Finding (My) Voice

"Speak Up" by Kyle Thompson

This isn’t about writing style like you might think, or about carving out my own identity in the literary landscape. This is about actual voice and how I’m trying to change it.

I’ve always been soft-spoken. You’d think by now I’d be used to being talked over, interrupted, and not allowed to finish a thought. But just like the role of the wallflower, you never really get used to it. We like to believe we do, but we never do. The periphery is both comfortable and convenient when you wish to avoid any attention, but that also means people will relegate you to the shadows. It’s difficult when you desire recognition without the spotlight.

I never wished to disturb the universe. I wouldn’t dare, Mr. Eliot. I like harmony and dislike confrontation. I never wish to be an intrusion upon anyone, so I shrug in towards myself. I’ve always kept my head down and concentrated on the sidewalk, never daring to meet a stranger’s gaze.

Friends have noticed how I add “I guess” or “I think” to the end of most sentences, even when I’m a hundred percent certain about something. This is just like how I used to say I’m sorry all the time, even when there was absolutely no reason for me to apologize. Sometimes I’d even apologize when it was clearly someone else’s fault. It was only when I was made cognizant of it that I was able to change this behavior, and even then, it took some practice.

It’s going to take much more practice to free myself of this deep rooted self-doubt. Over years and years, it has become both my vocabulary and my voice. It’s kind of hilarious being a writer who doesn’t believe in the value of his own words.

I’ve been trying to teach myself that my contributions are worthwhile. I’ve been trying to teach myself how to raise my voice so you can clearly hear what I’m saying. It has become a matter of necessity now, especially since it has been brought to foreground by my work life. My editorial job requires me to tell people when they’ve made mistakes, even when I don’t want the confrontation. It requires me to voice confidence when I know I’m right and someone else isn’t–which, as it turns out, is often.

So I lied. I said this wasn’t going to be about writing. But if it’s about voice, then it’s going to be about writing too.

I received this rejection letter:

Dear Joseph Dante,

Thank you so much for sending us this. We love the nuance and patience of this story and the delicacy of this relationship. Unfortunately, this piece doesn’t quite fit the tone we’re developing for Issue 6, but I would love to read more of your work in the future.

We wish you the very best of luck placing this story elsewhere.

I couldn’t help but think, if only it were louder. If only softness wasn’t such a problem. If only we didn’t expect the writing to grab you by the throat.

I’m still learning how to turn up the volume.

Oh the Periphery

It seems I’ve gone months without writing and this may be the first time I don’t feel guilty about it. Writing used to be my primary mode of communication, but now, I am learning to vocalize and interact using this alien contraption that is my body. I have a voice and I can’t keep quiet like I used to. Most of it is probably frustration. Not probably—definitely. But no guilt, no shame.

In lieu of writing, I’ve been going out to eat at places I’ve never been to before, visiting thrift stores for alternative rock CDs from the 90s, and spending time with new friends watching LGBT films, playing retro video games, sharing dreams. No longer on the periphery, I might be participating. There are more people around me having conversations and less usernames pinging in my ear. The orbit is seeing other stars, the universe is expanding. Maybe it goes against my natural wiring, but this kind of friction might be necessary.

90saltrock

Me: Why am I being so nice today?
Coworker: We can tell it’s hurting you.

I thought about making a spreadsheet of my rejections, but I figure it’s a waste of energy and I’m already angry enough as it is. I do admire something like Jac Jemc’s rejection blog though.

PANK Magazine is closing its doors soon, which is sad news. I joked with some friends about being the grim reaper for literary journals because the journals I get published in tend to fold once they have me as a contributor. Pear Noir!Metazen, and now PANK. Who’s next? It could be you! Best watch yourself. If you see me in your submissions queue, you might not even want to take a glance, actually. Just turn away. It could be the death knell. Press REJECT as soon as possible!

Becoming an active participant and being more vocal has made me realize that I cannot fake being an extrovert, however. I can fake being nice when I don’t want to, but I can’t fake where I get my energy and motivation from and how. I’m still drained after all the interaction. I still replenish myself with the solitary. My lungs continue to fill with the quiet.

Basic Space

I decorated my desk at work, which is unusual. In terms of personal living space, I prefer things simple and often unadorned. Truthfully, I am just not very cognizant of the arrangement of objects around me and how they look next to each other. I don’t like giving myself more to clean and organize. I am quick to discard anything that isn’t a book or things to write with. I wonder if this is a common trait among extreme introverts; if we’re more likely to prefer organizing what’s jumbled up inside our heads and neglect what’s obviously right in front of us in the real world.

At the end of November, I went to the Miami Book Fair again with Melissa. This year, I was there primarily for Ocean Vuong‘s poetry reading. It was very emotional and I was awestruck. People were fanning themselves, and not just because of the unrelenting heat. Poetry is alive and quite well, I am happy to report. You just need to look for it. He read this beautiful poem that was published in Poetry. You should listen to it too. I cannot wait to get my hands on his debut full-length collection. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until 2016.

I had a very short story published in this month’s issue of Maudlin House: read it here. I was determined to send them something right when I first learned their name. Oh, and there’s the writing and beautiful design, of course.

Since it’s almost the end of the year, I’ll be posting some kind of best-of collage and vague resolutions soon. I reached my Goodreads goal! Fifty books read, which is pretty good for me. Poetry, short story collections, graphic novels, essays, huge tomes. Very eclectic. I also have my first ever memory jar that I’ll be able to open and spill out and show you what I collected throughout the year. Stay tuned. In the meantime, go and read the “A Year in Reading” series over at the Millions.

Carousel #9

  1. One of my old creative writing professors was named a Guggenheim fellow. Pretty fantastic. A friend of mine called my attention to it and we reminisced about our days in fiction workshop at the Biscayne Bay campus and our quick dinners at Taco Bell.
  2. Huh. Here’s something new I learned today: apparently, Emily Dickinson used to love to bake a lot. Here’s the original recipe for her coconut cake.
  3. About a month or so ago, I read Edith Wharton’s book called The Writing of Fiction, which gives her opinions on writers and advice on the writing process (from novels to short stories to genre fiction, like horror). Here’s her story, “Copy: A Dialogue,” which was published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1900.
  4. I recently watched Martin’s Scorsese’s documentary, Public Speaking, on the writer and social commentator Fran Lebowitz. Here’s a video clip of Lebowitz discussing the posterity of Jane Austen. I love the idea of how readers should view books as doors rather than mirrors.
  5. I don’t know about the readers of this blog, but I’m a largely introverted person. In fact, I’m probably the most introverted person I know. Ever since I was little, this has been treated as a huge issue in pretty much every facet of my life. Then along comes Susan Cain and her TED talk. She is the author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which I plan on reading sometime hopefully this year (my to-read list is getting ridiculous again, of course). If you’re an introvert, you may find it reassuring to be reminded every once in a while that you shouldn’t feel ashamed of who you are.