There was a time, long before cell phones, answering machines, cassette recorders, and other devices, when most people were shocked when they heard their own voices. It wasn’t because of the technology; it’s just that hearing their own voices by a combination of direct propagation, reflection, and bone conduction had distorted what they thought they sounded like.
At age 16, I was lucky enough to get a job as a part-time weekend radio disc jockey. There, I further fine-tuned my diction and vocal timbre to try to sound professional. I think the few years I spent on that small radio station taught me more about my own voice — and about my own capabilities — than most any other job I’ve ever had.
I’ve done a lot of voice-over work recently, from lending my voice to Wheatstone’s marketing and how-to videos to the occasional ad, narration, or trailer. I’ve listened to how I sound in other areas of my life, too: on social media, in correspondence, and in conversations with friends, associates, and co-workers. And in doing so, I’ve had a reaction not entirely unlike those people of the 1960s.
That isn’t me.
I’ve lost my voice.
Oh, the timbre and the inflection and the mannerisms sound a lot like me. The pitch is right. The vocabulary and pronunciation are uncannily similar. But I know that can’t be me.
My words lash out at those who have wronged me with incisive, vicious anger wrapped in pseudo-clever wit and eloquence. People throw rocks at me and instead of taking it like a man, I throw rocks right back at them, only mine are wrapped in silk. That isn’t me.
Sarcasm and cynicism and dark disbelief seem to have become the predominant flavors of my utterances to myself, to my friends, to everyone. You can hear it even when I’m not conscious of it. I trust nothing, believe in nothing, make fun of everything. I’m not an insult comic, am I? That’s not me.
My opinions on so many subjects seem to be singularly at odds with what good, compassionate people feel and know. I sound like a grumpy old man, clinging to the views he’s held all his life, left in a lull by the shifting winds of social change. I complain, I bitch, I whine, and I sound like a jerk. That isn’t me, is it? No, it can’t be.
Falling intonation. So many things in life have kicked me in the tuchus that every sentence I speak seems to end in the falling intonation of a sorrowful funeral director. The losses and the grief that are locked inside me are constantly looking for ways to unleash their power over me, and my tone falls. I used to know exactly how to put a smile in my voice — I could make you HEAR me smiling! So this disconsolate voice can’t be mine.
And the profanity! My God, I get so frustrated — with other drivers, with recalcitrant computer equipment, with co-workers, with our pets’ poor manners, with my computers, my body, my work, my soul my heart my anxiety my inadequacy my isolation my ineptitude my mood my powerlessness my EVERYTHING that my sentences filled with vulgar invective just go on and on until my lungs are empty and I trail off … trail off … shit.
Where is my voice? Where did it go?
And where am I?