The Grave Danger of Being Silent

“Okay, you’ve got to choose one word. And one word only that will describe you and a representation of your life to be carved on your tombstone.”

I was at a writer’s meeting. And this was one of those wretchedly “fun” exercises we did to stimulate creativity, or imagination, or brain damage.

It was my turn. Everyone looked at me.

“Umm … whisky?

NO! was the general shout from all corners of the circle. Most of these people knew me well enough.

The host looked at me with a full measure of pity. A little bit like how I look at the dog after he’s eaten an entire stolen loaf of bread and he’s all swollen and gassy but still looking for more: pathetically.

“No, not whisky,” the host said in patient tones. “Whisky is something more of your life preference rather than your life portrayal, Shelley.”

Yup. Same look.

“Okay,” I said, determined to get this one right. “Then I choose voice.”

That answer got a woefully polite round of applause.

But the more I thought about it, the more I grew certain that it should have received a standing ovation. Because, in essence, it really has been the central theme threaded throughout my entire life—and every day, it grows more paramount.

In about two weeks, my next book will be published. (The Freemason’s Daughter) (disclaimer: Publicists and marketing departments get super cranky if you do not provide easy links to readers or refuse to say the phrase, “In my new book, The Freemason’s Daughter” as the start to every conversation. And let me tell you, it was a monumental challenge to work that one in with my seventy-four-year-old garbage man whilst handing him one more bag full of cat poop from the litter box.

“There are men in it,” I said lamely. Yeah, he was going to love my young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old Scottish girl.)

Anyway, again, in about two weeks, my next book will be published. I can hear all of you muttering the word finally.

And although this book has all the crucial motifs that appear in every coming of age story—the challenges of youth, friendship, love, relationships with six burly smuggling Scotsmen—the keynote theme that rose above all others was this: Where the hell do I fit in?

Now, granted, the voice that uttered this query at least one time in every chapter classed it up a bit with a lilting, girlish British accent, but it is, beyond a doubt, a central examination that needs answering by the end of the book.

And maybe it does get answered and maybe it doesn’t. I ain’t gonna spoil it for all of you. Especially ol’ Cooter Covington who promised he’d buy the book as long as I somehow managed to have the cat experience a fatal accident before he came back next week. But to find out … (The Freemason’s Daughter).

Funny enough, that question was present in my middle grade contemporary novel, DEAR OPL (Dear Opl – You’re welcome), about a thirteen-year-old American girl suffering from prediabetes and obesity who struggles with loss everywhere in her life except on her body.

Before that, I voiced that question as I made the transition from mandatory mother to partially needed parent to occasionally sought guidance counselor who receives messages like, “I’d like to schedule a major meltdown on Thursday evening after my class on linear algebra. Could you clear your schedule and send me a bucket of chocolate so I can have it there while you talk and I cry?”

My job status was shifting. And I needed to redefine some new position I could find fulfillment within.

And, quirkily enough, before all of that, my actual voice was the focus of my entire life. I got paid to sing. Once or twice I got paid not to sing.

The point is, “voice” has been stamped all over my forty-seven years of life.

Which brings us up to the present and the future—to my love for soothsayers and crystal ball gazers.

Because now, in recent months, voice has become a ubiquitous word. Rare is it a solitary strain, buried beneath the weight of larger, louder bodies that attempt to silence it. Rather now, it is a growing collection, a chorus, a rising refrain.

It is the sound of town hall meetings, the chant of protests, the carefully crafted question in a press corps meeting. It is the debate across the aisle, the conversations in the coffee shop, and the gossip over the garden fence posts.

It is the struggle to parse fact from fiction as myriad voices crow with what they believe to be true—or what they want you to believe as true. It is the concerted effort to eliminate the noise, to brush away the flashy and distracting so that you can uncover the naked, unvarnished reality.

Yes, it does exist.

And when we are able to do that—when we are finally able to hear inside our own heads, we will hear that sound that many of us have spent a lifetime ignoring. Our inner voice. The one that never lies to you. The one that says, Do not go out wearing those pants under any circumstances.

Yeah, that one.

The amazing thing is, is that all of those voices are asking the very same question—that one about inclusivity. Where the hell do I fit in?

We all want our voices to be heard, our words to matter, our existence to count. Whether we’re a president determined to believe we are the greatest, largest, tallest, (insert-superlative-here) guy to draw breath. Or we are the lowly chap who’s still trying to muster up the energy to clap as loudly for that president as we watch him wave from one of his golf courses and we finish the leftovers from last night’s TV dinner.

Forecasting the future is dicey work. Asking the hard questions about that future needs to be done—despite the unwelcoming off the cuff response of an extra tiny pointy finger barking at you to “Be quiet!”

Don’t. Don’t be quiet. Find your voice. Raise it. And use it.

Because I’ve kind of grown fond of the idea of having voice on my tombstone. Otherwise, I will have to resort back to the original epitaph of whisky. Although maybe I’ll spiff it up a tiny bit with that lilting, girlish British accent.

She saw the beauty and necessity of hard liquor.

~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Phoning It In

As a writer, it is a mortal wound to have your words identified as cliché.

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To have nothing new to say, and nothing novel to offer, is to look down and see spurting lifeblood flowing from the femoral artery of your quill. You might as well place your hands upon your chest and lie flat with the waiting of the inevitable.

As a human being, to live a clichéd life is to miss out on the depth and breadth offered when handed the menu of all that is available whilst you still draw breath.

Would Madam prefer beef or chicken tonight? Or perhaps the fish? The chef has a lovely bit of Dover sole.

“No, tonight I shall have cricket as my protein.”

As you wish.

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But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to order ‘off menu,’ you are snapped back to form as if your life were fired in the kiln of shape memory alloy.

Turning the page will reveal a predictable, cringe-worthy, mulish experience. Sometimes there is nothing left to do, but soldier on.

And then blog it.

Words are everything to me. They are the more than one million flavors of communication available at my beck and call. They reside on my shelves, bound between covers in several ‘parts of speech pantries’ I never need to restock. But I have a preference as to how I like to use them. I rarely dish them up straight from the pan, hot and bubbling, but rather allow them to cool, their flavors to meld, taste-tested a dozen times before serving.

I like to write. Not so much to speak.

Which is why I detest … THE CONFERENCE CALL.

And if you have ever spoken to an individual in business that is part of an organization consisting of more than two people, and those ‘more than two people’ must communicate a lot of information that needs addressing soon and fast, you’ll likely have heard about just how bad conference calls can be. Or annoying. Or snooze-worthy.

Or disastrous.

I’m getting used to them. But I hate them more than I hate the thought of eating a slice of stinkbug pie—

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with a side of cowpie patty ice cream.

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Really.

I like to be prepared. Over-prepared. I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going to be discussed, and will have given it all a great deal of thought with most of those thoughts written down for handy reference. Spontaneity is not my friend. It is as if spontaneity and I met one day at a snow cone shop and spontaneity grabbed my cone and threw it down on the side walk. And all I can do is look at my cone melting in front of me with no idea what to say or do because I didn’t rehearse this part of life.

Yeah, meta.

But if I’m going to have one of those spontaneous, disastrous moments occur, I want it to be MY moment. And not a repeat of the cosmic collection of moments everyone else has already had and tweeted about.

But I didn’t. It was so … predictably, boringly normal.

Was I prepared with all my notes that I’d been gathering, writing and crafting for the last three weeks? Check.

Was I sufficiently caffeinated for focus, and now holding a brimming cup of chamomile tea to counter the effects of the previous jittery drink? Check.

Had I used the bathroom? Was my phone plugged into the socket so that soon it would be fully charged? Did I have a timer set to make sure I’d not call in late? Check, check and check.

I was ready.

Did my alarm not go off, and being fully immersed in work, I would not recognize it until ten minutes passed the call time? Check.

Once integrated into the call, did the house phone on my desk begin to ring with shrill hysteria, and did I suddenly discover that this phone had no ‘off’ ringer switch? Check.

Did the answering machine on the other side of the room kick in at full volume making it sound like someone else joined the call? Check.

Did the above scenario repeat itself verbatim sixty seconds later? Check.

Did the doorbell ring and set the dog into an absolute frenzy because someone unexpectedly showed up at a place that requires a travel agent and a spirit guide to gain access to? Check.

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Did I embarrassingly have to excuse myself to answer the door and calm the dog and yank the answering machine from the drywall? Check.

Did I return to find my phone had died because it hadn’t been properly secured into the outlet and therefore I’d dropped off the call from battery failure? Check.

While plugging it back in beneath my desk, did I bump the desk so hard that it knocked over my cup of tea onto all my well-prepared notes rendering them unreadable? Check.

Did I phone back in to join a group of people who were now seriously doubting whether I was firing on all cylinders? Check.

After sixty seconds of rejoining the call did my phone alarm finally go off reminding me and everyone else that it was time to phone into the conference call? Check.

Had I mistakenly allowed one of my girlfriend’s children to play with my phone the day before only to realize that the smarty pants had changed all my sound notifications to that of Pac Man dying? Check.

Did everyone on the phone call gasp in horror and accuse me of playing video games whilst on the call? Check.

Yes. It was disastrous. I failed miserably. And I have nothing new to offer the scenario of disastrous, failed, humiliating conference calls.

I am cliché. I am watching the lifeblood bleed out of what could have been an interesting story. I am resigned.

I am silent.

I am thoughtful.

I am determined.

Tomorrow, I eat crickets.

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~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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And I quote …

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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I pay attention to words. As a writer, I am encouraged to scrutinize my words — and everyone else’s.

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And I have been known to give voice to animals, insects and inanimate objects purely because I am convinced they are trying to communicate. I will be their translator.

Oftentimes, it’s like converting African Khoisan clicking into Klingon and sprinkling it with a bit of Dothraki and Pig Latin. Yeah, that hodgepodge is probably not going to catch on.

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Even though I have a nerdish penchant for individual words, and when asked for the title of my favorite book, I awkwardly admit it is Roget’s International Thesaurus, the next level up on my scale of linguistic admiration is that of the quote.

I am addicted to adages, transfixed by truisms and wild about witticisms. In my opinion, reading the words that express other people’s wisdom in bite-sized format is an appealing approach to acquiring needed knowledge. The quotes I’m drawn to are powerful pearls of astute insight that have experienced countless retweets in the grand scope of the overall twittering universe we inhabit. Some have taken off like wildfire, a quick strike of a match that hungrily spreads from one combustible source to another, and others are smoldering embers—words that have been around like the coals of a dampened fire in the hearth—ready to be repeatedly brought back to heat-giving life in the morning, yet will continue a slow, hourly seep through the house of many minds.

Look through any bathroom in my house. You’ll find most of the reading material is short and quippy. I don’t encourage anyone to hunker down in there, but if you find it unavoidable, I hope the words invite you to ponder.

I’ve even taken to painting quotes on the walls of bathrooms and bedrooms because they’ve moved me to feel they deserve permanence within my humble abode.

Three quotes I feel worthy of daily reflection are:

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. ~  No one can count the apples in a seed.

Do not follow where the path may lead … go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

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And most importantly,

If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, or hear it with your own ears, don’t invent it with your small mind and share it with your big mouth.

Okay, that last one is just another version of what was drilled in to me as a kid only in the less graceful form—You keep your nose out of other people’s business and they’ll keep their fist of your nose.

It worked for me.

As it is, everywhere I turn seems to sprout yet another worldly proverb or sagacious aphorism. Desperate to memorize these slick and savvy sayings, I’ve taken to writing them with a pen on my skin with the hopes that they’ll remain there long enough for the philosophy to penetrate before the ink departs.

If I went with the more indelible route–and tattooed myself with these many mottoes–I’d be a side show attraction at one of the county fairs. Plus, I’d rather not have small children run from me if I’m filled to the brim with all this wordy wisdom and no one to share it with.

I could start a Bookmobile that could rival my massive library system strictly with the number of volumes I possess that are only filled with the blunt, but brilliant quotes of others. They are everywhere around me: in my car, by my bedside, scattered across my desk, strapped to the belly of the dog for when we go take a walk and I’m in the mood to chew on a mouthful of metaphysics.

Everywhere.

These quotes are at the bottom of people’s emailed notes, on the first pages of great novels, spray-painted across the arch of a bridge, on the tear sheets of all my calendars, etched onto my bars of soap—that one isn’t the most cunning use of marketing dollars, but oh well, I suppose the point is that the shower is a reflective place.

And of course, I find laudable quotations from the world’s greatest source for anonymous pithiness with a pen: the public bathroom stall.

I’m not fussed where all this acumen comes from, or indignant from Oscar Wilde’s slight that the majority of us will never realize an original idea and only spout those from the cool kids of the past.

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I am prepared to receive the world’s collective enlightenment as it comes and from whichever direction it blows. There are an inordinate number of clever folks out there, adept at stringing together a sentence or two that have touched me to the very core.

I leave you with two last quotes and hope you might have one to share with me. The first I’m guessing might have been the rough draft of a speech somebody in Congress was about to deliver, but then ditched. The second is simply one I would have loved to have penned myself.

We, the unwilling,

led by the unknowing,

are doing the impossible

for the ungrateful.

We have done so much,

for so long,

with so little,

we are now qualified to do anything

with nothing.

And lastly,

Some people are like a slinky … not really good for anything, but you still can’t help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

~Shelley

 Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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