More about the work.
My voice, my choice.
If there were one term for my services, it would be "voice": I help you find and use your true one. “Wait a minute,” I imagine part of you saying. “Am I not already using that? My voice is my voice—how can you say it’s not my true voice? Sounds fishy. You don’t even know me, never heard me…” And so on.
And you know what, maybe you’re right. Maybe you already feel authentic, relaxed, truthful, even playful when you talk…and your friends, colleagues, and people you meet all get the same joyous vibe. Excellent! Spend your money and your time on some other self-improvement project…like learning the local lichens…or Peloton…
But what if there’s a part of you that goes, “I wonder if he’s right”?
A part of you that’s open to the statement, “My voice is my choice.”
How would this be better? Well, what if your voice and your ability to express or represent yourself aren’t as strong or as persuasive as you’d like? Maybe there’ve been some opportunities or performances where you know things could’ve gone better, and it’s the tenth or twentieth time you’ve known that. This is when “voice/choice” becomes your friend, because that which has been chosen can be un-chosen, and new, more productive choices can be made.
Want some evidence that we choose our voices? (If you have, or work with, children I’ll be telling you some things you already know.) Let's go back a little in time or space, to any U.S. playground or schoolyard where children under about age eight are working on the rules (that's a lot of what they do; maybe 80% of it). Can you hear them? It's loud, it's quick as thought or slow as feeling, and each speaker is uniquely identifiable by timbre, pitch, pace, invention, and usually intention. It's a display of social exchange riveting for its variety and its unselfconsciousness. So now let's move this same fresh mob down the tracks to sixth or seventh grade. The sounds are different, and it isn't solely because of age-related laryngeal changes: they have begun to design and use new vocal identities, which I’ll call masks. When finished, with few exceptions or alterations, they will wear these masks for the rest of their lives. Boys, girls, and the non-binary will limit pitch ranges from whatever lowest notes they can achieve to somewhere around the middle; tops will disappear. They will change the way they breathe when they speak. They will limit volume. They will avoid variety and seek sameness. They will constrain the full healthy timbre of their vocal cords in favor of a whisper, a grind, or the glottal fry we hear in (especially female or female-presenting) NPR announcers. And they will choose models of vocal identity (masks) from among their favorite performers and copy them. And guess what? These models themselves are usually masking....
The adolescent fears that drive us to hide, change, and then destroy the map to our original vocal identities are strong. When laughter or teasing is directed at that tender area, it’s gonna be nothing but squid ink from then through high school. All ink, no squid. Or we will NEVER get a date....
And, over time, people forget. They forget their original vocal identities and mistake the mask for the true voice. Perhaps in cultures that valorize vocal freedom (as in much of the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa) this isn’t a problem. Where expression, pitch, and breath are tightly controlled, though, there will be losses in passion, engagement, and authenticity. And fun, of course.
"Okay," you say, "I'd like some of that. Where would we begin?" With a look at goals, says I. Masks are worn for disguise, camouflage, and impersonation. For safety. They may be quite nice masks; many of us put a lot of energy into mask design and maintenance. But if your goal is to truly show up, to show up as you, with as much courage, presence, and inspiration as possible (excellent goal! GOOOAALLLL!!!!!! as futból announcer Andrés Cantor says), you might want to take a peek behind the mask.
FORTUNATELY!...it can be done. We don’t review your adolescent trauma. We take a nuts-and-bolts approach to breath, vocal apparatus (cords and larynx), and speech-structures (tongue, mouth, lips). After a while, you find yourself making sound as your maker made you. (Presumably, this pleases your maker. Your audiences will enjoy it, too.) I won’t pretend that this is an unemotional achievement. People have been known to experience profound relief and joy when they stop doing something they didn’t know they were doing (masking) and start speaking like…themselves.
A bit of a callback here to my homepage claim that I listen to you better than you (can) listen to yourself. This is where it’s proved: in this process I will be hearing things, calling your attention to them, and proceeding with you along a path I know to a kind of homecoming. Fun work.
We've been using "voice" here to mean your literal speaking and singing instrument. I also use the term in reference to your other voices. There's voice in your body language. There's voice in your writing. There's voice in your face. There's voice in your actions. For each of these, there are masks. And, for each mask, there are costs and benefits to analyze, goals to investigate, and paths to walk together toward useful change.
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. Oscar Wilde