Gritty Life

Full Definition of GRITTY

1. containing or resembling grit
2. courageously persistent : plucky <a gritty heroine>
3. having strong qualities of tough uncompromising realism <a gritty novel>

The business of “finding one’s voice” is customarily associated with the plight of a literary author; however I suspect it is ultimately the preoccupation of any one of us if we want to achieve personal importance and lasting value.

Todd Henry suggests we begin identifying patterns within our passions, skills, and experiences. He poses the following questions:

1. What angers you?

2. What makes you cry?

3. What have you mastered?

4. What gives you hope?

5. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

6. If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do?

7. What would blow your mind?

8. What platform do you own?

9. What change would you like to see in the world?

10. If you had one day left, how would you spend it?

My own method of resolving this “voice” issue is increasingly directed to “uncompromising reality”, basically saying it like it is.  Perhaps it is because I have spent a lifetime dedicated to facade and disguise that I am at last resolved (or sufficiently worn down) to forego the tripe for the truth. Although I would never say that I have lived a lie, it is certainly the case that I have more than once put on a front or camouflaged my feelings.  Quite frankly for the most part my objective was not to misrepresent anything; rather I frequently imagined that what I thought or felt didn’t count for much so I attempted to put a better spin on it.  For example, instead of admitting my attraction to some mundane thing or event or habit, I’d choose instead to talk about something I figured was more intellectual (which might have been just as real for me though possibly not as compelling).  The result was that I failed to hit the target.  Hitting the target is certainly the attraction to finding one’s voice.  It is unbelievably relieving to recount exactly what is on one’s mind. Truth, like money, is one of those odd qualities which is never boastful – essentially, if you’ve got it, you don’t talk about it.  And yet it someone speaks from the heart, like money you can smell it a mile away!

Saying what you think requires a degree of bluntness which in some cases is construed as tough or harsh or unsophisticated and maybe even lowly. Surprisingly however the animation which springs from that well is unsurpassed. The unadorned reality of the gritty life has a texture all its own and usually one which is not only colourful but also comprehensible.  What more favourable and flavourful ingredients can there be for dialogue!  Not surprisingly grittiness includes the qualities of pluck and pertinacity, even courage, and of course occasionally some dirt.  Initially having the courage to say what you think is hard because we often deceive ourselves; we’re out of touch with ourselves. The ambition to rise to certain so-called higher standards can effectively erase our actual status, not to mention disparage us from thinking it has any merit in the first place. While it is often fear which prompts us to mask our thoughts publicly, seldom is that fear so privately overwhelming that it defeats our real intentions and preferences.  The fact is that our inner passions (even if we’re not fully aware of them) are normally so strong that they direct us in spite of our gloss.

The vernacular within which each of us operates is always unique. It sounds simple to say that but it is perfectly tautological and nonetheless forceful in spite of its obvious logic. It is after all the very feature which makes us each a portrait. The background, heritage, education and occupation of each of us contributes to our own manner of expression.  In that context we must nevertheless remain faithful to the thoughts and mannerisms which percolate within us.  No amount of superficial behaviour will distort the reality of our inner sensibilities, but not giving voice to those sensibilities will certainly diminish the quality of what we say and do.  We must not speak through cupped hands over our mouths; we must speak loud and clear.

Tapping into that well of thoughts, emotions and experiences is naturally a significant part of the talent in finding one’s voice.  It is probably equally important to discover not only what one wants to say but also how one wants to say it.  As a gross example, consider that some people find it far easier to be themselves through music or dance.  The artistic mode of expression can be critical. Fortunately for me I like to think that writing is perhaps the most diverse type of artistic expression because it isn’t for example tied to any one instrument nor does it require a particular athletic ability. It is technically possible to get away with a great lack of talent when it comes to writing (assuming the way it is said is captivating).  Grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure are not critical.  I suppose one might argue that music can tolerate a lot of technical amateurism as well but most of us have more proficiency with writing than we do with a musical instrument.  Anyway what matters is that one chooses a vehicle for self-expression, whether it is writing, music or stand-up comedy.  Once that decision is made, the hard part is what we do and say to fill in the words and notes.

The simplest answer of course is to be yourself.  After all it is axiomatic that we likely know ourselves better than anything else so we should per force be able to launch ourselves from that starting point. Essentially talk about what you know.  There isn’t any research required and you probably won’t be called upon to prove any of it. Here however is where the problems begin.  Granted, we know stuff.  But having the boldness to say it the way we feel it is quite another story.  First, there’s that concern that what we feel is somehow discounted, not up to standards.  Second, we may not prefer to advertise what we feel either because it is too revealing or because it may implicate us in less than desirable prejudices or behaviour.  It may mean we simply sound dumb or shallow or unsophisticated.

Here it is important to understand that there is nothing about human behaviour which can be disregarded as secondary; there is little if anything that hasn’t been heard before; and revelation and prejudices are what make a story interesting (from which I always exclude mere prurient interests because that has nothing to do with self-expression, just voyeurism).  Basically this comes back to the fact that each of us is a very singular package.  Finding one’s voice is all about unwrapping that package.  Again it’s a matter of getting hold of one’s own ideas without allowing oneself to be either confounded or cajoled by exterior influences.