.H. Knoblauch. “Student’s Rights to their Own Texts” College Composition and Communication vol. 33 no. 2, May 1982, pp. 157-166. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/357623. Accessed 28 Nov. 2019.
Mounzer, Lina. “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women in Syria,” Literary Hub, 6 Oct. 2016, https://lithub.com/war-in-translation-giving-voice-to-the-women-of-syria/. Accessed 29 Nov. 2019.
Nelson, Jennie. “Reading Classrooms as Text: Exploring Student Writers’ Interpretative Practices,” College Composition and Communication, volume 46, no. 3, Oct. 1995, pp. 411-429. JSTOR, doi: 10.2307/358713. Accessed 28 Nov. 2019.
Ramos, Myra, translator. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. By Paolo Freire, Bloomsbury, 2000.