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Finding Your Voice – Telling Your Story

Stephanie Koehler
Stephanie Koehler

It’s often the most unexpected experiences that send me reeling.

On a whim I found myself at a Sunday afternoon screening of “It Might Get Loud”, a documentary about three electric guitar virtuosos – The Edge (U2), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), and Jack White (The White Stripes).  Aside from my appreciation for their unbelievable musical talent, it was a powerful story about how a seemingly unimportant event in your childhood can completely give your life direction and purpose.

As I listened to each one talk about their relationship with music and very first instrument, I was struck by a consistent message.  These men – each from a different generation – used this collection of wood, metal and strings to tell their own life story.  Stories of weakness and strength – anger and love.  Stories of tremendous conflict and profound peace.  The guitar was their voice.

This idea ran though me like a shock wave.  What was my story?  How do I tell it?  What tools do I use?  I found myself evaluating everyone around me…what was the “instrument” they used to tell their story?  Are they…

–  a writer who uses words?

– a dancer who speaks through movement?

– a singer who uses songs?

– an architect who designs buildings?

– an artist who uses clay or paint?

– or a musician who tells their story through a guitar, piano, cello or violin?

These three men knew the exact moment when it all “clicked” for them.  They each knew the exact moment that had changed the trajectory of their lives.  It was powerful…and thought provoking.

Music has always been an anchor for me and serves as an outlet for emotion – but words are my instrument.  I always had pencils, paper, crayons and typewriters . . . So when was that moment for me?  When did I KNOW that words were my tool?

People have asked me that many times:  when did you know you were a writer?  I could never answer the question.  I simply didn’t know — and it always troubled me.

Suddenly, on this random Sunday in the Grandin Theater, it hit me with such clarity.  I remembered the exact moment and it gave me an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and gratitude.

I have told this story a million times – but the significance has always been lost.

I was 17 years old and it involved a boy (doesn’t it always?) – a musician to be exact.  I had found words to express my emotions and had scratched them on a piece of white lined notebook paper.  I had written countless poems and stories, but for the first time in my life I was willing to share them.  We were friends and shared a love of live music.  I had watched him lovingly hold his guitar and had experienced his voice as it poured off the strings.  Surely he would understand. Clutching the paper in my hand, I excitedly went over to his house.

As I stood on the porch, I suddenly realized the vulnerability was too much – so I hid the paper in my grip.  I chickened out.  I turned to run and in a flurry of high heels and rain-drenched stairs I was down for the count.  Face first.  Concrete landing — and scars to prove it.

It wasn’t until days later that I realized amidst the humiliation, trauma, blood and stitches — I had dropped the paper.  And it wasn’t until months later at my high school graduation ceremony that I heard those words played back to me in a song.

That exact moment was my validation.  I was a writer.

Many years have passed and I have long since lost track of that friend.  But I can still see him – standing on a porch in upstate New York, guitar flung over his shoulder.  I am only sorry that I was never able to tell him how he helped me find my voice and how he gave me the instrument with which to tell my story.

By Stephanie Koehler
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