One of the best conversations I had to and from Atlanta this past weekend involved the literary term “writer’s voice,” with Sugar Milk: What one dad drinks when he can’t afford Vodka author Ron Mattocks. The panel he led with fellow authors John Cave Osborne and Jim Kukral also included the mention of the term as I was walking in for a brief moment on Friday; but not able to sit and listen, much to my dissatisfaction.
Ron said it’s really something that evolves over time. It’s the total body of work. It’s what makes a writer’s material so unique, you could tell it was their writing without, in a perfect world, even having to see a byline.
So what is my voice?
And more critically important to me, what about it do I need to adjust?
From being around a bunch of men and dads this weekend, I’ve come to understand greatly that the issues I’m dealing with in my personal life are not unique to me. They’re far more tragic in many senses, but when it comes down to it, among the new friends I met this past weekend, we’re dealing with a lot of crap in life and in many ways, writing about it is our way of reaching out and trying to help others going through the same thing, and two, to offer solutions, advice, and three, to show the joys and experiences of being a dad in this day and age.
That feels consistent with what I’ve been doing. But there are others, like Ron in particular, who have been able to rise above the mire and some how swim above the torrents of life’s whirlpool that are trying to suck us all down and drown us in the vastness of life’s most painful problems.
Kevin has one of the best treasures in the world. Like me, he has a daughter named Haley. But unlike my Haley, who did struggle for a few minutes after her birth, Kevin’s Haley struggled through birth and seven years later, it affects her to this very day. She has Cerebral Palsy. Kevin brought her up to the event for a while Saturday morning. She’s as cute as a button. A special child of God. And as I learned more through talking with Kevin and a couple of his Atlanta friends at the final hurrah dinner Saturday night, it’s no fault of anyone’s really, it’s just something that happens at birth where her brain was deprived of the fuel of life: oxygen.
I don’t know how Kevin does it. The people I’ve lived with the past 14 years just stay mad at the world. Angry at everyone. Jealous of everyone. Feeling entitled and owed everything by everyone. I’m a victim, not of you, but you shall compensate me nonetheless. Just gimme, gimme, gimme.
The contrasts of this weekend were so vastly different to what I’ve allowed myself to be subjected to since 1994-5. You can tell, sure, Kevin and his friend, Ed, who also has a son with CP, they’ve no doubt struggled with the pains that life’s cruel undeserving penalties have inflicted upon their innocent children. But rather than languishing in that pain, anger, whatever it might have been, they’re not sitting back and saying “woe is me.” They’re doing something about it.
Kevin’s friend, Ed, is helping to raise money for stem cell research to help cure the disease once it takes hold. They know of those who have gone to Mexico for treatment there with stem cells that are having positive impacts on the lives of kids. But as Ed said, “I want to help make this possible in America so people don’t have to go to Mexico.”
What does this have to do with my voice?
A lot actually. I struggle daily to rise above the muck that’s been sent my way; I figure 95 percent undeservedly. And I’m learning at age 44 how to finally put up boundaries between me and people who just like to have their rain cloud follow them around and let it rain shit on everyone else around them. Life’s long treacherous journey is too short to continue to walk in the direction of the shortest pier.
It’s time to get back to writing about the things in life that are most important to me. That begins with taking care of me, taking care of a spouse (if I choose to have one), my kids, the rest of my family, my friends and then, everyone else.
I’m no longer going to compromise on my authenticity. Over the past year or so I’ve been threatened to stop doing that, but it’s cost me being me, and with that, I’m done.
It’s time to live my life like Kevin and Ed and my other new good friend, Ron. Each of these guys are smart, focused, and have a passion about where they’re going in life and what they want out of it. They have a voice, and unlike mine the past while, their’s is the one of the guy in the crow’s nest of a yester-year ship at sea in a raging storm looking for land, looking to guide others out of the storm and finding safer ground. These are more like the men I want to be. And each day forward I need to remind myself of just that.
Thanks guys for the inspiration. And thanks for leading me back to my voice.