“You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms … “
(The opening words of “You Will Hear Thunder” by Anna Akhmatova)
Two events have me wondering about my writer’s soul. I am creating a working definition based upon the importance of truthful observation and expression in all its shades of black and gray (thank you Graham Greene).
Last weekend, I went to see the film Woman in Gold with a friend of Germanic descent. We had decided to go together for support while experiencing a potentially difficult movie. Interestingly we cried at different places. As a Jew, the film was heartbreaking to watch. The ghosts of my mother along with other family members sat with me in the theatre. My Teutonic friend was deeply touched by the movie, specifically the complicity of people then and today. We came to the movie with different values, histories, and cultures. Walking to our cars, we talked about how important it was to see the movie and not look away.
Two days ago, standing in line, waiting for the post office to open up so I can mail my book to a reader, I took the silly online quiz, ‘Who’s Your Poet BFF?’ The quiz matched me with Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet. Her difficult life was reflected in work. Family pressured her into writing under a pen name to avoid embarrassment. Friends and country pushed her to conform, silencing her writing for periods. I wondered why I had drawn this poet’s name.
I called a writerly friend and she said, “Maybe it’s important to think about the connection.”
While I cannot claim the mastery or soul of Akhmatova, I feel the pressure to conform. I write the personal, about my thoughts, my feelings, some adventures, my family, and my friends. My family does not like that I write. Some of my friends do not like my writer’s sensibility, my voice or choice of writing subjects. (I struggle to avoid mining others’ lives for vignettes at their expense.) I feel ambivalent and scared about putting my thoughts and feelings on paper, on the web, in stories, and in the world through my voice. But I cannot and will not avert my eyes for the comfort of my family, friends, or colleagues. Nor will I change my voice to fit the literary world’s idea of what a writer should write about and in what particular style.
This is my writer’s voice and soul. It is smart (and silly), funny (and serious), competent (and inept), sexy (and prudish). At times, I can be snarky and sarcastic (while trying to avoid cruelty). My worldview as female, Jew, widow, middle-aged, immigrant, and body therapist informs my writing. I will make mistakes and cross lines but I promise to learn from them. Help me by pointing them out – as kindly as possible. Over my life, I expect to grow and my writer’s voice and soul to echo that growth. But my essential soul is not up for change to fit somebody else’s template. Or comfort. I am fine with my writer’s soul – my honest observation of experience. If my writing makes you uncomfortable, all the better.
That does not mean that I am uninterested in your voice and your worldview. I want to struggle next to you as we experience the world.
To summarize, by reveling in Anna Akhmatova’s words, I —
“ … Hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.“
(The last words of her poem, “You Will Hear Thunder”)
Batten down the hatches or throw them open so we can dance in the storm.