The Real Thing

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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When I was seven, I wanted to be Phyllis because she had the prettiest voice in the choir. At fifteen, I wanted to be Kathy because she looked like a flower blossom, and I looked like an asparagus stalk. At thirty, I wanted to be every pregnant woman I saw because I couldn’t conceive.

At forty, the tables began to turn. To get out with a Ph.D. in British Literature, no one could escape a particular professor, a Sphinx who guarded the road and killed anyone who answered the question incorrectly. Students gathered around the seminar table every week, quaking as he ranted, judged, and shriveled those who dared open their mouths. The first assignment was a watershed. Deciding I was probably doomed no matter what, I wrote the best paper I could and held my breath when he started handing the papers back with strong critiques. By the time he got to the “W”s, I needed a bottle of Tums and fresh deodorant. He picked up my paper and said, "Mrs. Williams has fulfilled the assignment exactly as I had hoped."

For once, I was glad I was me. I'd been true to myself.

James Weldon Johnson portrays God bending over the soft mud of a riverbed, fashioning Adam in his big, warm hands. I picture God shaping and creating each of us like that. As he breathes life into our clay bodies, he gives us unique gifts—to this one the voice of a lark, to another beauty, to another a warm personality like a hearth, to another a glittering mind.

My goal as a teacher of creative writing is to help each student find his or her unique voice. "There are no wrong answers in this class," I tell them. Recently I assigned the students to take a passage from literature and rewrite it in their words, making it their own. One of my most brilliant students rewrote James Joyce and added a note at the end: "A very poor rendition of a great piece of literature." What she couldn’t see—and what I had to stress to her—was that her piece was unique and beautiful; it possessed charm all its own, a cleanness and simplicity that marked it as great in its own right. She is well on her way to telling her own stories in her own voice.

Psychologists’ offices are filled with people whose parents or other authority figures tried to force them to imitate someone else’s life. It won’t work. We cannot come home to the God-shaped place inside ourselves until we are living the lives God intended us to live, using the gifts He gave us to use.

It’s no good to write someone else’s story. It’s no good to sing someone else’s song. When we are true to ourselves as God made us, we can hear the voice of Him who created the sun and the stars and the earth speaking deep in our souls, saying, "That’s good."
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