Finding One’s Voice

25 Sep

We are each one of over seven billion people inhabiting this planet this very day. Books and books and books have been written about every topic. Music continues to follow similar patterns, and while new styles show up, is there really a chord progression that hasn’t been created before? If you are like me, you find coming up with something novel and original really difficult in this world. I remember when I was a child, I wanted to be a neuroscientist (seriously, what kid wants to be a neuroscientist?). I wanted to be one so badly that I would read American Scientific at the age of 10, a magazine that was written for people well above my education level, and cut out all of the articles about the brain. My goal was to one day bring all those articles I collected over the years to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (an academic leader in brain science) and use those as part of my college application. I thought that the university would surely see my passion that stemmed from childhood, and would have to admit me into their program for my sheer persistence.

Needless to say, I didn’t end up becoming a neuroscientist, but one thought that stands out to me that I had as I would cut those articles was, “Geez! These are already so difficult to understand– they have got to slow down on their progress. Otherwise I won’t have anything to study and discover when I get to college! They are stealing the research I want to do!” Yep, those scientists were stealing my thunder. It turns out that even today, I feel like my thunder has been stolen in nearly every topic that interests me. Every time I think I’ve stumbled upon something new, I can just do a quick Google search and realize there’s already people talking about it. It is incredible just how many topics of interest humans have touched and of which we have developed an understanding. As a young person, I am incredibly intimidated by the expertise of our society and of the accomplishment of the individuals on the front lines of their fields.

So the question becomes, how does anyone find their voice? There are thousands and thousands of blogs out there, pages filled with commentary, videos, documentaries, TV shows, newspapers, books, magazines….you name it. Even if you do have something important to say, how does one even begin to open a crack of space of influence? How can you wade through the endless pool of voices and find your own? And how can you get your voice out there?

This seems like an insurmountable task sometimes. Our society has always valued and continues to value individuality, uniqueness, and most of all, pioneer-ism. What was once a pioneering for new land has become a pioneering for intellectual property, and the narrative of the pioneer is certainly compelling. Yet as we all pioneer in our respective fields and raise our voices, our lives become flooded with information. We are flooding with words, and with each additional word we are perhaps closer to drowning. The words seem to be growing exponentially. As people multiply and technology expands, our words compound on themselves. And as this happens, each given word has a more and more marginal impact and meaning, lessening each of our ability to speak up.

This is what I wrestle with as a young person. I’m entering a world that is already inundated with stuff and information and technology and our collective human footprint. If I want to shine, I must find yet another way to be different, to stick out, to do something that hasn’t been done before. I am a person who wants to contribute meaningfully to this world, as I imagine most everyone does, but as society gets more and more complex, that goal seems evermore absurd.

While I certainly have no final answers for this question, I have some thoughts on the matter. While I am just as much a perpetrator as the next when it comes to giving myself into a deep desire to have my voice be heard, I would like to offer some divergent reflections.

1. Sometimes when I get particularly overwhelmed with the seemingly mountainous task of finding my voice in this life, I try to remind myself that just because someone has said something before doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saying again. There are some things that if they don’t get said repeatedly, they become completely lost in the consciousness of each new wave of people. I know this best through my work with students at the university. While the director of a student organization, I found that semester after semester, some of the same things had to be said so that they were conveyed. Each new group did not magically understand our organization’s collective memory, and the same lessons had to be learned with each given semester and each new group of people. This is the nature of working with students–there’s lots of turnover– and such is the nature with our lives in general. The old are replaced by the young, and each child needs to go through his own learning process. Some things need to be taught over and over again as we each grow up and learn. Religion has been around for thousands of years and yet we still struggle to reach the ideals it teaches. Some things are worth repeating, and novelty is not what makes a voice powerful.

2. And besides, why is it so important to focus on novelty? Is it necessary to value uniqueness so highly? Why not focus on relevancy instead? Just because something is novel does not mean it is what needs to be said. I think it is more important to speak what moves you because maybe it will move someone else, too. We humans love that which is personal to us. We are interested by what is contextual to our own lives and our culture based on the current times. Think of how many love songs there are out there. One can hardly argue that writing a new song about love would be novel. However, we continue to love those songs because they represent something about our own generation, our own lives. Context is always changing, and saying something recycled can mean different things to different people in different times. We listen to what is relevant to us, even if it isn’t unique.

3. My previous two bullet points suggested an attitude of, “Even though it’s difficult, it’s still worth findings one’s voice and raising it!” However, my question is, why not more silence? I think it is incredibly important to know oneself and figure out how one fits in with her environment, but perhaps we try too hard to speak up? Perhaps all we are really doing is saturating ourselves, driving ourselves down the road of meaninglessness because we talk just to talk. Perhaps it is more valuable to have spaces for quietness and to be specific about which spaces are for voices. When we all talk at the same time, upping one another with our brilliance or invention or opinions, nothing can be heard. But if we talk when things are important and talk in the right context, suddenly we can hear just the voices that need to be heard, and there is not so much competition for space.

4. My last thought is that perhaps our voices don’t have to be manifested in public for them to be real and worthy. After all, ‘voice’ is really manifested within oneself. A voice doesn’t have to be heard by everyone, nor does it have to change someone’s life for it to be powerful. Finding our voice can mean just understanding ourselves, and living in accordance with the truth in our hearts and spirit. We can find voice in our actions, more so than in our words. Act purposefully, consciously, and as yourself. We can express ourselves in so many ways beyond our words. Our words can be empty anyway, especially in the presence of so many other words. Act in the best of faith, and your voice will be present. We don’t have to change the world to find our voice, or at least that is what I have to remind myself.

Despite having these reflections on the process of finding one’s voice, I continue myself to struggle every day. Sometimes I feel inspired, sometimes I feel hopeless. My voice yet eludes me, I think, but I am always trying. Sincerity in the pursuit, I find, is what keeps me going. And there are plenty of people from whom to learn, people who are, too, seeking their voice.

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Cooking Gets Me Thinking

21 Sep

The truth is, cooking doesn’t really get me thinking. If anything, cooking drains me of thoughts. I am so focused on doing the cooking that my mind seems to lose capacity to be filled with anything else. This becomes obvious when someone interrupts my cooking process and asks me a question. My usual response is, “Umhmm….[pause 30 seconds]….wait, what did you say?” If you’ve ever seen me cook, you know the event is usually chaotic. I spill every ingredient at least once on the counter or floor. I pull out nearly every dish from the cupboards, dirtying everything I have in the kitchen. And I am always multi-tasking. No recipe following– or if there is a recipe involved, I am frequently realizing I don’t have an ingredient, and I’m making last minute substitutions, additions, or omissions. I am always a busy cook, bustling from end to end of the kitchen. If people are helping me, I am the drill sergeant that barks out half-formed commands and puts everyone to work by waving my magic spatula.

Needless to say, this style of cooking doesn’t leave much space for thinking deep thoughts. My mind is filled with chocolate or garbanzo beans or carrots or vegetable stock. I’m a poor conversationalist while cooking. It’s amazing that my friends are so willing to come over to my place to cook with me. Maybe it’s because I usually send them home with full bellies and give them at least half the leftovers. I like to think they stay because they think I’m an awesome person, but hey, you never really know.

If I don’t do much thinking while cooking, I suppose, then, the title of this blog is a little out of place. It’s a misnomer, a misrepresentation, a lie. I am certainly self-conscious about the gender connotation that the title suggests. After all, how many young, middle-class, white women have a blog about cooking? How could my blog not be another manifestation of the social norms for my identity?

But, nevertheless, I think the title embodies some truth about me. I think that in the past couple of years, my friends have come to know me for my love of cooking. I’ve become a foodie to the core. In fact, just recently, a friend invited me over to his house, but yet I ended up directing the cooking of the meal. So, cooking has just come to be a part of my persona.

I love cooking because for me, it is a statement. I am making a political statement and a statement about my life. It’s political because I am careful about the food I purchase. I purchase from local and organic farmers, and I support all environmentally-minded and fair trade producers and processors. I even know personally some of the people from whom I buy. Every time I cook, my food is a representation of the local landscape– the local farmers, the local market, the local climate, the local soils, and the immediate season. I participate in the environment around me, hopefully creating change little by little, and ultimately nourishing myself and my friends with food that had a lot of loving energy go into it.

But cooking for me is also an expression of my paradigm on life. I wish sometimes that my attitude towards life resembled a little closer my attitude towards cooking– messy, exciting, improvised, and inspired. In my day-to-day life, I tend to prefer a little more organization than I do in the kitchen, but I think it is beautiful that cooking for me is an experience about making due with what I have and sharing it with everyone I know. Life is messy, just like cooking. My aim in life isn’t to clean up my messes, but to work with them, enjoy them, and learn from them. When I cook, I get a little closer to the person I deep down inside want to be.

And when all is said and done, and the meal is on the table, the best part comes next. I get to eat with all my friends, and good food often leads to good conversation. After all the hustle and bustle over the stove, I can sit down, maybe with a beer in my hand, and relax. And the thoughts come. My prior focus on the cooking gives way to enjoyment with others and plenty on which to ruminate. Perhaps, after all, cooking does get me thinking. Just not in the moment.