“Remember the Alamo” has two primary connotations, depending on the audience. It’s either a jingoistic rallying cry, a justification for the incursion of white settlers into Spanish-held territory. Or, if you’re a certain kind of Texan, it’s a reminder of the nobility of sacrifice, when things are worth fighting for.
Not being Texan myself, nor a believer in the peculiarly American kind of Manifest Destiny, I fall into the former category.
When I saw the Alamo for the first time last week, I imagined a dusty church and crumbling walls, surrounded by a flat, baking desert. Defying expectations, it’s actually in downtown San Antonio, steps away from the lush, manicured Riverwalk.
It’s also a beautiful relic. It was originally a mission, converted into a garrison when military needs overtook religious ones. If it weren’t for the crowds and traffic, it would be tranquil.
I got a chance to see the Alamo while visiting San Antonio for Paradise Lost, a writing workshop for journeyman authors. I reconnected with friends I met at Viable Paradise back in 2012 (yes, five years ago, say it ain’t so), and met so many new ones.
Judged on the quality of the stories I was assigned to critique, I knew I would be dealing with some very talented people, but it astonished me how much expertise there was in the oddly-configured Drury hotel we occupied. A paleontologist; an electrical engineer; an historian, who regaled us with her rendition of the “come and take it!” story of the Alamo battle. As a web developer, my expertise is transient and ephemeral. The hot new framework of 2015 won’t be the one for 2017, as my department discovered recently about AngularJS.
Time and again, the theme of identity came up in our critiques and in the staff lectures. How do you brand based on your sense of identity? What layers of identity can you apply to your characterization? How does your identity suit your writing style?
Unlike aggressive nationalism or cannons, I believe that identity is worth fighting for. And yet I haven’t fought for one big part of my identity, the one which I flew to San Antonio on red-eye flights to pursue: my passion for writing genre fiction. Sure, I’m a writer in the broader sense, writing homilies, essays, poetry more recently, but I’ve neglected my creative pursuits, the stories that I dream of showing to others in print someday.
A conversation with a friend in the San Antonio airport after the event shook me. I had been asking about imposter syndrome, a curse that afflicts nearly every writer. We both knew successful writers who had to struggle to find their niche. But I had no idea how hard it had been for our successful friends to find their voice.
The authorial voice is our most prized skill, and finding our voice can only happen after we’ve mastered the basics of our craft. That voice is tied directly to our life experience, and it’s only through experiencing heartache and frustration that we uncover it. To borrow a phrase from Jaye Wells, one of the staff writers, our wounds form the core of our identity, and our voice is an extension of that.
My best stories are about childhood trauma, religion, environmentalism. My writing style is a direct result of my education, my social status, and every person I have ever interacted with. It’s not just the butterfly effect; the butterfly must fly through the storm that its wings have inadvertently created.
And I had found my voice somewhere between Viable Paradise, hiking around Martha’s Vineyard, and in San Antonio, baking under a Texas sun at the Alamo.
I’m disappointed that I haven’t been fighting for my voice. Imposter syndrome will tell you that your worth as a writer is to match or exceed the success of your peers. Depression will tell you that your efforts will never amount to anything.
A writer’s worth is their unique voice. Every act of art using that voice is a small miracle, no matter who’s around to see it.
Obviously, I have some practical concerns. I have a good story in need of some fixes, and my marketing skills amount to someone printing a story on blurry photocopies and handing them to passers-by in a bank. The good news is, Paradise Lost gave me skills to help with my shortcomings.
But for every Twitter egg telling me to shut up, for every evening when the world seems to be burning down around me and I want to curl up under a blanket, for every thought that there are enough writers so why bother:
This is my voice. Come and take it, asshole.