Hi everyone! I’m so excited to be part of the The Murmurings by Carly Anne West blog tour. Carly has very kindly written a post on “Voices In My Head”. There’s no denying Carly’s flair for writing, enjoy reading! :)
VOICES IN MY HEAD
For this blog post, Alicia kindly provided me a topic of “Voices in my Head,” an apt theme considering that writing THE MURMURINGS began with the premise of what might happen if the voices in one’s head were actually the sounds of a literal evil. But another theme I explore in the book – and in life the longer I live it – is the effect of those other voices, the ones that provide a sort of soundtrack to whatever moves us through a day.
So I’ll start with a story, because you know, I’m a writer.
When I was twelve years old and attending the seventh grade Valentine’s Day dance (actually just an after-school grope-fest in which too few chaperones monitored a dark, scantily decorated gym with all the lunch tables pushed to the perimeter). Deep bass thumped, short shorts hiked, and we all looked to the usual kids to guide us toward the journal-worthy interactions we figured we should be allowed to walk home with and obsess about for weeks after.
I watched a group of about six girls form a circle in the middle of the floor. They dipped, bent, wiggled. They looked right doing it. And what’s more, I knew I could do it, too. After all, I’d taken all the same dance classes with these girls, knew them all from elementary school, had camped out on each of their living room floors in a flannel sleeping bag at one time or another. And perhaps we had meandered away from each other over the summer; some parties had been thrown, or so I’d heard. But when I said hi, they still said hi back. Their names were forever sealed in my sixth grade yearbook, and no one, not even someone with a darker marker, could conceal their signatures. So I joined them in the dance. I entered the circle, and I shook it for all I had. And a couple of them even encouraged me. “Go Carly! There you go!” And then I felt a tap on my shoulder.
A boy. I knew him at the time. He was somewhere on the periphery of cool for reasons indefinable. And his words went “Move out of the way. You’re blocking the view.” And outwardly, I shrugged and said “Whatever.” But I most certainly did move out of the way. And fast.
Now, I will never claim the prize for most scarring experience in adolescence. Not for this or any humiliation I might have endured in childhood, early adulthood, adulthood. This five-minute encounter, practically sepia-toned it’s so dated, was for me a momentous occasion. Because it was here I began hearing voices.
Insecurities had been brewing. I’m pretty sure that’s what is going on in our bodies from birth to about age eleven. Doctors say you’re just growing, psychologists say you’re beginning to form empathy and self-identity, parents say you’re getting an attitude. But really, I think self doubt has been industriously stacking blocks, building little effigies to the God of Awkward. And once the ultimate shrine is built, the voices enter. For me, their tone began in the form of a young boy’s crackling voice, telling me I was obstructing his view to other girls, girls without acne and nine (yes NINE) missing teeth from a recent oral surgery in preparation for a four-year journey through orthodontia.
And while the acne eventually cleared and the gaps in my teeth closed, the boy’s voice had recruited some friends along the way. I no longer fear public dancing (though I don’t try it all that often), but each time I try something new – something scary – I encounter a new voice. Because for every new endeavor, particularly a public one, opinions abound, and some of those voices feel like they’re going to make my ears bleed. The trick, I’m learning, is figuring out how to adjust the filter in my brain to strain out the unhelpful sounds.
When that boy said what he said, I was utterly convinced at the time that he possessed unique skills. This boy-wonder had the ability to peer into my soul and scan for my deepest insecurity. He spied that shrine to insecurity and proclaimed, “Behold, I have discovered Carly’s Truth. I now impart my discovery upon the entire junior high seventh grade body for all to judge. Now bow, BOW before my awesome powers!” He’d found me out: I was a fraud, faking the cool and confidence I not only didn’t possess, I had no right to possess.
And so you see where this is going. I grew up, made choices, some popular and favored, some questioned and criticized. I eventually became a writer. And I put my writing out there. To be judged, critiqued, rejected, praised, loved and hated. And I will continue to do it. And I’d like to say that the boy’s voice, and all of his friends’ voices that he’s recruited along the way, are somehow quieter now that I’m older and wiser. But they get past my filter more often than I’d like. There’s a new insecurity for each new pursuit, and for each new insecurity, a new voice to tell me I’m crazy for trying, I’m doing it wrong, I have thoroughly disappointed.
So I have some choices. I could shut the voices out entirely. I could narrow my filter so tightly that only the kindest, gentlest voices eek through. And sometimes I need to do that, when my skin feels thin and pockmarked from perhaps one too many barbs. I could also open the filter up and let it all in, awash in the noise and boggled by the contradictions each one poses to the other. Or I could opt for the avenue that takes a little more time: parsing through the noise, pulling the sources I trust to give me the most helpful words (even if they’re tough to hear), and over time, learn to identify the tones of the voices I need to hear the most. So maybe instead of a cacophony, I might hear a kick-ass harmony.
I don’t remember the name of that boy from the seventh grade. But I’ve named his voice The Dude (catch my Coen brothers reference here, please). Not for the wisdom his actual words imparted, but for the lesson that the sound of this first voice taught me. His was my pitch pipe against which to measure all voices thereafter.