Today I talked with one of my office suitemates about finding our authentic voice. I shared the link to this blog with her and confessed that I wasn’t quite sure what voice I wanted to project. “I know exactly what you mean!” she exclaimed and proceeded to send me a link to her blog, highlighting the juxtaposition between her academic voice and her conversational voice — two different blog posts, two different voices. When I started this blog almost 40 days ago, I felt a strong urge to share my scholarly side. I am comfortable writing formally, using lofty complex word choices and writing long and windy paragraphs. I rely upon sources to build my theoretical frame. For example, even when writing this post, I gravitated toward citing Peter Elbow, one of my favorite writing theorists who writes extensively about voice and says “It is used in such a loose and celebratory way as to mean almost anything.” And Mikhail Bakhtin who uses the word utterance as an expression to exchange content which is formed through a speaker’s relation to other people’s words and expressions. See what I mean? I’m doing it again.
I am eager to construct a “self” and share who I really am. But who am I? What does my “real” voice sound like? I project multiple voices in the roles of: wife, mother, daughter in-law, scholar, College employee, runner, wanna be sailor, suburban scrapbooker, hiker, shopper, church goer. The list goes on. I consciously change my writing voice, making adjustments, tweaking. My “family” voice is different than my “work” voice, but sometimes not. Sometimes it blends together. Is locating my writing voice similar to tuning an instrument and finding the pitch that sounds just right?
Constructivists adopt the definition that voice is what makes one’s writing unique and personal. We are demonstrating an honest commitment to writing by using our voice. It’s a journey of self-discovery as our voices emerge. Uh oh, back to the academic style of writing again. I feel like I’m trying to fit the mold of what I think a good blog is. I filter my writing through an academic lens. But who am I blogging for? Who is going to read these posts day after day? So what?
I defer to one of my favorite comedians, Larry David. His voice is loud and clear when he says, “I don’t like to be out of my comfort zone, which is about a half an inch wide.” Larry David has played a crusty curmudgeon on the television show “Curb your Enthusiasm” and was the co-creator of the television series “Seinfeld.” His voice is recognizable, funny, a popular brand. In a “60 Minutes” interview he unpacks the idea of voice:
Larry David: You’re probing. What is the probe?
Charlie Rose: Because we wanna know who you are.
Larry David: Who knows? I don’t know.
Charlie Rose: But you do know.
Larry David: Like what, whatever you’re seeing, that’s who I am!
Charlie Rose: Really?
Larry David: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: Well, it’s not true. You told me you created a character. It’s not you. It’s who you might want to be but are not. Who are you?
Larry David: I’m a jerk, that’s who I am.
Charlie Rose: You’re not! That’s an act!
Larry David: I’m like everybody else.
Charlie Rose: No, that’s an act.
Larry David: No, it isn’t.
Charlie Rose: It really isn’t?
Larry David: No.
Finding my voice takes discipline. It’s an organic process that involves growing pains as I wander around this blog, posting a myriad of topics related to online teaching. And in each post that gnawing voice asks, “Am I breaking the rules? Am I mangling this?”
My online students struggle with finding their voices too. We are not alone. When asked to describe their voice they often use words like blunt, inconsistent, emotional and uncut.
Here’s a few Discussion Board posts to elaborate on their ideas about voice:
DB Student 1: I usually do two types of writing — one is all business and the other is more from the heart. I work in the health care and my job requires me to write a statement every time a patient falls or gets a skin tear. I use my business voice to report it. It’s boring. Then I do social media writing to communicate with relatives and friends. I work five days a week so I like writing on social media, I do it anytime I need to. This is my fun voice.
DB Student 2: LOL. Social media writing is done with my phone most of the time and I can be me. I sometimes would describe myself as a disorganized writer when I’m thinking too much and too hard. When doing my school work I have to seclude myself and all technology shut off because I get my serious voice on.
DB Student 3: The type of writing that I mostly do would be at work and social media. For work I have to send emails to my boss and CEO, I have to sometimes type up letters to send to our customers regarding products we offer and type up title work. I think about every word and it takes forever. As far as social media goes, I text often and can easily write without stress. I can be myself.