One Voice

I am fascinated by human voices: all ages, all kinds, all accents, all timbres. I love hearing the sounds infants and toddlers make on their way to speech. In the nursing home where I have been visiting for the last two plus weeks, the staff frequently speak Spanish to each other, which my ear automatically tunes into even though I speak no Spanish. Maybe that is because people’s voices change depending on the language they are speaking, which I am always interested to hear.

The saddest “empty nest” sort of day I ever had, as a parent, was the day my youngest child’s voice changed, and I realized that voice was gone forever.

I am far, far more an auditory than a visual person.

I did not care for the sound of my own voice when I first heard it as an adult. This is a very common thing: the sound inside our heads and the one the ambient environment gets are just different. For some reason known only to heaven, when I first did a recording of one of my own poems for this site, I had the world’s worst Irish accent.

I am about as Irish as a bowl of Pad Thai. I do really like Yeats, though.

When it comes to how I speak, I have been made fun of all my life for my tendency to use words that “no one has ever heard of”. I have always loved words as much for their sound as for their meaning, and any word I happened on that combined a unique sound with a shade or connotation not elsewhere found was destined to show up in my speech.

Them, age 14: You must sleep with a dictionary.
Me, same age: Depends on how meretricious your mom is feeling.

If they had known what I meant, there might have been more trouble. The inclusion of the word “mom” was enough to clue them in, though.

I work with some of the brightest people I’ve ever known, and I still get called out on my word choices. I don’t do it consciously. I just talk and words come out.

Two of the “Cheer Pepper” (Nano Poblano) posts that have struck me most forcefully this month are by Renee Robbins and Ra Avis, both about issues they encounter because they speak quickly. I have actually spoken to the latter, and it never struck me that she speaks faster than usual. My impression of her has always been that she sounds wicked smart.

Of all the “talents” I may possess, the one that my wife marvels at the most (in terms of how often she comments on it) is that I can understand what almost anyone of any age is saying to me, in spite of cadence, accent, age, or anything else. I think this is part of being so sound-oriented. It has come in handy at a nursing home these last few weeks.

But back to the posts referenced above. Making fun of people for the way they talk is one of the surest signs, on the part of the person making fun, of a limited intellect and even more limited empathy. It is identical, in my mind, to making fun of people for how they look — in other words, it is the lowest of the low kind of behavior.

We all have one voice, and it is not just part of us, it is us. Each individual human being is a type of music, with her or his own rhythm and cadence. Accents, dialects, inflections… each one of those things is the product of thousands of different life experiences. So when you disrespect someone’s voice, you aren’t just disrespecting the “them” you meet, you are disrespecting their history.

So be proud of your voice. It has taken you all of this time to get it, and that has not been easy. And it is a good voice, the only one quite like it in all the world.

One day, a sound came in the world
Like none that came before;
Its waves would travel far and wide
To this and every shore —

The music of an inner life
Made outer into sound,
And though its beauty was but heard
By those who were around,

Know this: that you were born to make
Such waves upon this earth
As make the waters heavenly
As you have been

Since birth

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5 Thoughts to “One Voice

  1. I was bullied at school for being a nerd and part of it stemmed from using long words. Like you, I just love the sound of some words (antidisestablishmentarianism springs to mind – delicious!) but it just wasn’t appreciated when I was 11 or 12! Great post :O) x

  2. This is beautiful. 🙂

    I frequently forget a person’s name. I often remember their birthday. And if I’ve heard them speak, I will remember their voice forever.

  3. Oh, I so agree. I hated my recorded voice when first I heard it. I still do, if I’m honest, but it is what it is, and no amount of dislike is going to change it. I love words too, and it pains me greatly that nowadays folk are not concerned that they use incorrect spelling, or grammar.

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