Finding A Voice

When I was a child, I was terrified of The Little Mermaid, the classic 90’s Disney movie based on the grim fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, that was loved and adored by every other child on my block. I watched it for the first time when I was six, and I’ve had trouble watching it since. Besides for the violence and Ursula’s creepy voice that spooked me, something about Ariel’s desperate desire to give up everything she knew and loved, including the use of her own voice, for the potential love of the dashing Prince Eric, bothered me deeply, and still does. Though I don’t think that’s why I was afraid of it then, that’s the fear I resonate with as an adult (unless, of course, I was mature enough to understand that concept at such a young age, which I don’t believe I was). The fear of giving up everything I know and love, everything I believe I am, perhaps my conviction, possibly my views, and worst off, my voice, for the potential affection of one person or many, scares me. What if I had to give up everything I believe in, and silence myself for the sake of the world around me, for their affection and understanding? The scariest part was realizing that it had already happened. Now that it was lost, how would I recover it?

It happened shortly after I signed the contract to publish my first novel, Shattered Illusions. The project that I had spent three years pouring my voice into was now off in the hands of my editor and publisher. It was my baby, but suddenly, it was gone. It had been a part of me, and now it was separate. Almost like a child that leaves it’s parents home. Though it will continue to be a part of me for the rest of my life, it’s no longer a physical part of me. It was scary, because in a sense, I knew that even though I still had work ahead of me, that part of my life was over. My creative outlets were slim otherwise, and I found myself in places where my voice didn’t matter. The city I lived in, the people I surrounded myself with, the things I did and the places I visited continued to push my voice further and further out of me, until it too was a separate entity. It didn’t help that my sister was engaged and moving to a new country at the same time. Everything that I thought I knew about my life suddenly changed. I was young, naive and unsure of what to do with my life, even though at that point, I had accomplished something huge. It wasn’t that the things I was passionate about had changed, or that the things I loved were suddenly loved less. It was just a matter of plugging my voice into different outlets and trying out the sound.

What I’ve learned about passion and the key to living a fantastic, beautiful life is that the things you love must be a part of you. Staying with someone or something is a powerful expression of love (Thank you, Professor Al). Having something in your life that is constant can be very comforting, especially in a world where so little things and so few people stick around forever. Writing was comforting, as was expression through dance, singing or simply enjoying the art of others. The places where I find myself the most are in the places where my strengths shine through, in the things that are a physical part of my being, as well as metaphysical. Any expression of beauty was, to me, an expression of life.

So, yes, I am young and still inexperienced, but the voice was still gone. I was struggling to find my way through life, a way to make my life my own. And then, I stumbled upon ModPo. A MOOC, offered through Penn and Coursera, which, at first glance, looked just like every MOOC that was offered on the website. It seemed like a good place to potentially find a voice, even if that voice wasn’t my own. It seemed like a step in the right direction, whatever the right direction was. So, I joined, and watched how in just ten weeks, my life suddenly had meaning again. How was it possible that a MASSIVE online course could feel so intimate and real? There must be magic in the ModPo water, and the ‘movement’ we have created continues to get drunk off it, each and every day since. It wasn’t just a class, it became a lifestyle. It became a way of viewing the world with beauty again, with love, with passion, with everything I knew I had, but had slightly forgotten about. It was about so much more than the poetry, even though it was the poetry that brought us together. It gave new meaning to my writing, to my senses, and my sense of self. ModPo gave me strength to push myself through whatever was happening in my life. Plenty of roadblocks have presented themselves between the first session of Modpo and the second, and everytime, the community we’ve created has come to my aid, from wherever they were in the world. I’ve made friends with people all over the world, some of who I only met for the first time yesterday. I’ve learned more in ModPo about the kind of person I want to be and the kind of life I want to lead than I have anywhere else. This” is what the magic of passion can do to a person’s soul.

At yesterday’s final webcast of Modpo13, when Professor Al asked me to say my final words, I could barely get the words out because I was so emotional. What could I say to the people who helped me find my voice again? There was no way to say everything I had to say without blubbering like an idiot (which I did). So, this is what I said: “I lost my voice, but then ModPo came into my life, and it came back.”

This is what I would have said had I not begun to cry and, ironically enough, lost my voice from the tears: I gave up who I was for the sake of others. I stopped talking because no one cared. I stopped expressing simply because the world was uninterested in what I had to say. Why talk when no one wants to listen? So, I shut up, and I allowed others to speak for me. I became passive. I lost my way. I reached a place where I felt like my existence had no meaning. ModPo reminded me of who I was, and why my voice was worth something. The course, and the people involved in it reminded me of why my passion was so important and why I must never again forsake it in order to please others. I found my voice among 40,000 members of a MOOC, it came back crisper, clearer. I found a piece of myself in every poem we’ve read the first time we read them in ModPo12, and this year, I found the connections to be that much stronger.  I’ve learned something from every person I’ve encountered throughout the course. They’ve taught me about beauty and friendship in ways that some people I’ve known my whole life never have, and probably never will. This is the life I want to live, and love living. What more can I say? Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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