I recently went to a writing workshop where the guest speaker encouraged every writer to put away "that negative voice." That negative voice, according to her, is the voice that tells you that you aren't talented enough, that no one wants to read your story, that you'll never be published, etc. It's the voice that creeps up on you as you stare at the computer screen too afraid to pull out the words that are just bursting from your soul.
I looked around me in that room of 15 persons and saw heads nodding vigorously. I nodded, too, but I wasn't really feeling her words. I don't have such an articulate negative voice. The negative voice in my head sounds more like a chicken.
It started when I was little, like six or seven years old. I was with my classmates on a playground and we were comparing jokes or stories, or something like that, and I said something that I thought was relevant and funny, but it fell flat. And all around me I saw the faces of my peers turn into sneers and frowns.
The sound wasn't coming from them, it was coming from me -- inside my head. I quickly shut up and contemplated that chicken voice.
This would continue through my adolescent years -- especially my adolescent years. In fact, the chicken voice would precede my own words. Self-conscious and yearning to be accepted, I was nervous each time I spoke up to say something witty, and the anxiety of it all would create a clucking chaos in my head. The result would be something like this, "And so um, like yesterday -- BWOK! Like I went back home bok!bok!BWAAAAk! And like my dog, oh my god --BWOK!-- he was like sleeping on his back and bok!bok!bok!bok! and my dog, like I said he was like um sleeping on his back..." It would be painful to even get through the simplest sentences.
Fast forward to being an adult and writing a book -- thank god I don't inadvertently type chicken noises in my stories, but there are times when I'm speaking with my editor and trying to justify why a character does or says something that that nasty chicken voice pops up.
"You see Drev has to say that because he's in love with Pamina but doesn't know it -- not yet." (BWOK!)
Editor continues, "I think you should shorten it. It drags."
(bok.bok.bok.) "Drags?" (BWAAAK!)
"Yeah, it doesn't push the story along."
I've never told anyone about my chicken. I had been waiting for someone to publicly acknowledge their chicken demon before I did. And then after their initial confession, I would step up and commiserate but not fully confess that I had a full blown chicken in my head. However, I recently discovered that such a situation wouldn't happen, because having a chicken in one's head is unusual.
A couple of weeks ago I was at Aunt Charlie's, waiting for a friend to get up on stage and sing in drag when a gentleman next to me explained his difficulty with self-confidence: How he just couldn't approach men, no matter how much he wanted to. He could talk to women fine. But when it came to the unfairer sex he was at a loss for words.
"You ever get that feeling? When the words ... they're just stifled, like they're being blocked by something?" he asked me.
I admit that I had had a drink and was not thinking clearly and assumed he was referring to his negative chicken.
"Yes," I said. "I've had this problem since I was a kid."
"Yeah, me, too."
"I call it the negative chicken."
"Oh, I get it. Like you're scared or something."
"No, it's a chicken sound that resonates in my head before and after I speak, and even sometimes when I'm speaking."
He pulled away from me and gave me a look like I was the craziest freak he ever met. Of all places! I was in a gay bar in the Tenderloin, waiting for men of all shapes and sizes to get up and sing in drag -- and I'm the freak?!
He raised his eyebrows, took a sip of his drink and walked away from the bar. That's when I knew that I'm one of the very few with a negative chicken. Or at least, one of the few brave enough to admit it.
Now that it's out in public, I invite you all to tell me about your negative chicken(s). It's okay if you have more than one, we're all here to support one another. My chicken happens to be a ginormous GMO mutant.
I'm opening this discussion for all of those who have suffered far too long in silence, ashamed of their poultry pests. Don't be shy, we'll stop the BWAK! together.