Let Me Tell You Something About Myself . . .

Classmates, we have finally arrived at the final blog post!!! Sadness 

First off, I am so down for Michael’s idea – creating a curriculum that we have all dreamed of, or wished we had the opportunity to explore while in middle/ high school. In this course, we have read and talked so much about the problems in academia (specifically, teaching approaches); so, it would be cool to contribute ideas that pose as a solution to the notorious banking system of learning. Also, Rachel’s idea of putting our words and creativity into action is beyond beautiful. Something about making our art come to life is so intimate and special. I am certainly down for putting on a show  I also think Rachel’s idea would come with great comical, funny moments that we will never forget and will keep with us until we graduate from this program.

Last class session, two classmates had personally thanked me for sharing my story and journey with mental health. I didn’t realize how impactful my story was upon realizing that we all share a common denominator; we are all mentally ill *laughing emoji*. And this realization had me think back to my senior year of undergrad, when I happened to win the 2021 Stephen J. Haselton Memorial Endowment for Excellence in Scholarship for the Senior Seminar writing competition. It was not my idea to submit my piece; it was a professor of mine who urged me to, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. My piece was titled, If I Were To Go Insane and was a fictional collection of short stories and poems of 40 pages that emphasized mental health, grief, guilt, loss, abuse, and sexuality – the epitome of realistic fiction. Inside If I Were To Go Insane, you’d find five short stories, each followed by a poem emphasizing the emotional appeal of that specific story.

I then started thinking a lot about the concepts of healing through writing, finding identity through emotional writing, and I could not help but think, what if we were to all write a short fictional story, that encompasses the very struggles of our lives and livelihood. And this struggle does not particularly have to be mental health related, but should be an event, life experience, or occurrence that altered the way you view life; something that humbled you. Something drastic, sensitive, deep, personal, spiritual, edgy, or high-strung. Go somewhere that you fear going. Tell us the story that has defined you to this very day. Tell us the story you thought you’d never share before. Because this is the human experience – a messy combination of emotions and the unknown. Each of us is a blessing to be read.

This project proposal leans more toward creative writing. But research can be embedded; I have not thought of exactly how just yet. Or, how this creative piece can be geared toward a more academic-writing lens. I’m willing to consider and hear ideas on how to integrate a research-based approach to a creative writing project (if research and data is something important to you). Perhaps, we could all work on an opening section that entails research on healing through writing and how trauma is the source of creativity. Or why is it that writers, actors, singers, comedians, etc., tend to have a source of trauma that essentially evoked their hidden talent?

Anyway, what I was imagining is that we all write a fictional story that comes from or is inspired by a real-life struggle that we have encountered: mental health, abortion, immigration, abuse, assault, cheating, betrayal, addiction, divorce, etc. Once we have all wrote our fictional, short story, we give our story to a classmate, (we swap papers) who will read it, digest the emotional appeal, and then write a poem that reflects the very emotions they had felt while reading it. An outsiders perspective on our most delicate selves. A poem of empathy and gratitude, elucidating the strength, grit, and pain we had not encountered ourselves yet felt so deeply while reading.

This project will be an emotional challenge on our frame of reference and will require the trust factor. The act of writing, and sharing your writing involves vulnerability, and to be openly vulnerable, especially around classmates you met three months ago, we need to wholeheartedly trust each other. I think this could be really fun, and an eye-opener to all those around us.

Let me know what ya think; I’m eager to know 

XOXO,

Francesca Di Fabio

Imagining What is Possible

I must start by saying that I really like Michael’s idea of creating a curriculum. It requires creativity and expertise; it would show our understanding of the readings and discussions from the class; it would be useful; it fills in a void and addresses a need. That being said, my idea goes in a different direction and may seem too out-of-the-box, but I like the idea and I’ve decided to put it out there anyway. Here goes…

I’ll begin at the end. Ideally, our collaboration would result in a short theatrical work. On a practical level, the tangible product that could be distributed would be a script. (In a dream world, the piece would be staged and performed.) The purpose of the work would be to show the power of writing and/or explore the connections between theory and practice. Each of us would contribute at least one piece of writing to be included. But just because I’m suggesting a script does not mean that we’d all be writing dialogue. The entire thing could end up being comprised entirely of poems, or someone could submit a piece that is meant to be silent or danced; I think that a variety of style and form would make the final product richer. The contributions could cover a wide range of topics from this course, like voice, revision, identity, multilingualism and multiculturalism, AI, healing through writing, and linguistic justice.

If we’re not bound by the limitations of actually having to put on the production, we could indicate whatever lighting, special effects, and/or music we desire. For example, the script could indicate that, at the start of the production, the following bell hooks quote could be projected on a screen: “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is–it’s to imagine what is possible” (Source). We could indicate that other quotes may be projected during transitions between scenes, citing Freire, Elbow, and anyone that is relevant.

I understand that this may be an unusual suggestion, but I think the curriculum idea is really solid, and knowing that it is already out there makes me feel a little bit bolder about proposing an unconventional project idea. This whole thing is very vivid in my mind, but I understand that might not be true for everyone. Thank you for considering my idea, and thanks, Michael, for posting so early! I look forward to reading everyone’s proposal!

Culture and Voice (or lack of)

My original idea for the class project was to create the English Cultural Arts curriculum. High school curriculums are all formatted differently depending on the district, all have books and poetry that vary from school to school, yet it seems the same 50-100 titles are spread throughout the curriculums overall. You will read Steinbech’s Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, you will read Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven, you will read The Canterbury Tales, which to me is evidence that god might not exist, and you will read some form of Shakespeare play. All of these with students using the same five-paragraph essay format to express a point they are trying to answer based on the reading. 

My idea is to design an English classroom based on an exploration of culture that still meets the state standards. We could choose new readings, ones that speak to us one way or another, that highlight life and experiences in ways that are often overlooked in schools. I made a presentation in class that highlighted republican voices, and I expressed numerous times that I am more democratic leaning than I am Republican leaning, and a large part of that comes from how I value culture, the lives and experiences of those who walk on different yet adjacent paths to me, or those who have walked paths that lead to the ones we are all on now. My favorite works of literature tend to be ones where I find common ground with someone (be it a fictional character, lines of poetry, or a shared emotion through a story). Insomniac City tells the story of Bill Hayes (his memoir)  leaving San Francisco and moving to New York City where he reacquainted himself with eventual lover Oliver Sacks. I’m a straight man in my early 30s, but I related so much to Bill’s feelings of displacement and what I find to be the purest form of love ever written between him and Oliver, a love that I can only hope to one day find. I related just as much to Oliver’s eccentric personality, how he would lay in the grass wondering what it was like to be a rose. I felt true pain while reading the story of Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns, a fictional story that sees Mariam, a woman in Afghanistan, suffer the abuses of her husband which includes graphic depictions of her being forced to chew gravel. I felt a sense of joy reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, as I followed Santiago on his quest to find his personal treasure. (Fun fact about Paulo Coelho, his parents institutionalized him, thinking he was sick because of his desire to be a writer, which speaks itself to how drastically cultures can differ).

We can choose 5 or 10 novels and explain the cultures those novels represent, and the significance of those cultures, and create assignments that meet the standards set forth by the state of New Jersey (which are not as complex as non-teachers in the room may think). An English class, as well as a cultural class, should have multimedia implications, so pieces such as journal articles, poetry, music, podcasts, movies, and television shows can all also be referenced, much as they were done in several of the presentations given in class (shout out to Jonathan for giving us a good laugh last class.

As this is the idea I expressed in class, I wanted to come up with an additional, alternative assignment. We all seem to have some things in common. We want to create something useful for others, we want to create something we can put on resumes, and we want to create something that can make a difference. To me, I think a good way to tackle this might be through creating a handbook on the development of voice.

Voice is not recognized much in literary journals as my presentation expressed, and while I suspect this may have changed some since the Elbow piece was written, I would say it hasn’t changed enough. We can tackle the idea of voice through multiple lenses and provide input on how to develop the voice. What are the ways to put a voice to trauma? What are the ways to put a voice to mental health concerns that express the weight and severity of them without them appearing as glorified? What are the ways that voice can be used to create linguistic justice? How can somebody going through transitions such as the ESL setting develop their voice? How does one negotiate their own voice against one they are trying to capture through the lens of fictional characters? What are the different ways voice should be tackled when examining voice through scripts, novels, memoirs, articles, or poetry? Why are the pros and cons of looking at the written voice against the voices we speak with?

I think that if we each tackled voice from a different lens, we could create something that magnifies the importance of the voice and can help developing writers learn how to develop their own. I still don’t know how I would describe my own voice, but as a mental health advocate for many years, I think I could contribute a lot to a conversation about voice by highlighting my own experiences and mental health journey with how those same themes are explored through books like Speak, 13 Reasons Why, Perks of Being A Wallflower, Veronika Decides to Die, K-Pax, and countless others. This can also be applied to music as well through songs Armor For Sleep’s Remember to Feel Real, or Kurt Vile’s Pretty Pimpin. I love exploring voice and I think part of why I can never recognize my own is because it’s a product of everything that’s come before me. 

Finding My Voice

Finding Your Writing Style

An increasing number of studies indicate that having people write about traumas can result in healthy improvements in social, psychological, behavioral, and biological measures; therefore, as an experiment case study, one of many of my distinct past childhood traumatic experiences ties into both readings relating to voice in expressive writing: If You’re Struggling to Write, Lead with Voice by Sonya Huber on Defining Voice and How to Use It and Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health by James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung. I am, too, a firm believer that writing can be used as a clinical tool to voice one’s inner emotions and feelings, in that expressive writing can significantly improve most health concerns (Huber p. 17). Thus, over the past Thanksgiving holiday, my family and I watched Maxine’s Baby, The Tyler Perry Story, via Amazon Prime. During a portion of the story, the documentary paused when my niece became very curious about a particular moment in our childhood that she had not heard, which aligned with Tyler Perry’s mother, Maxine’s version.

As our story goes, one warm sunny day, my teenage siblings and I were conversing in the backside of the kitchen. At the same time, without warning as to what had begun to escalate, we abruptly heard Dad yelling at the top of his lungs toward Mom (once again) as he strutted behind her into the kitchen. Only this time, instead of cursing and beating her nearly to death, he pulls out a gun and points it directly at her head while threatening to kill her. . . . (“Oh, My God, what is happening right now!”) . . .We, young teenagers, soon hoisted alongside Mom in a state of shock. It literally seemed like time had just stood still. It is no secret that Dad abused Mom on more than one occasion. But on this day, I was uncertain if she or we would live or die on that fatal diurnal. More importantly, what in the world could Mom have said or done to provoke such a traumatic scene? In our experience, it did not take much to set Dad off!

Nonetheless, with our hearts racing a mile a minute before Dad pulled the trigger, my brother bravely (or stupidly) jumped in between Dad, the gun, and Mom. As Tyler Perry’s cousin mentioned in the documentary, We were teenagers now, and obviously, my brother was unafraid to fight back (not that any child would need to). So, what now, my sisters and I thought, standing there trembling beside Mom, fearing for our lives. Then, much to our surprise, my brother raised to Dad and said, “If you shoot her, you’re going to have to shoot (take us all out!)” Wait! What did he say? “All of us?” I was completely frozen in time, and I surely did not want to see Mom die.

I cannot even begin to tell you what I envisioned after that. Furthermore, can you imagine my family being one of those families you read about in the headlines: “A Newark man murders his common-law wife and their four children.” One thing is for sure: had it happened the way it was intentionally planned, I would not be here to voice and write about it. But for the grace of God, it seemed that Dad was more shocked and frightened than we were, and he backed down. Long story short, because my brother instantaneously took a stand on our behalf, we survived that day to tell the tale and what could have been the end of our very existence. And, as unbelievable as the story may seem, on that warm sunny day, our Big Bro, a young teen, became our hero.

As Huber states, “Voices impel the telling, and the braiding and melody of their resonance and dissonance are what create an urgency in the tale.” The inner weaving in and out of one’s language and sounds of writing, in which I found an eager amount of earnestness to deliver this specific account of my life. Additionally, the good news is any time I might sense that my voice is shut down, suppressed, or ignored, the truth is that my voice is still present, often waiting to be channeled in a moment like this: exploring and naming multiple versions of myself at different points in time and experiment with the voices associated within me.

As Pennebaker and Chung Perhaps state, the most interesting has been the growing awareness that a single cause or theory cannot explain the value of expressive writing. In other words, expressive writing ultimately sets off a cascade of effects.  For the assigned chapter in the book, one of the more important discoveries is the effect of an improvement in physical health (Pennebaker and Chung, p. 37). And though they still don’t know for whom it works best, when it should be used, or when other techniques should be used in its place (Pennebaker and Chung, p. 37), I declare that expressive writing works well for me. It helps me to find my voice and channel the brutal pain embedded deep within. As a result, when I expressively write, I feel a sense of freedom and healing release from a painful dark past (mind, body, and soul) into much brighter sunnier days.

Voice & Expressive Writing

Hello everyone! Welcome to another episode of the T-Money show!

Today our guests are voice and expressive writing.

First up we have voice.

In the article “If You’re Struggling to Write, Lead With Voice” by Sonya Huber. This article was interesting because of this statement by Huber 

“The idea of one “authentic voice” also doesn’t make sense to me in terms of a writer’s process and life. If a writer happens upon that so-called authentic voice, does that mean the previous voices were false or impostors? Would that authentic voice then, once discovered, stay constant and reliable, even as the writer’s life affects changes and perspectives evolve?” (Huber).

This perspective on voice makes a lot of sense. As a person, I have experienced many things and have changed and grown over the years. The voice in my writing when I was younger is much different than the voice in my writing now. As people change, so does their writing voice. As Huber points out, if someone finds their writing voice and then grows as a person which results in a new writing voice, does this mean that one of the voices is not authentic? Should a writer be held to one voice throughout their life? Wouldn’t this hold a writer back and make their writing stale? 

Next up we have expressive writing. In the article “Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health by James W. Pennebaker & Cindy K Chung”, the authors state “As we lay out in this chapter, there is reason to believe that when people transform their feelings and thoughts about personally upsetting experiences into language, their physical and mental health often improve.” (Pennebaker & Chung). I have done a lot of writing about my trauma in my life. I can say that the authors are 100% correct. Writing about my trauma has helped me out tremendously in terms of dealing with it and processing it which has directly helped my mental health in a positive way.

I lost my best friend to suicide about 3 years ago and have had an extremely hard time processing it. It took about 2 years for me to be able to write about it. I wrote poems about Andre’s suicide and the grief process. I made these poems into a chapbook for my Senior Seminar Thesis for my Bachelor’s at Kean. The process of writing the chapbook was extremely emotional. The topic of Andre’s suicide was so great that I struggled to put my thoughts into words. By writing the poems I was allowed to deal with and process the trauma of Andre’s suicide. I’m still dealing with the grief day to day, but writing about it has helped me in a way that no amount of therapy ever could.

In My Own Voice

Before start Grad school, I got a certificate in court translation at Union County College. In a meeting with my professor, she confessed to me that my writing was beautiful. That it had a flow she had not seen before in her previous students. That I had an ability to make my thoughts flow between each word like melody in music. I was a bit in shock when hearing this, since 1) i had never heard someone describe my writing like this and 2) because it was an informal writing about my life. Looking back at this, I wondering if what she meant was my voice.

I’m going to get a lil nerdy, sorry.

“Spoken language, often combined with the movement of the face, hands, and body, animates and enlivens. We become thought; we feel voice; we act out ideas on the small stage of our being” (Huber).
SO, there’s this manga that I love called Jujutsu Kaisen written and illustrated by Gege Akutami. There is a fight scene in chapter 37 between two characters the main protagonist, Yuji Itadori and a supporting character, Todo Aoi. In the midst of their battle Todo stops to tell Yuji that he’s controlling his power, Cursed energy all wrong. (side note: cursed energy is powered by negative emotion) He goes on to explain that cursed energy originates from the belly through the chest, the shoulders, arms and to the fists. Why am I mentioning this? Well because of his next words. “Do we think with our stomach? Do we use our mind to express rage? Listen up, Itadori. We exist in this world with our entire body, mind and soul. Its so obvious that most everyone has taken that maxim for granted” (Akutami 12-15). It goes without saying that this applies to voice in our writing. I love the last line in that quote. We as writers forget that when we write its not only our words that we stamp onto the page, but our Being, our souls. I have a portion of my wall covered in chalkboard paint, and when I write on it I end up covered in chalk. my hands, my clothes, my hair, my face. I’m not only writing words and poems but I’m pouring my soul and voice into the physical world. As Huber mentions, this act “kindle, enliven, and embody expression”.

Writing and Trauma

Small confession: Right before reading Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health by James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung I was not doing so good mentally. I was in the middle of a emotional breakdown. So bad that I knew I wouldn’t be able to properly make this blog post if I didn’t get it out of my system. So I wrote it all down in a journal that hadn’t been touched since September. (How shameful to neglect the empty pages begging me to write upon them) 15 minutes and 3 pages later, I felt rejuvenated. As if I were a reptile shedding my skin. How serendipitous to read this article right after doing exactly what it was speaking on.

When individuals talk or write about deeply personal topics, their immediate biological responses are congruent with those seen among people attempting to relax” (Chung & Pennebaker 9). And boy did my body relax. My whole being had a reaction: My jaw unclenched, my shoulders relaxed, my breathing regulated. It was a much needed healing experience. Now I feel as if I can tackle the issue that led me to these feelings.

I’ve mentioned before that writing to me is therapeutic. That since I’m a more reserved person writing thoughts down is easier than speaking them into existence. It also allows me to actually see my own thoughts and analyze them, the good and the bad.

“Once an experience is translated into language, however, it can be processed in a conceptual manner. In language format, the individual can assign meaning, coherence, and structure. This would allow for the event to be assimilated and, ultimately, resolved and/or forgotten, thereby alleviating the maladaptive effects of incomplete emotional processing on health”

(Chung & Pennebaker 27).

When speaking or thinking about issues, we tend to focus on the last thing said or felt. It’s not as if we have a 24/7 transcript where we can read back what was said. Writing it down makes us sit with our issues and traumas, and work through every single one. How we got there, how we can start healing from them.

The Power of the Pen

As I write this post, my sons and their friend are attempting to write their first rock song in my basement. As they phase in and out of classic rock, punk, and pop, struggling to find their “voices” as musicians, I realize that I am experiencing a musical manifestation of Huber’s strategy of making a list of her writing voices. Huber has labeled her different voices–“Hayseed Punk-Rock Girl” and “Fierce German Peasant” (among others), and the fledgling musicians are exhibiting their different voices (Zeppelin-like, White Stripes-y, Nirvana-ish). Huber’s article made me aware that because voice is a “river that is the font of story and speech,” the boy band’s songs will be a product of the unique voices they discover, and the voice in which I choose to write will influence the story that I tell.

Huber addresses not only voice but also talks about how her physical state affects her writing. She eventually learned to deal with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis by recognizing that she “had different speeds and modes.” While I do not have to deal with chronic physical pain, my mental and emotional states significantly impact my ability to write. Even just in the context of doing homework for this class, I have had to concede that there are certain times when I don’t have the mental bandwidth to be an effective writer. On my lunch hour at work? Reading–yes, writing–no. Upon arriving home from work? Helping my sons write–yes, my own writing–no. After everyone has gone to bed? Bingo! It is also challenging to focus when I’m feeling down, anxious, or both, as these feelings can be the perfect cocktail for self-criticism and even writer’s block, so I try to take advantage of the moments when I’m feeling more “neutral.”

Huber talks about writing in spite of her pain, but the authors of the other article, Pennebaker and Chung, were having people write because of their pain. They were exploring the effects of expressive writing on the writer’s health. They found that, under certain circumstances, expressive writing can improve the health of writers who’d experienced traumas: “[A]n increasing number of studies indicate that having people write about traumas can result in healthy improvements in social, psychological, behavioral, and biological measures” (Pennebaker and Chung 4). The act of writing affects us on so many levels, yet it can be challenging to provide evidence showing why writing is important. Even so Pennebaker and Chung have done just that: “Writing or talking about emotional experiences…has been found to be associated with significant drops in physician visits from before to after writing” (7). They also discovered that “the more that the topic or writing assignment is constrained, the less successful it usually is” (12), which suggests that people benefit more from open-ended writing prompts than specific ones. I think these findings can be a powerful tool to wield when advocating for adding or maintaining writing programs in schools and places dedicated to wellness.

When taken together, the articles by Huber and Pennebaker and Chung show that people benefit from having a wide variety of voices in which to write and a lot of leeway on what to write. Since the need to be heard is universal and sharing emotions through writing is healthy, teachers and health professionals alike would do well to take note. For my part, I will hang in through band rehearsal in support of the healthy, albeit loud, emotional expression that’s happening, since I now know how beneficial writing lyrics may actually be!

A Series of Labored Metaphors

This week’s first article “If You’re Struggling to Write Lead with Voice” by Sonya Huber encourages writers to identify the various voices within them and use those voice to “lead” a story. I think that there is a connection between this concept and code-switching given that code-switching is essentially this same concept but in verbal form rather than written. It is a funny idea in a way too…. It’s as though we as people all have a host of other folks inside of our head with their own personalities and temperaments. Oftentimes we switch from one voice to another without even realizing it and it is only later, upon reflection, that we notice that a change in our mental landscape has occurred. In order to facilitate this self-reflection, I think that meditation is an important tool for writers so that we can enable ourselves to recognize these voices and momentarily separate ourselves from them. It’s no coincidence, I think, that my best ideas come to me when I’m on a long run and my mind is in a very meditative state. It’s in these moments, when I am struggling to push myself forward and my breath is rushing in and out, that my brain is the most receptive to new observations and ideas. Most of the time it’s as though I never even thought these new thoughts myself: I am merely observing them as if from some outside realm looking in.

And maybe that’s the case in a funny sort of way.

However, whatever causes this phenomenon, I think that one thing is abundantly clear: our identities cannot be nailed down as one uniform being. Our minds are like classical music: the melody is always moving here and there and sometimes circling back around to the same place, but there exists no center to the music. There is no chorus or flashy guitar solos or anything of the sort. Just a fluid, organic continuation of the last note. So why then, should we limit ourselves to one all-encompassing voice when our inner worlds are much more complicated than that. We should be open to exploring the new corners of our personality and bringing them to life on paper when they arise. I think that learning how to channel the various shades of our minds is key to writing characters that are compelling and unique.

Article #2

I think I am going to write another metaphor to digest this week’s second article, “Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health” by James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung. Imagine this:

There is an enormous waterfall in front of you whose waters lead out to sea. It’s so tall that you can’t see the river that is feeding it and there are several levels to the falls itself, like the steps of a staircase. You can think of the water as consciousness. It’s just pure thought and emotion on its own, but when it clashes with the rocks of the cliff that form the falls itself–that is where the magic truly happens. Rather than being a flat and uninteresting body of water we have this noisy, rushing, gushing, waterfall which would probably make for a great tourist destination in our world. So, one can see that it is not the water that makes this spectacle worthy of a visit, but the rocks that the water collides with. These rocks can be seen as conflict in our lives, and we chip away at those slowly just like the water will eventually wear those stones down until they are smooth and flat. But in the meantime, we have a sight to behold.

All in all, I suppose what I’m saying is that art usually comes from a place of trauma/ conflict. After all, our lives and character are shaped by the conflicts that we experience. We can avoid thinking or dealing with them, yes, but it is better to acknowledge them and work towards a resolution (in the same way that every fictional story centers around a conflict and that conflicts eventual resolution). While some people may not want to share their traumas or even write them down privately, I think, like Pennebaker and Chung, that doing so is useful in relieving our inner suffering. As a result of this act of courage, writers often bring forth their most powerful voices.

Wildlife

I don’t know how to describe my voice as a writer. I know I write differently than how I speak, but that is typically as far as I can get in distinguishing my own patterns. Mikhail Bakhtin believes that we can write in many voices, and to an extent I can agree with that, as I know the ways I go about phrasing expressions, word choice, tone, and emotion, all change depending on the character of which I am trying to portray. 

Sonya Huber, author of this week’s first article, explored voice in depth when she was struggling with painful bouts of arthritis. The pain she felt caused her words to come slowly, to the point where she didn’t feel like writing. As someone who has chronic pain from years of abusing my body, I can sympathize with this as the more you focus on pain, the more difficult it is to focus on anything else of consequence. It was in this situation that Sonya discovered her voice changed, as did her audience. Instead of writing for others, she was writing for herself and using her past traumatic experiences as the fuel needed to provide voices to put her pain into context. 

Paisley Rekdal’s definition displays how our memories, emotions, and senses all influence our unique voices. Our voices are a combination of influences on our lives and influences on our techniques of writing and speaking. Perhaps this is why Huber finds success in helping stuck writers by letting them talk, providing a new experience away from the project they attempt to work on. 

It’s unfortunate that many of the writers she has come across in her teaching profession have not been able to find themselves in their own words, or do not have the confidence to see positively their own thoughts and ideas fleshed out on paper. To find their voices, Huber suggests the idea of making a running list of the voices that we internalize and conjure when writing. I guess I do this, but instead of naming them, I put a character to them, a full identity separate yet equal to my own, as each character is a part of me just as I am a part of them.  

Voice does not just extend to my working with fictional characters, but in expressing my experiences in non-fiction writing, whether it be journal articles or text to friends. Expressivist writing is writing that is used to get us to the deeper recesses of our personal experiences. Numerous studies have been done that have determined using expressivist writing to break down and analyze our traumatic experiences may actually have a positive impact on us as individuals in dealing with said trauma. 

Not expressing ourselves and getting in touch with our experiences can have negative consequences on us physically, emotionally, and socially. In this, I think about the emotional breakdown in the La Dispute album Wildlife, each song a story framed in the context of a writer who has deteriorated until they no longer understand the voice they are writing in. The songs that directly pertain to the narrator all have an isolated, suffocating, almost paranoid quality to them. They seem to scream for help, scream for someone to recognize the suffering within them, but our narrator fumbles towards the curtain call that they are sure nobody will clap for, and in the end I don’t clap. I sit feeling the pressure in my chest and my head of all I had just experienced but I don’t clap. I can’t Instead, I mimic the narrator and question, whose voice am I writing in?

The Many Voices of Trauma

Hello, fellow classmates ~~

!! WARNING !! This blog post covers very touchy subjects.

So, please read with caution and an open mindset. Thank you

If You’re Struggling to Write, Lead With Voice

 I’m going to start with this quote to explain why my blog post this week will not be as intellectually hearty and full of philosophical questions (I might take this statement back depending if I get into the groove of writing for this blog post): “I got an in-depth opportunity to explore voice when the volume and speed of mine began to slow down about a decade ago, staggering under the weight of fatigue and chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis” (Huber, 2022). The exact situation is happening to me. I have seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, and I can attest to the severe chronic pain and fatigue. Some days, the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are so loud that simply lifting my head off my pillow is like driving a car with a broken gas pedal. Last year I was in rehab, and then continued to push myself through any mental and physical symptoms of fatigue, ultimately ending up in the ER twice for several, day-long panic attacks. I am first-handedly feeling the wrath of my actions of last year. The volume and speed of my life right now is extremely slow; possibly even steers itself into reverse here and there, or whenever I encounter a slight scare. Imagine being stuck hearing the voices of panic-like thinking for over a week ~ TORTURE AT ITS FINEST ~.

Anyway, I often think back to the voices that led me to become hospitalized. Those voices often told me that I must keep going. To stop is a symptom of weakness. To rest is procrastination. To sleep in late is a symptom of laziness. Now that I’m on the coming down stage of the bell curve of a week-long panic attack, I understand that my notions of working, and relaxing come from my mother’s strict Sicilian upbringing that has leaked its way into my subconscious. Other lived experiences (like my learning disability) contribute as well, but I am not here to unpack my trauma, even though I’d love to (lol). I am here to discuss a writing phenomenon that popped up in my head while reading this week’s selections: Mental illness and Voice.

I have always struggled with the realization that I’m fully medicated now and might be for the rest of my life. Who am I without medication? Is this the real me? Is the ‘real me’ broken and in need of fixing? For years, I grappled with the question, who am I off my medications Vs. on my medications? While trying to dissect that internal question, I also tried to locate my ‘authentic’ voice somewhere in between the mix. The amount of shame after discovering that the anxiety-driven voice that result in lash-outs and crying fits are essentially part of my voice just like the very voice you hear in class or feel within my blog writing is indescribable. Without the anxiety-fatigue-depressive voices, would my resilience be the same? Would my drive to emotionally assist young kids in figuring out how their breath connects to their mind, body, and soul still stand? Would I be as emotionally sensitive to, and intellectually aware of myself and others around me?

Even when getting into the details of Sylvia Plath’s poem, a poet who evidently suffered from a mental illness (in my opinion), the concept of multiple voices, essentially there, to help define one authentic voice, came up in discussion. For instance, Huber even admits, “This comes up a lot: the idea of “voice” made of “voices” (Huber, 2022). This is a very meta-confusing concept that involves deep introspection and a good level of self-awareness. However, to have multiple voices is a war of the mind. And this phenomena in terms of writing should be discussed with sensitivity toward those who have lost the battle within and against their minds without fully understanding the ‘why’ – a sad reality I have seen all too much of. So, I think my mental illness(es) – PMDD, OCD, dyslexia (controversial as an illness but to me, any disability can make you physically and mentally ill), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and depression – are a separate wild, frantic, irritable, dull yet boisterous voice of itself that assists and navigates around the many other unidentified voices within my head.

Below are Reactions to Random Quotes:

Even the voice of this piece—the Voice that Loves Voice, I suppose—is one among several essaying voices. It has more of my speech in it, and gestures, and specifically the direct way I talk in the classroom, using shorter words and phrases and more images and some terrible mixed metaphors and similes” (Huber, 2020). THIS. THIS right here. A random stranger of an author just summed up the voice I use to teach (academics and yoga), the voice I use in the classroom as a learner, and the voice I – (I try my best to) use when talking with random strangers. The voice that loves voices – holy cow, I love it. This is the exact voice a perfectionist uses to mask the vulnerability around confrontation; therefore, we offer unlimited grace, kindness, empathy, and complete openness to whomever encounters our path, especially in a work or academic setting.

“In letting myself loose a bit, in looking for the weird voices in my own life and head and letting them out, I found new ways to say things and new perspectives on my life” (Huber, 2020). This is the exact reason to why I want to get into writing stand-up comedy. I have no idea how I will go about this but all I do know is that I have an ability to turn my animated self into a funny scene or demonstration. I would like to attend more comedy shows, and perhaps research any nearby writing workshop classes or local open mic sessions to get a feel for that ~ lifestyle ~. Dark humor – I’m talking an enormous amount of mass packed tightly into a tiny volume – type of dark. Dark humor is how I navigate life and living, and without it, I truly don’t know. I feel that dark humor has helped me cope with my anger and sadness in such a way that I can turn around and laugh about a situation rather than intellectualize the hell out of it.

I’ve been told I’m funny, and no, not just from my mom and closest friends (lol). Interestingly, my most recent uber driver and the latest Chinese delivery lady had both thanked me for making them laugh during their jobs. Apparently, I have a voice people often want to listen too, or at least are curious about, and I’m not sure if it’s the way I come off or speak openly about random topics that are on my mind. In rehab, three different co-patients had told me, in their own ways of course, that I have a powerful voice that moved them in session. Or that they specifically felt the pull and tug of their emotions whenever I speak up in group. I will never forget the one elder woman, who patted my back on her way out of group, and whisper-talked in my ear: “Your supposed to teach, darling; you have a special way of making people truly listen.” I still think about that complement and channel that energy when faced with anxiety-driven self-doubt or a severe case of writers block.

Sometimes, I think my deeply, weird voice cares too much about making others smile, and not so much myself. Hence why this quote made me pause with deep curiosity, “The Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin described “intonation” as “the point where language intersects with life” and Huber continues to explain that her ‘teaching’ voice often uses intonation or inflectional tones to physically connect with people, making her feel more confident and powerful. However, the arthritis-driven voice was used to “counteract [her] tendency to hide, [her] own desire to be agreeable or not offend, naming Pain Woman as a separate voice seemed to give [her] permission to channel something outside of [her] public mask” (Huber, 2020). I think mindfully noticing the different perceptions and perspectives of the world you narrate within your head, and slowly beginning to befriend and name them, rather than shame and judge them, may be the start to an answer to my many unsolved problems. Hey – Huber said it herself, “She pushes me to say what I think, to listen to the bold voice inside me, and then to follow that voice, to let it grow, to see it and understand it, and to feed it, knowing I can always switch to another one” (Huber, 2020). So, I say we start trying this voice naming thing ~~

Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health

“What is it about a trauma that influences health?” (Pennebaker and Chung, 2). Let me tell you: EVERYTHING ABOUT TRAUMA INFLUENCES HEALTH. However, the only beautiful thing about trauma is that it is universal; everyone comes with their own package deal of family and personal trauma. It is trauma and suffering that connects human beings because without it, there would be no such thing as sympathy or empathy. And could you imagine living in a world absent of sympathy and empathy? I fear it’d be like living the Purge but just 24/7, everyday chaos.

There is certainly a scale to trauma being that some people have it worse than others; for instance, “the more extreme the trauma and the longer time over which it lasts are predictors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) incidence” (Pennebaker and Chung, 2). However, it is important to not diminish your own trauma in the light of others because no other human being has lived your life with your exact biological genetic factors. The way in which we respond to the many triggers within our life are uniquely determined by our upbringing, support system, genetics, and our ability to love and empathize throughout the hardships.

Sometimes, we don’t have control over the way in which we react or respond because of a mood disorder, PTSD, or unresolved trauma that floats to the surface at the worst, unexpected times. Have you ever heard about those horrific postwar psychological stories among Vietnam veterans? It could be a loud, rumbling thunder that jerks the vet’s unconscious body awake in a state of fright to discover he’s hovering over his wife’s sleeping body, gripping her neck until her face turns purple. Suddenly, BOOM, his traumatized unconscious mind wakes up his conscious mind before it’s too late, and now he’s ashamed of what he’s capable of doing without any sort of control. That is what a physical response to trauma may look like for some veterans.

For those who were neglected, abused, or abandoned in childhood may have a total opposite reaction to bodily fright. Those with anxiety may throw up or pick at their skin because “the unexpected events are generally associated with cognitive disruption including rumination and attempts to understand what happened and why” (Pennebaker and Chung, 2). Sitting in anxious thoughts leads to terrible physical symptoms. Those with depression sleep the day away to avoid the traumatic spiral of negative thoughts that become overwhelmingly unbearable. Those who have faced years of discrimination, or a degree of hate crimes may shy away in public or trust those who only look like themself, which you can’t blame them for selective choosing. Trauma is certainly shameful; hence why many refuse or claim to see no reason for therapy. I don’t where I’m trying to take this rant-of-a-blogpost, but I suppose to claim we all have a degree of unhealed trauma hovering over our shoulders, which is a weird, disturbing yet calming truth to digest.

Oh, and I take my opening statement back because I happened to write way more than I expected ~~ LOL

XOXO,

Francesca Di Fabio