Friday, April 24, 2009

The Dead Cat - How I Found My Voice

Voice in writing is a big deal, yet when you read descriptions of voice in instructional books or hear an editor speak at length about it at a conference, its actual meaning and purpose is slightly vague and elusive.

I found my voice at age eighteen while writing about a dead cat and I didn't even know it at the time. It was a class assignment. Actually, the assignment had nothing to do with a dead cat. We were asked to write a descriptive essay. I had already done that exact assignment at least three times in high school, and the thought of having to listen to students read essays about their desktop or bedroom in great detail was enough to make me want to voluntarily put a pencil through my eardrums. No thanks.

I am usually a very quiet, compliant person. But this was my breaking point, this was where I woke up as a writer. I went home and started bitterly typing a descriptive essay about a dead cat squashed in the road in the heat of summer. It was a joke, a farce. I was certain my teacher Anita Wilkins at Cabrillo College would be appalled and not too happy with me.

Instead of banishing me from her classroom, Wilkins used my essay as an example to the class of good writing. I was shocked. She went through and analyzed it for the class, drew out deeper meaning from my rotting, smelling cat carcass. My cat? Now representative of the delicate balance between life and death? Oh my.

Looking back, I now realize that because I let my guard down for the assignment and stopped worrying about what the teacher or reader would think or expect from me, I was able to be myself and find a unique, genuine voice in my writing. I was writing beyond the words on the page. I was writing from my heart, drawing from personal experience, and feeling genuine emotion. Regardless of my strange motivation to do so, I wanted to give the reader a heavy dose of my experience and have her walk in my stinky shoes for just a bit. This was my official birth as a writer. I guess the story was about life and death after all.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I've been stabbed!

News alert: After suffering a possible career-complicating injury to her right hand, writer Cece Meng is on the mend and can move her fingers and type again. This news was received with mixed emotions from friends, family, and readers of all ages...

As I mention in my blog description, I am prone to unusual injuries and I plan on documenting some of them here. My latest: While doing yard work a few days ago, a very thick, rusty, dirty piece of wire poked into my hand right between my fingers. It sunk in - about 3/4 of an inch deep - straight down between my middle finger and the next biggest one. The wire was about as think as a wire clothes hanger at the dry cleaners. The first thing that popped into my head was that it had been a long time since my last tetanus shot. I had to calculate the exact years in urgent care the next day - it turns out it had been 16 years.

So 24 hours after the poke, I reluctantly drove myself to urgent care because my hand was swelling, red, obviously infected. And I needed that tetanus shot. I guess I also needed two different kinds of antibiotics and a stern lecture on the dangers of puncture wounds - especially in that region of the hand.  I can think of worse spots myself, eyeball comes to mind. Doc also described my wound as a stab. Cool. I've been stabbed! Blah, blah, blah, stab wound, blah, blah... pretty much all I remember from the visit was him saying stabbed a lot. It was very distracting and a little bit funny.

Later that night, my husband informed me of his own analysis of the situation - that it wouldn't be all bad if I lost my hand and got a hook, because then the kids would really listen to me. Not even a little bit funny.  This should give you some idea of the sympathy I get at home.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A review that made me cry

Oh gosh. Some of you may have seen it. A nice lady posted a review of Tough Chicks on Amazon that actually made me cry. Well, sniffle a bit. She called Tough Chicks a blessing in disguise and commented on how it reminded her that she does have good kids.

I just about fall over when I see a parent, turning deep red in the face, try and force an apology out of their two-year-old for grabbing a toy. Ha ha. Good luck. I'm reminded of a saying a preschool teacher used to tell us parents - to honor the impulse. Honor the impulse. I gradually found myself not being offended by a grabby three-year-old, but instead found myself asking why the child was behaving a certain way. Curiosity? Need to get noticed? Desire to interact with others but without the social skills? Wanting a turn but not using words to express themselves? Were they frustrated? Tired? Hungry? 

I began keying into the impulse behind the behavior and then coaching a child to use appropriate words and actions when possible. When not possible, redirection, substitution, support, encouragement, rest, nourishment, comfort and unconditional love. Yeah, a lot to expect from a parent running on three hours of sleep who is about twelve loads behind on laundry. Been there. It gets better.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm all for the loud kid, the shy kid, the muddy kid, the kid that wants to twirl in the middle of the music circle instead of stand at the edges singing with the others. I'm partial to the kid who insists on doing her own six lopsided ponytail hairdo and the one who must wear a different shoe on each foot for an entire month. 

Conformity, reality, responsibility. That all will come in good time. Honor their spirit and gently guide them. You are teaching them respect, patience, kindness through your own words and actions. This is their childhood. Or as that insightful preschool teacher used to ask us - who are you doing this for, you or them?