“Voice” in writing is one of those things that’s easy to define but hard to describe. It’s an amalgamation of vocabulary, style, tone, cadence, and rhythm. In other words, all the things used to describe someone’s speaking voice but translated to the page in a way that it comes across through silent letters. Read enough of one person’s work and you’ll start to detect their voice in new works, even if they change the subject matter, style, or context.
Since I’ve started writing books, I’ve had several people tell me they hear my voice in every word. They may not know me in person, or not heard my voice in ages if they do. It’s always the same though- “I really love your voice. Reading your book feels like I’m listening to you talk straight to me.”
That means a lot to me because it means that I’ve created something that accurately represents me and who I am. It means I’ll have left a bit of myself behind when I die.
Dealing with Certainty
Everyone chill out, I’m not in danger. If anything, I’m doing better on the depression front than I have in a while. Depression never quite goes away, but you do get better at recognizing it, naming it, and coping with its presence.
This isn’t going to be about existential terror either. Death is quite literally the only certainty we have in this world. The details, however- where, when, how, under what conditions- are all up in the air. Writers, artists, and philosophers have duked it out for millennia over whether or not death is the curse of humanity- an unknowable but certain terror that we can only feebly procrastinate- or a gift in that it relieves us of endless lives of ennui and allows us the illusion that anything can be “forever.”
I’ve been wondering about what will happen after I die since I was about 14. I think every teenager gets to that point in their lives where they’re familiar with the idea of mortality and have seen enough life and pain to wonder “What will it be like when I die? Will anyone miss me? Will anyone know I existed?” Pretty much every philosophical or religious doctrine has its theories on the matter, but I’m not going to get into all those.
Instead, I’m going to tell you what I did to answer these questions: I started writing, I started teaching others, and I try to be a kind person.
When people talk about legacies, they tend to think in somewhat narrow terms. They think of old people working out their wills, starting philanthropic organizations… in general, they think about inheritances and money. They’re not wrong- it’s hard to imagine any parent not wanting to leave some of what they worked for all their lives to their children, or to give it back to a world that gave them so much.
The truth is, however, that you are crafting your legacy every day. Every hour, every minute. Every interaction with another soul is an opportunity to decide the kind of legacy you want to leave.
The Endgame and the Aftergame
Back when I was in college, I took a course called “Psychological Aspects of Death and Dying.” It sounded interesting to my morbid brain at the time. I had just had a close brush with death the summer before, and it felt like I might as well get a grade for learning to get a better handle on the aftermath. One of the first questions the professor asked us was “What, in your opinion, is the best way to die?” Mine, in brief, was a quiet, satisfied, peaceful moment alone. I imagined at that time that I had wrapped up any loose ends from my life, removed all complications, sent any kids I had off to live their own lives, and got to have one last quiet moment in the morning sun before I just dozed off and never woke up again.
Any of us can only hope we go out that nicely. At this point, I’m not sure I’ll ever even have kids. This also happened before I had a wife, and this happy little fantasy would necessitate her either A. Dying first, or B. Finding my peaceful little corpse camped out in the door of the beach shack that I also imagined I would have in this last grand exit.
Semi-morbid fantasies aside, I decided to address the things I could expect to carry on after me- what I leave behind, and how people remember me. I was already a writer then- a frankly over-emotive poet with a fondness for Kerouac, Silverstein, Frost, and Service- but except for a collection of poems that may or may not ever see the light of day I didn’t have much else to endure the sand of time. I had friends, thankfully, and they remembered good times with me. They remembered me as a good decent person and had funny stories to tell about me. I made sure of it. This was college after all.
It wasn’t until I started this blog and heard back from people about what it meant to them that I realized my legacy might be a bit more than a couple moth-eaten poetry journals. As a baker, I learned enough that I could teach others and they and my coworkers would always remember what this crazy guy named Matt taught them about life in the kitchen ages ago.
Of course, I also have a wife now. I have a community of friends and family that love and know me and have stories to tell. Maybe they’ll remember my kindness or my humor. They might just remember my presence near them.
Thanks to having finally written my books though, someone- maybe even someone whom I’ve never met- will know that a baker named Matt existed. They’ll know what he sounded like, what he thought about the world, and what he loved and wanted more than anything.
The Rest of the Story
My friend Robert Attwood asked a bunch of us recently what we’d like to build in the world of hospitality if money and time were no object. Previously, I’d have stuck my my old answer of “A pie shop in a small community where I’d be known as ‘Matt the Baker’ or ‘Matt the Pie Guy’ and just know a quiet, happy life doing what I loved.” Recently, I’ve realized I want just a little more than that:
I’d like my writing to be read by others- possibly used as texts for culinary students. After traveling the world, I’d love to come back to that small community and be ‘Matt the Baker’- but I’d want to hire kids that loved food and wanted to be bakers themselves, then do sales to send them to culinary school. Then, maybe years after I’m gone, an old baker will be standing at his bench with a student and say “Yeah, my old mentor Chef Matt showed me this. He was a great guy- he wrote a couple of books and gave me my start.”
I might take that over the beach shack.