Your inner voice

The woman on the playground and her companion are speaking Italian. Their words are just barely audible, but every once in a while their voices carry, the rapid-fire words punctuating the hot August air with the reminder that we are, alas, not in Italy, though Delaware is a nice place to be.

I write to discover what I know.

Flannery O’Connor

On this particular hot morning there are lots of children and families swarming the playground. It’s a big space, with several accessible structures sprawling across what feels like an acre or more of springy foam foundation. It’s big enough you have to try to encounter the other children, and while voices carry, conversations don’t. The soundtrack of happy children carrying on noisily as they run and jump and consider each other is more like background din than audible dialogue.

Still, it’s not long before we hear the Italian-speaking woman calling to her child, who is most definitely using his outdoor voice while playing on one of the playset platforms. “Use your inner voice!” the woman calls to the boy in English. It’s a subtle vocabulary shift — “inner voice” instead of “indoor voice ” — and likely unintentional, though I’m not about to fault her for the word choice.

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.

Virginia Woolf

I have been trying to listen to my own inner voice more often, and to use it as much as possible as a guide for knowing what I want and making decisions about what to do next. My inner voice narrates my life, tells me the story of this life, and it’s been honed over last three-odd decades thanks to the stories I’ve read and heard and learned from the world around me.

When I think of my inner voice, I think of the books I’ve listened to while running – Ivan Doig and Toni Morrison and Neil Gaiman and Ann Patchett, the voices who taught me that I was resilient and strong. I think of the books I’ve listened to while driving across the country – Laura Lippman, Carol Burnett, Ann Hood. I think of the books I’ve read in bed at night and when I couldn’t sleep, the words of Virginia Woolf and also Jasmine Guillory reminding me that life is long, nights are short, and sleeplessness will end, and in the morning things always look better. I read to be challenged and comforted, torn apart and put back together.

Now that I am reading a lot of books for very young children, I’m appreciating the simplicity of basic rhymes, body parts or animal sounds named and identified, bold colors and lift-the-flap surprises. Sometimes, I play with new books, knowing that they will help me find new notes and explore new corners. But when I have trouble hearing my own inner voice, I turn back to the ones who trained me to listen in the first place. I find a trusted novel and I start reading, knowing that the book will carry my voice back to me.

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