This year’s Emmy’s recognized women of a certain age. Yay! Kate Winslet, at 45, won her Emmy for her wonderful performance in “Mare of Easttown.” Hannah Waddingham, at 47, won for her role in “Ted Lasson,” Julianne Nicolson, at 50, for “Mare of Easttown.” Gillian Anderson, at 53, for “The Crown,” and Jean Smart for her performance as the sharp, biting, I’m-not-ready-to-call-it- quits comedian in “Hacks.”
Dr. Susan J. Douglas, University of Michigan professor of communication and media, sees this new trend in television as reflective of a new direction in society as a whole: “We are in the midst of a demographic revolution. As of 2019, there were just under 72 million baby boomers and over 65 million Gen Xers. There are more women over 50 than ever before in our society. And millions of them are not really ready or eager to be told to go away and obsess about their grandchildren without participating in and doing other things,” she said in Lisa Selin Davis’s New York Times article,
Amy Baer, president of Landline Pictures, has a related view. Aging, for women, has become a process beyond retirement, Baer believes: “They may have raised children and they’re finally at a place where they can focus on themselves professionally and personally.” Because women are “living longer and better” there are more and better roles for women on the screen.
It’s certainly about time. And this shift in entertainment, I believe, also speaks to a new confidence and courage. Women are no longer willing to linger in the shadows, in the quiet spaces behind the curtain. We are standing up and standing out and supporting each other’s voices in the world.
Uncover Your Voice
Voices. In writing, voice has often been seen as the most elusive element of craft. “Voice” is hard to define, hard to teach, hard to discover in our writing. … Or that’s how the story goes.
“Discovering” our voices may not be the right word. Maybe it’s something more like an uncovering that’s called for. Uncovering the voice we’ve buried deep over so many years.
I’ve always struggled with voice. As a child, I used to sing—when I thought no one could hear me. My mom used to take me swimming several evenings a week in an effort to help me lose weight. (That’s a ripe topic for another post!) I remember being the last one in the locker room, one frigid winter evening. Alone in that space, I started singing, my voice bouncing off the mirrors, the lockers, echoing in lovely waves. I thought the sound would remain within the walls of the locker room, but the pool attendant approached me when I walked through the door: “Was that you singing in there?” she asked. Stunned, and I’m sure, beet red, I said, “No.”
“But you were the only one in the locker room,” she said.
Several years later, on the camp bus, when we were all belting out camp songs, I decided to add harmonies. When the bus driver asked if I was the one harmonizing, I denied it. In both cases, I wouldn’t—couldn’t—take ownership of my lovely voice. Who was I to have a bird song inside me? To have beautiful notes underneath all that flesh?
Find Your “Treasure in the Attic”
But still, there was a part of me that wanted to be heard. I’d spend hours in front of the mirror, using my hairbrush as a microphone. Maybe there would be a day when I could share my song with the world.
The highlight of my high school days was an annual event called SING. Each grade put on an original play and competed against each other in everything from stage props to best score—our own little Broadway and Tony Awards celebration. I never tried out for a part in the production, but I did hold the position of chorus leader each year. I would create and teach harmonies, lead my chorus in song. My whole purpose was to help them shine on the stage, while I had my back to the audience. Sound familiar?
At 40, I took voice lessons. Sung opera! Was invited to become a member of a classical chorus. My teacher, Jena Smith, a wonderfully talented Juilliard trained singer, would accompany me on her Steinway and teach me to reach deep for the sound. During one session, she heard my falsetto. It stopped in her tracks. “We’ve found a treasure in the attic!” she exclaimed. She told me I must have been a famous singer in my past life.
My past life. I feel I’ve had many lives within these 60 years I’ve been on this planet. I look at myself at 20, at 35, at 50. Sometimes I ask myself who that person was.
Stepping into the Light
My voice. Speaking up. And out. I never had much trouble doing that for others. But for myself? That has been my challenge. It still is.
I’ve had my share of bullies in my life. People who’ve tried to quiet me or who just “loved me more” when I showed less of myself. I am not alone.
Yet, one of the gifts of growing older is gaining the courage to step out into the light, with family, with friends, community, the wider world.
This is no small feat—even the smallest step is a huge accomplishment. One small step builds on the previous one, sets the next one into motion. That’s how children learn to walk. Sometimes—often—they fall. But they don’t feel shame when they stumble. They might cry, need a hug or a Band-Aid. But they get up. And risk falling again.
I recently took a Zoom class called Healing through Writing with the amazing writer and teacher Francesca Lia Block. We talked about voice and how to access it. “Live fully. Engage fully. Experience,” were Francesca’s words of advice. (For more on writing classes focused on uncovering your voice, please see the P.S. below.)
Living and engaging fully is scary stuff. It entails stepping out of that toasty comfort zone into the vast unknown. But it also provides us with the opportunity to connect with the person inside we’ve “known” on the most intimate level all along.
I Ask Myself: What Is the Lesson?
There are many reasons we may have retreated. Shushed our deepest selves. Maybe we’ve let others bully us into silence. Maybe we’ve bullied ourselves—believing we weren’t worthy of being heard.
When this post hits your inbox, I will be probably be getting dressed and ready to have a biopsy on my thyroid. It’s scheduled for Monday at 9:00 a.m. It is the second biopsy I’ve had in two months—the first one came back “inconclusive.” I am not nervous about the outcome. I’m hoping for an all-clear result, but if there are further steps I will need to take, I will take them. I have been down similar roads before.
It’s less the outcome than the procedure itself that’s giving me pause right now. Numbing the area will require several injections—in the area around my throat. It’s uncomfortable, physically, but psychically and psychologically, it holds much greater power. This is my throat they’re cutting into. The place of my breath. The very home of my voice.
I find it interesting that the Universe is presenting me this physical manifestation of a life-long challenge. The challenge to my voice. One of several I’ve had recently. I ask myself: What is the lesson?
“Your Playing Small Doesn’t Serve the World.”
I believe we all come to our lives with one major task/theme/lesson to “uncover.” Mine, as I suspect for many of us, is hearing and trusting my voice. And to take those steps, even in the face of challenge, to stand authentically in the light of the world.
We’ve talked a great deal on this blog about Feeling the Fear and Doing It Anyway. Whenever I feel fear—and am afraid that I may not “do it anyway”—I come back to a very famous passage in Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”
If these words speak to you, print them out, tape them to your mirror, your computer screen. Keep a copy of them by your bedside.
Congratulations Ms. Winslet, Ms. Waddingham, Ms. Nicolson, Ms. Anderson, and Ms. Smart for receiving recognition in the Emmy world.
Recognized or not, I want to congratulate all who are taking the steps towards uncovering. May you all take your places on the stage. May all your voices sing—loud and strong. “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” Go and serve my friends. I hear you.
As Always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment or send an email.
See you in November!
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P.S. If anyone is interested in taking a class to uncover their voice in their writing, my dear friend and beautiful writer and teacher Gabriella Souza is offering a 6-week workshop through Austin Bat Cave on that very topic beginning tomorrow–October 12. I also highly recommend any class with the wonderful and generous Alison McGhee, who supports writers of all ages and stages in uncovering their voice.
For one-on-one support in uncovering your voice on the page, please consider working with me! I’d love to join you on your journey!