It’s only when I say the word “voice” aloud that I realise I’m not really sure what it means. I know what sound means. I know what noise means. But what is voice? You might think that’s funny, until you ask yourself the same question.
And so I find myself on Google. 0.44 seconds later, voice is defined:
The sound produced in a person’s larynx and uttered through the mouth, as speech or song.
I suppose I can’t argue that’s wrong, but I don’t feel it’s very right either. It’s just too mechanical and rigid. Voice doesn’t feel like that-not to me anyway. Luckily, there’s a second option, which reads a little nicer:
A particular opinion or attitude expressed
I guess years on this blog has changed my view. I know what a larynx is after all, and maybe a different Kyle would have stuck with the first meaning. Writing has a funny way of catching up with you though. After a time, speaking out loud doesn’t sound like a “voice” anymore. It seems too conversational and basic, like it doesn’t hold any weight or merit to it. In contrast, writing becomes the new voice. Words on the page shout and object. They laugh and sing and fall in love and perhaps grow old and die. Fixed in one place on the page, they move about in your head at will. Most importantly, they matter.
If there’s a soul, a part of me thinks nobody ever hears it, but if you were to find a journal and read what somebody wrote down you might see glimpses here and there. Talking to someone differs a lot from sitting down and picking up a pen. Maybe writing let’s your guard down and allows you to be honest. Maybe you just have more time to think and say what you really feel. Maybe writing is the real truth that only comes out when you talk to yourself and know you can’t really get away with lying.
The first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a writer. The list got a little longer of course as the years passed by: teacher, historian, pharmacist etc. There never really was a point when I lost my desire to write, more so the world around me told me I couldn’t. Whether it was money or skill, something in life would remind me to wake up from the dream. Reality was cruel that way, when all I wanted to do was escape into a story of swords and dragons. Stories pass the time, they don’t pass exams. And of course, exams became a sort of focal point for me, when it became apparent I could sooner solve equations in my head than score goals on a pitch. A good result in a test inspired confidence, and confidence led to a better result the next time. That’s the sort of game school became for me. If it wasn’t an “A” I didn’t want to know, and even if it was I could still have a bad day if I knew somebody else had bested me. Being honest, I probably still can. Old habits die hard, some might say.
Drive is a huge thing in anybody’s life. Competition nurtures drive, and without it, all we ever do is become shadows of ourselves holding participation medals. Modest people tell themselves they don’t care for competition, which is why half of them get left behind while the arrogant people shoot ahead. I’ve never considered myself arrogant, but I know people who do. I consider myself proud, which is importantly different. Pride and Arrogance might seem the same, but the opposite of arrogance is modestly, while pride for me was like the opposite of low self-esteem.
Being a teenager with bad skin who didn’t exactly par for the course with girls or sports meant I had to get my self-esteem elsewhere. That’s when I found books, which were now full of chemicals and algebra instead of warriors and castles. In school, subjects weren’t “a chance to learn” as much as “an opportunity to feel good about Kyle”. And so on I went, treating exams like a challenge and basically cleaning up all round me. Study wasn’t easy but the prize was lucrative, so in time it became second nature. By the time the Leaving cert rolled around, I’d basically battered Economics, Biology et al into the ground. I didn’t hope to do a good Leaving, I damn well expected it.
And of course, the above sounds disturbingly cocky, but when you realise I was pretty much drawing all of my confidence off these results, you might see how it ended up that way. You might not see that either, which is fair enough.
What does all that have to do with writing? Nothing on one hand, but everything on the other.
The thing about exams is that they weren’t made to give you self-esteem, they were designed to test you. I’d forgotten that really, but in my English exam of all things I found my reminder. I still know the spot where I was in my school library where I opened my results and had the bittersweet moment of breaking 600 points and getting a D2 in English all at the same time. It was difficult to comprehend, and I didn’t really grasp it until I viewed my paper. After all, I’d felt the exam went well, so a part of me felt this was all still some horrible mistake.
Illegible would hardly describe what I found when I turned over the page of my English Paper I that day. Paper II was in no way different, and very quickly I clicked that this wasn’t some sort of cruel joke or incredulous error. This was reality, and all the hours studied and past grades could do nothing to change it.
Perspective is an unusual thing, and though I knew people around the country were biting their nails waiting for a college place or crying their eyes out at a failed exam, this was still as shit as it got for me.
As I sat there, admittedly probably tearing up as it sank in that six years learning poetry, writing essays and memorising quotes had all blown up in front of me, the only comfort I had was my English teacher.
He probably felt fairly awkward, having warned me a hundred times my handwriting would be my downfall but maybe never really thinking things would turn out like this. He could have just left me there, and eventually I imagine I would have just got up and got on with life and gone off to a college course I had worked night and day for. He probably never thought what he was about to say would affect anything, least of all how I felt about English.
Holding my Exam open in front of me, so close I could see the rivers of red lines the corrector had scribbled under my writing, he simply said
This does not define you
He went on to talk about my past grades, and my effort etc, but at that stage I was hardly listening. All I could hear were those words on a loop. I’m not really sure how much that sentence changed things for me, but if I had to point to a moment, it would probably be that.
A year later, I was back writing, and now it was different. Gone were the days of A1 vs A2 and the competition to make my English the best one. Instead, writing became a hobby for me again. Swords and dragons returned, along with poetry and articles and everything in between. In June that year, I started this blog along with a plan for a novel. It’s been just over two years since, but that two years has been hundreds of thousands of words. It’s been an obsession to have my voice heard, not for the sake of a grade but for the thrill of sharing an idea or two. Only lately have I probed writing contests or submitting to magazines etc. I’ve been watchful over my writing, knowing the day that it goes from a hobby to another game is the day I walk away. I still struggle to know an exam result is just a result, and isn’t me on a page. It managed to change for English, but that was only ever one subject. My opinions and attitudes are still pretty much the same on the others.
Maybe that’s why “voice” is something I find hard to define these days.
A particular opinion or attitude expressed
My voice used to express an attitude; an attitude that grew out of low self-esteem and didn’t really change even if it was obviously unhealthy.
Now, I’m not sure what my voice says, but I’m sure it is seen not heard, and perhaps that has made it louder.