Tuesday, December 7, 2010


For the past several years, voice has been an essential ingredient in your own writing as well as your assessment of the writing of others whose work you read, clients who came to you for editorial guidance, and students who found their way into the places you teach.  Voice, in the sense of which you speak is in fact the tone and temperament and quality in which the story speaks to the writer and through the writer into the characters.  A particular voice you have always admired is he who called himself Mark Twain but you were similarly impressed by Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and in more recent years Louise Erdrich.

You have written in some detail and example of how to achieve the voice you seek, adding dimension to the conceit that when you are not actually hearing voices, you are seeking them.  Earlier in your life, hearing voices was somehow associated with insanity; an individual hearing voices was weird because that individual's attention was being usurped by speaking that came from unreliable sources, possibly even unreal sources, meaning the voice was a delusion from the get go.

How your opinions and visions change with the age process and with the number of words that have danced before your eyes as they came variously from fountain pens, typewriters, and computers, as though each word you write ratifies your belief in voices even more strongly than what you sought before (which was in fact a kind of mechanical construction of the elements you used to believe composed story, almost like the endless model airplanes you constructed as a boy).

You do not think it at all odd to hear the voices of Rachel, your first and truest mentor nor of Virginia, who mentored you not so much in ways of getting the words down as ways they were to be performed on the stage and screen.  You frequently hear your Mother's voice in contexts most appropriate to the ways she spoke to you when she was alive.  You would be some greater fool than you are if you did not hear Jake's voice from time to time wondering if you were some kind of wise guy or wondering why it was you insisted on making such a fuss about writing when you had all the paper you needed and a series of Royal and Underwood typewriters, then IBM Selectrics and, although he did not provide it, the red Olivetti portable that was provided by Mary Ellen O'Connor Davis.

The absolute good news about today is that someone you cared for in so many, complex, human, bewildering ways, has gotten her wish and is no longer among the living.  Not that she had much choice in the matter.  Not that she did not have plans.  Rather, they were plans that did not include cancer.  Anne wished to die in the living room of the cottage you shared; that she did is a triumph of significant cause for celebration above and beyond the abject sense of loss you feel.

Until you begin to consider the matters of your own narrative voice and what it means to you.  Until you begin to recall the endless conversations you had with her, so much so in fact that you are aware that her voice was all this time a sort of elephant in the living room.  True enough, you knew all along what you had.  You did not equate the power of the conversations, the lengthy arguments in which entire opinions were at risk and the consequences of the need to let in heretofore inadmissible data to your own calculus.  You do not need through the writing of this or the examination  of past writings about your own process to gain the insight you already had reached:  Anne was stunning in her brightness, surpassing you by light years.  It is an insight achieved in your sense of loss that you will hear her voice along with so many others.  Of course you hear your immediate family but to show you how wonderful the process of voice is, you hear voices beyond those of your own reading preferences, taking such a random display as Maurice Ravel and George Gershwin and Antonin Dvorak and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, not to forget Ludwig-o and your great pal Mort Jacobs and Sonny Criss and Jim Giuffre, who turned you on to Delius, which extends the metaphor of voice one step:  have you turned anyone on to a voice?  Yet?  There are voices to be heard and conversations to be had.

If you love the sound of anyone, time is irrelevant.  Chaucer wrote "When that Aprille with his shoures soete" six hundred years ago and you hear his voice.  How would you not then hear someone whose voice was in this room so recently?

It is, you persist, all about voice, and yes, you do hear voices, and yes, you shall hear hers among them.


Matt said...

Shelly, my heart goes out to you. You honour her memory with eloquence.

Sarah said...

“Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star...”
e.e. cummings

You've taught us about voice, and continue to teach by word, and by example. Wishing you the voice of love in return.

Storm Dweller said...

I have always heard voices in my life, some good, some bad, some authentic, some disingenuous, some inspirational, and some discouraging. But hearing them, whether they came from those that walk through the reality of my everyday life, or the characters that traipse through the Wonderland of my mind, life would certainly have been and would be less without them.

May you continue to hear Anne's voice and all the other voices that color the wonderful person you are, and I hope that yours will remain amongst the chorus that sings me through my life.

sampablokuper said...

There is a Richard Feynman anecdote in which he recounts being asked, by a draft board, about his wife, Arlene, who had also passed away from cancer much too young.

The psychologist asked him if he ever spoke to her. He said he did sometimes. The psychologist asked him if he ever hear her voice. He said he did sometimes, especially when he was somewhere quiet, and alone with his thoughts.

They rejected him for being psychologically unfit!

Every time I think of you, or of Anne, you speak to me. She is further away now than she was, but her voice rings just as clear, and inspires me with its lucidity.

She sees the glass three-quarters full, sees her triumph, and urges me to see through her eyes, so that I might stop crying.

Heather said...

I am so very sorry for your loss, Shelly. The way you speak of her makes me feel certain that she was a wonderful person. You gave her such a wonderful gift with your love and care, and I will remember her in my prayers. And you, too.