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Finding your voice one word at a time

I left the house with a neon, pink barrette fastened to the back of my head.

A large, neon pink barrette, mistakenly left in my shoulder length, brown hair.

At the grocery store I bought one percent milk, egg whites, and fresh butter. At the ATM machine I waited in a lingering line of ten people. At the drugstore I slid a carboard box of tampons out from under a gardening magazine when the teenage cashier asked if I was eligible for the senior’s discount. A pink barrette in my straight, brown hair was not the look my fifty-three-year-old self was going for. 

I was back home, making a cup of decaf tea, when my daughter plucked the clip from my crown.

‘What is this?’ she asked.

‘It’s a barrette.’ I stated the obvious, going for unsurprised and nonchalant. 

‘No one actually uses that word.’

I burst into tears. Great, big, sobbing, nose running, from the gut, blubbering. The kind of crying reserved for private times. It wasn’t long since I’d been escorted out my employer’s back door after a mercifully brief, early morning meeting. Unemployed for the first time in thirty-three years, I was confused, angry, devastated. My daughter’s words felt like another punch. 

I didn’t sleep for weeks. I walked, and walked, then walked some more. I spent hours on job search sites, crafting resumes, reading rejection emails. I did a handful of interviews. Candidates chatted casually in waiting rooms while I sat, silent, dripping in sweat, arms rigid to hide the wet spots. I prayed I wouldn’t have a hot flash when the HR specialist asked why her organisation couldn’t function without me.

‘They’re all so young,’ I wailed to my husband. ‘Fresh out of university.’

I graduated with a journalism diploma back in 1987; they were Master’s students.

‘Why don’t you go back to school,’ hubby suggested, ‘and start writing again?’

My first attempts at putting words to paper were bad. Really bad. I missed the days when writing came easily, when I didn’t worry about freewriting. The days when thoughts and ideas, adjectives and adverbs, grammar and punctuation flew from my fingertips, when I didn’t edit sentence one before I wrote sentence two, when I didn’t doubt every, single, word.

Doubt sat on my shoulders, a constant companion, whispering in my ear. 

Even though it was difficult, I kept writing. Five words. Then ten. A sentence. A paragraph. 

I read books about writing. I read books about fiction and non-fiction. I read for fun and to learn. I scattered notebooks all over the house. I enrolled in free, online courses. I asked questions, and I practiced. I wrote for my eyes only.

Eventually, I asked a trusted friend for advice. She was constructive and kind. 

Slowly, patiently, I found my voice again. Our local newspaper, a provincial and a national magazine, published my work. I’ve since been long listed and shortlisted in several competitions. 

Earlier this year, I graduated with a Bachelor of Education, Post-Secondary, and am now taking a university-level creative writing course.

Some days drift by, like gentle rain. Other days, I fold laundry, scrub a clean floor, rearrange the refrigerator. Wait for the words to find me.

I write for myself first. When I am satisfied, I offer my work up or I tuck it away because some things are too personal to share. And that’s ok because I am a writer. I am writing. 

Never give up on yourself. Push the doubt out and write. 

About Connie Boland

Connie Boland is an award-winning journalist and writer in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador. When not in her basement writing, she can be found in the great outdoors thinking about putting words to paper.

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