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  • Writer's picturetPoetics Lab Directors

Natalie Gilbert

"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." — Toni Morrison

As a child I did not really talk much- and by much, I mean not at all. While it seemed that every other child had already begun babbling their ABCs and stringing complex sentences along my parents were understandably anxious due to my delayed speech development, even though I was reaching physical milestones earlier or at least at the same pace as my peers. The doctor’s tried to reassure my distraught parents that they see this sort of thing was not entirely unusual for my age, and that even many famous individuals had been mute in childhood- including Albert. Why does everyone’s first example always come back to Albert Einstein? Even so, my parents remained mostly unconvinced. But like my doctors predicted within a short while I was able to talk like any other child except for the fact that most of the time when presented with social situations, especially at school or with peers, I developed something called selective mutism. Selective Mutism for me meant that I was incapable of speech in most social situations due to extreme social anxiety.

So, when I could not communicate with others, I found other ways to occupy my time. Most prominently reading, I loved reading more than almost anything. I would read five hours a day in second grade, I would skip recess so that I could sit inside the school library and read, and when the librarian would kick me out, I’d hide in my locker during recess with my superhero flashlight and my novel and I would read. I think the reason that I liked reading so much is because it allowed me to step inside someone else’s shoes and to see life from another totally unique perspective.

Fast forward to a year later, I am in third grade and we are assigned this interesting project in which students got to write their own short stories along with illustrations and then we would ‘publish’ them as a group in a collective class book.

I stared down at my mother across the table “But mom!” I lamented, “What do I even write about? Can’t you just tell me what to write?”

My mom smiled back at me and gave a warm chuckle, “It’s your story, you make the decisions.”

What I later came to find out is that she was exactly right. So, I turned in my story, which is still tucked away in my mother’s drawer to this day. And although it is undoubtedly the worse story I have ever written, even by third grade standards, it’s still my favorite. To me that story represents my realization that I am a master of my own story and that my voice is unique and deserves to be shared. Writing also gave me a way to communicate with others when my own voice failed me.

Today, I can thankfully say that I have long overcome my speech impediments and much to my parents’ surprise I have become quite extroverted. However, writing continues to hold an incredibly special place in my heart. When I am feeling stressed, anxious, upset, happy, exuberant it is the first thing I turn to. When I am restless at night and my thoughts are whirling a million miles an hour, I take out my pen and paper and I write, and I write, and I write some more. Writing has helped me in so many ways which is why I am deeply passionate about helping other writers find their unique voice. Outside of the Poetics Lab I also work as an outreach coordinator, senior staff writer, and podcast host for the Michigan Gayly where we uplift voices from the LGBTQ+ community at the University of Michigan.

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