Questions and Answers

Susan Bono’s Tiny Lights website is  a good place to go any time of day or night.  Visit the site for writing prompts and creative companionship.  We are not alone.

The prompt on 11/15/2011 was, “What does it mean to have a voice?”

Gathering in Coloma for 2012 Seder

Gathering in Coloma for 2012 Seder

“Questions and Answers” by Rebecca Lawton

What does it mean to have a voice? I asked the night. It returned the screech of a passing owl. What does it mean to have a voice? The firs whispered wordlessly in windy chorus. What does it mean to have a voice? I asked the flames in my outdoor fireplace—they crackled and snapped as wood became ember. I asked the stars, too, which responded with cold and far-away silence.

I asked my sleeping husband, what does it mean to have a voice? His measured breath urged me to slumber and dream. I asked our cat, who yawned and watched me with night-vision eyes. I consulted my Merriam-Webster’s, which noted with authority, vox, sound, power.

I asked the characters in my short story in progress, what does it mean to have a voice? The protagonist, an author, replied, It means to write in your own words, from your singular perspective. Her husband, an outdoorsman, said, It means speak in your own words. Be yourself. Her son, an eight-year-old, said, it means you can talk. Her grandfather, an octogenarian, added, And that you are heard.

I asked the spirits, who I know are overhead, what do you think it means to have a voice? They replied with one word: sing.

Sing the tune you know, the words you are given. Sing in the key that suits your range. Sing with passion, with heart, with soul. Sing what you care about — sing what matters enough to get you out of bed in the morning, or in the middle of the night.

Sing about your losses. Sing your wins. Sing your love, your fear, your joy. Sing as if you could lose your voice tomorrow. Sing high, sing low, sing short, sing long. Sing daily. Sing weekly. Sing by yourself; sing with others. Sing with a harp; sing a capella. Sing out of tune; sing in perfect pitch. Sing about what you really, really care about, and you will bring something uniquely yours to the world.

That’s what it means to have a voice. So says my heart. It means to be as true to yourself as you can in your writing, your speech, your song. What emerges will be wholly original, without your even trying to be wholly original. What emerges will be your own special gift to literature, to music, to life.

And you will be heard—by yourself, by others. By the gods.

Rebecca Lawton is an author and natural scientist whose memoir, Reading Water: Lessons from the River, was a San Francisco Chronicle Bay Area Bestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. Recently she received her third nomination for a Pushcart Prize, for her short story “The Road to Bonanza” (read it at

For many years she was a whitewater guide in the West, guiding ten of her fourteen seasons on the Colorado in Grand Canyon. As a scientist she studies the transport of sediment in water, especially during wet storms.

She is working on a book about the Sacramento River for Heyday Press, and she is often up with the night. Visit her at


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