What Qualifies You to Speak?

This past Saturday, in an effort to both broaden my horizons and push my comfort zone, I attended an event with DWW, “Speaking Skills for Writers.”  I’m not going to go into the details of the event; one of the attendees already wrote a nice wrap up of the event in her own blog.  Also, the instructor, Linda Anger, said it’s best to be narrow and deep.  My high school English teacher had similar instructions: Less is More.

Instead, I’ll hone in on one of the earliest questions that stuck with me the most, and it’s this: What qualifies you to speak?

The question might have been slightly different–what gives you the authority to speak?–but I don’t think it was that, and no matter.  I felt my answer was weak–“because I have a voice”–and I couldn’t help but think that my sister has been interviewed several times on various women’s health issues because she is an Ob-Gyn, and my brothers have lectured at UM Dental School because they are dentists.  When am I going to publicly speak, much less as an authority, anytime soon? As a writer, I’m often either writing about myself (for personal essays), or interviewing the expert.  For that latter point, I’m obviously speaking/writing for the expert, working off of their authority, so to speak, to get across a message.  And for the former…well, I can get existential pretty fast.  Or, getting back to the original question: what qualifies me to speak?

My personal essays and blog ramblings basically cover mothering and, I guess, a periodic dip into light pop culture, housekeeping, and the topic of writing.  I ran across the quote that if you can’t be deep, be funny, and I do at times try to be just that: funny.  But I feel that I’m hardly an expert in any of these things (housekeeping? hah!), or that they are all that important (housekeeping? ho hum).

(Also, I’m pretty sure none of this post has been funny at all.  If this upsets you, here’s a joke: What kind of dinosaur likes waffles?  A trisyruptops.  You’re welcome.)

I’m certainly not an expert in parenting, and at this point would consider punching someone in the face for thinking that they are one.  Part of being a seasoned parent is to realize that at a certain point, we’re all winging it.

Still, in the vein of parenting, I know I have an experience that sets me apart, and the experience stinks.  I didn’t share this as part of my “getting to know you” exercise with my buddy, the gracious Lynn Cobb (ha ha, I’m all about gratuitous blogger linking here!).  I often don’t share this facet of my recent life story, and it’s this: that–ugg–I’m the parent of a child who went through chemotherapy for cancer (lymphoma.)  As this is now the second post where I mention this, I think it’s obvious I’m trying to figure out things like how and why I should add my voice to some sort of childhood-cancer awareness dialogue.  I’m not an expert, and some days I don’t even get my own experience, but I do know it gives me an immediate and real perspective.  I can speak/write because I have a voice, a voice which children don’t have.

*Okay, I have 4 kids having a play date right now, so I know they have voices, and I even know there are young authors, but they also have the inherent power limitations–ie: can’t vote, can’t speak with their dollars, etc.–that adults have.

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About Pets to Go

I'm a freelance writing who would like to know a little more about all the technicalities, bells, and whistles of things like WordPress!
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4 Responses to What Qualifies You to Speak?

  1. pamhoughton says:

    Hey Deb, I think you should explore that voice for children with cancer (and you have)…but understand the emotionality of it, too. So I also understand if you’d rather be funny. 🙂

  2. Pets to Go says:

    Pam,
    Thanks for commenting–I tried to respond earlier, but apparently it didn’t take. We’ll see how I explore the concept of voice for children (with cancer); definitely a possibility.

  3. Cindy La Ferle says:

    I agree with Pam’s comment — you need to give your voice to that cause. As an aside, I still struggle with that “what gives me authority” issue too. When I started writing personal columns and essays — back before we were all blogging — I always wondered if it was arrogant to be writing “first person” pieces. (Why would anyone would care what I had to say? Who was I to have a newspaper column?) Took me a while to get over it. Anyhoo, if you’ve had an experience and can share insight, there will always be someone else who will benefit from what you have to say. It’s good to remember, not always easy …

    • Pets to Go says:

      Thanks, Cindy, for the insight. Someone pointed out to me it’s just part of “writing what you know”, as opposed to exploiting situations (unless you create the situation for purposes of exploiting.) I have noticed other personal pieces in a pediatric oncology magazine share in a way that validates the breadth of emotions and responses parents/patients/siblings have, so evidently, others are willing to take the risk. There’s never that Staples “Easy” button, though, is there?

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