Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reclaiming the "I"

The biggest message I got from my teachers at secondary school and University was - "don't say "I", we are not interested in what you think."

And so I learned to argue under the guide of detached, intellectual objectivity. This is the way of the scientific and academic worlds, this the way of the philosopher...

I realise in hindsight, that this was the submission of my anima, my female self, under the dictation of the animus, the outer patriarch. To be a successful woman in the world of the mind, I must think like a man, talk like a man, write like a man... but I'd never be as good as a man. Because I'm not one.

My essays were clever, got high marks and lots of praise. But they were cold. And dry. And clever... in the wrong way.

Starting to write from the soul happened for me in a flash of divine inspiration. Literally. The words started coming at me and I sat and scribed them. For about six hours solid. Then the next day - in a cafe, trains, even the toilet -the words just kept coming. Unplanned, there they were.

That is how all my best writing has been since - a deluge from the Universe - and all I have to do is transcribe it. And then hone and edit, and edit...

Compiling my new book and doing final, final, final edits on the paper back version of Moon Time, I see how how my writing has changed over the past few years. I see the beginnings of my published writing still in the academic mold, full of the mind and not of the heart - though in everything I wrote my soul shone through, in the themes, the writers I referenced, but not the style. The voice was not mine, though the message was.

Finding my voice has taken five years.

Mr Dreaming Aloud says - for the record - if you spend five years writing then it is to be hoped that one would improve!!!

It was JUNO that changed me as a writer. More specifically, our previous head editor Patricia, who demanded that all writers write in the first person. At first I felt it was a bit amateurish. This is what I had been counselled against my whole life. It lacks authority. Or so my teachers said.

But as time has gone on, and blogging has entered my life, and women's group - all areas where speaking from the "I" is our practice,  my "I" has grown and strengthened. Now I am totally with Patricia, that in speaking from "I", I own what I know, I speak with authority, no that of an expert, but my own authentic knowing. I cannot write anything else. To do so is to interpret, to guess, to surmise, to invent.

I notice that speaking from the "I", from the personal, tends to be our feminine contribution to this world. To say: "this much I know, with my bones, my soul, my very life essence", is the gift of the most moving women in our world.

It might at first seem that speaking from "I" is being self-obsessed, or narcissistic. Perhaps it is. But more so, I see that in finding my "I", I help others to find their "I" - where it is different, where it is the same, to own their experience, to find their expression, is some of the most important, revelatory, healing work I can do. For myself and for the world. In telling my story, I empower myself to rewrite it in my own voice, rather than be a character in someone else's drama. In seeing the process in others, I find myself.

What has your experience been of owning your "I" voice - in writing, in life?


  1. Yes! We all need to take a leaf out of Veruca Salt's book. She is the master of I. And look what happened to her....
    No, kidding aside, I think you are right. Writing from your own I makes what you write more personal. It also shows that you do not pretend to know everything in the world, you just want to show the world what you think. Whether that is a feminine thing I don't know, as we are usually quite keen on telling each other exactly how we feel things need to be done.
    I have in contrary to you always been taught to argue from the I. Not: it is so and so. But: I think it is so. It is just nicer, isn't it?

  2. I agree and I don't. I too was schooled in academic writing. And I am thankful in many ways for that whilst also feeling trapped and frustrated - I want to just burst out and say outrageous things sometimes but I won't allow myself, I am my own editor - this was always a problem and always the best way to get writer's block!

    But, I know of too many people and writers who can *only* think in the "I" frame of mind. There is no "we" in their vocabulary and that worries me. When the world is full of "I"s then there is no room for compassion and community.

    Like most things I feel it's all about balance and also writing from the heart - a heart which is capable of embracing others freely and openly.... which you are of course wonderful at :) x

  3. When I was at school I had very little faith in my own opinion. I took what I read to be the truth, because ... well... they had written it in a book. It wasn't until I probably reached my 30s and now 40s that I found my 'I'. I certainly now write from the soul which has made such a difference to my work - it's what makes me - my unique point of difference.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It does seem to take so long to find one's voice.......that's one thing I'm so grateful to about age :).......the older I get, the more my voice and truth shines........loved reading this......thanks for sharing :)

  5. Ah, thank you all for weighing in.

    Mamma Earthly - yes, good point well made - we totally need to have the "we" ass long as it is inclusinve - not coercive - nor presumptive - very often a we can be a form of lazy generalisation - assuming that the rest of the world is just like us and then alienating all those who are not- but we totally need the community aspect.

    Yes Gina - getting older is great! Totally with you there.

  6. A timely post! As a Level I writing teacher with the Writers Studio, I focus most of my efforts on helping students experiment with creating different kinds of persona narrators. In each term, we start with first-person narrators and then move on to third-person narrators in the second half. For this week's exercises, so many students used a plural first-person narrator ("we") instead of the "I" used in the model. It did not occur to me, but now I wonder if this hiding of the "I" in the "we" was an unconscious way of still sorta following that old don't-use-the-I rule from their school days.

    Another way of hiding the "I" — which I notice that people use all the time when they want to dissociate themselves from whatever feelings or actions they are talking about — is by saying "you" instead of "I."

  7. Rachael, I totally agree about hiding the "I" behind "you". I catch myself doing it, in speaking and in blogging. It is so much easier to announce what everyone else should be doing than to speak authentically for oneself.

  8. Rachael- as always - nail on head with much more clarity than I could muster. Ditto Rachael - it's hiding the "I" behind "you" or "one" that I'm really getting at. It becomes habit.

  9. I was classically trained in English too, but was brought up bilingually which perhaps introduced different perspectives? Also learning French and German taught me a different way of framing and structuring sentences so I'm probably a big old' mash up of styles. When I started writing, it was home ed rants on forums that got me noticed my others. I wasn't trying to be a writer, I wasn't trying to get noticed, I was just saying how I felt, from the heart. People started to ask if they could use my stuff on their websites, and I was a little surprised and astonished that people thought I wrote well. I think it was more the message of what I was saying than the style that they liked. So then I wrote more and more stuff and accidentally became a writer like that. I write mostly from my own perspective but try to get to something common that we all share under our skin - things that others will relate to. Mostly I think I write to comfort others that they are not alone.... and to be realistic about changes or shifts in my own/ other folks lives that will help somehow.... To move on to a happier place and come to terms with the bitter sweet nature of life! Writing is a form of therapy for me in some ways, and reading others blogs - especially balanced and realistic ones like yours, are therapy too. It takes more guts to write from the "I" because you can feel more emotionally vulnerable and exposed as people see us go through all our ups and downs, see us stumble and trip and fudge along, as well as get to see the triumphs and the glory moments too. Writing in the "I" gets to the heart of things and since there can sometimes be a bit of superficiality in how folks interact in real life sometimes (usually because we're afraid to reveal how we REALLY feel) it is refreshing and comforting when people like you honestly talk from their "I" instead of bullshitting. Great post as ever, thanks for writing it dearest! X

  10. Love this - I have been watching my own posts evolve as I get more comfortable with sharing my perspective. Thank you.



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