Once, when I was a young professor asked to speak in the Goshen College Afternoon Sabbatical lecture series, I was helped by an unexpected source–my five-year-old son Anthony. We had just returned from nine months in Haiti, where our family had led two groups of college students in a wonderful deep learning experience–an international service-learning program called the Study Service Term.
I talked to Anthony about the speech, something I did with both children after this experience, because I could count on them to say something I would not have thought of.
“Put your head closer, Mommie,” said Anthony, “and I can tell you what your imagination looks like.” Totally enchanted, I locked heads with my little sage. “It’s a farm,” he said. “It’s got cows and chickens in it.”
Yes, Anthony, you were right. Now, as you prepare to become a father to your own little boy, and I prepare to write a childhood memoir, this is the landscape that has called me.
Some day, I hope to take a set of pictures. One of Anthony and me looking at the mountains in our backyard (duplicating the first image above with a different set of mountains, almost 30 years later). One of Anthony and his son, whom we now call BBS (Baby Boy Showalter), due to arrive in this world in 24 days. One of BBS and his mother Chelsea. One of three generations of our whole family, looking at the mountains. Looking at farms. Looking at cows as they graze.
Yes, my imagination is populated with farms and cows and chickens. To find my writing voice, I have surrounded myself with icons of my youth:
This sign is now hanging in the alcove that leads from our first floor to the basement. It’s waiting for another icon to arrive–a mural-sized photo of cows under the Weeping Willow trees in our farm’s meadow–that will fill the far wall of the family room. The photographer of the large black-and-white photo was Grant Heilman, one of the foremost agricultural photographers in the world, whose business is centered in my hometown of Lititz, PA.
What do all these images have to do with the idea of voice, a writer’s voice, and especially a memoir writer’s voice? I’ll attempt to answer this question in subsequent posts.
In the meantime, what about you and your voice? If a little child put his or her head next to yours, what would your imagination look like? What images link to the sound of your own truest voice? Do you see a connection between the images that formed you in your youth and the “sound” of your voice on the page?