‘Use the voice you’ve got right now’

I’ve been thinking all week about this bit of wisdom from Jennifer Louden.

I follow Jen at The Writer’s Oasis, where she provides writers and creatives of all sorts with inspiration and encouragement to keep going, to make creativity — and ourselves — a priority, and to believe that, no matter what, we are enough. (There’s a modest monthly fee to belong to this community and, believe me, it’s worth every dime. Not only is Jen great; it’s a wonderful place to find harbor and anchor when I and my Muse are adrift in a sea of self-doubt.)

But I digress.

I’m passionate about providing tools and holding supportive space where individuals can explore and exercise their voices. My favorite place these days is inside a men’s state prison in my small town, where I hold two writing groups each week, one for Level 2 men and one for Level 4.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections:

Level I – V prison housing – In general, the higher the security level, the more security risk a prisoner presents in terms of manageability or escape potential. … Secure Level I and above all have secure perimeters which include double fences, razor wire, video monitoring systems and a perimeter detection system. Some prisons have more than one security level.

I love working with these writers, who are gifted, intelligent, witty men serving sentences from a year to life without parole. Their words and insights awe me every time. I’m proud and feel privileged that they allow me to be part of their journeys, and that they are willing to share their lives and their stories with each other and with me.

But again, I digress.

Even as I provide the tools and space for others, with experience and expertise (that was hard to type!), I doubt myself. Who am I to claim and use my voice?

Like much in my life, it’s assigned to “someday.” Someday when I’m a “real writer,” when I have honed and polished my voice to the point where it is at least acceptable, enough, if not A+, when I finally have something brilliant to say. Because anything less than “brilliant” surely counts as a failure.

What if it was less about finding my voice and more about using the one I’ve got now?

What if my voice is enough, just as it is? What if I saw myself, heard myself, as others saw and heard me? What if I trusted myself the way others trust me?

At the end of my favorite movie of all time, “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy tells Glinda and her three friends what she has learned in Oz: “That if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, then I never really lost it to begin with.”

I don’t think Dorothy was saying she should never leave home again. I think she was saying that no matter where she goes, there she’ll be. If she can’t bloom where she’s planted, she’ll never bloom anywhere. She is enough, just as she is.

What if I’m enough? Here. Now. Just the way I am. Like Dorothy. This is what I want my prison writers to believe: They are this … and this too. Convicted of a crime and still worthy. Serving time and still of value. Locked up and still with so much to offer.

They, I — we — are flawed, and still enough. We are able to learn, to hone and polish our skills, our voices, to change and grow. To become better writers, better people.

And the paradox is, we are enough right now, with every step along the way, taken and not taken.

Until I “find my voice,” I will raise the one I have. With gratitude that I am enough.

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