POV: Voices.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

POV ("point of view") is a series that addresses many of the same themes covered in my Equals Record column: growing up, saying yes to adventure, learning to embrace a quarter-life crisis. Each POV entry will include a photograph and a short reflection based on what’s pictured. While my previous column focused largely on ideas, POV will focus on moments - glimpses, glances, tiny stories.

At age four, I developed a stutter, without warning and seemingly overnight. I went from a soft-spoken little girl who enunciated plainly and precisely in two languages – English and cat– to a soft-spoken little girl who, despite her best efforts, just couldn’t get the words out.

I remember trying. 

Sometimes, when I’m home for the holidays, we spend an evening watching old family videos - grainy films of times I remember only vaguely, as if they were out-of-body experiences: my brother and me, opening Christmas gifts; blowing out birthday candles; playing on the rusted rocking horse in the backyard.

In one, my dad is taping me as I assemble a dinner of plastic play foods for my mom, whose recent arrival home from work has me beaming with excitement. “Tell mom what you ate today,” my dad says from behind the lens.

“Ch-ch-ch-cheese puffs,” I reply. 

It always makes us laugh.


Weeks ago, my friends and I saw Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times, in conversation with Ken Auletta as part of this year’s New Yorker Festival. She was brilliant, of course. But within the first five minutes of the interview, it became clear that she had the habit of elongating the final syllables of her sentences: editorrrr, paperrrr, Syriaaaa.

When it was over, we all had our opinions of it. Some found it exasperating. I thought it was enormously endearing.

As someone who conducts interviews for a living, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to listen to my own voice more than I’d like. Without fail, every time I play back a recording of a conversation, I think: Do I really sound like that?

When I was first starting, I was stunned – and horrified – to find that I spoke so slowly that I sounded stoned; that I often validated a subject’s answer to a question with the word “totally”; that my voice seemed to rise an octave when I was nervous, which only made it acutely obvious that I was flustered.

It forced me to think about how I was coming across to others in a way that I hadn’t before. I wanted to hear my voice and think, now that’s a confident person. That’s the way an adult sounds. Instead, more often than not, I heard a little girl, trying to mask an impediment.


Shortly after my stutter appeared, my parents met with the director of my nursery school, who suspected that the change might be due to a larger emotional issue. She was right: after talking things over with me, my parents discovered I was upset about having been left out of a decision about a family trip (which, as it happens, I don’t remember). In any case, my stutter was a symptom of my frustration, and, once revealed, it disappeared almost as quickly as it surfaced.

As a writer, my voice – both written and vocalized – is as important to me as a runner’s legs or a painter’s hands. Expressing myself through speech isn’t something I’ve always done particularly well, but I have found that eccentricities – vocal or otherwise – have the power to captivate as much as they do to make us cringe.

This summer, I interviewed a stylist at his home in Brooklyn. Seated in his living room, we discussed his opinions on fashion and design over coffee and pastries, but our conversation was continuously interrupted by his large - and extremely friendly - dog, who, perhaps smelling the coconut oil I'd used as lotion that morning, felt compelled to lick my arms and legs. In the recording, my questions and his answers are interrupted with frequent scoldings on his end, and incessant giggling on mine. I remember thinking I'd hate listening to it later - I've always felt self-conscious about that childish giggle. But there was a conversation to be had. So I left the tape running.

You can find my previous POV entries, here. Thank you so much for reading! 


Rose said...

You are a cutie! :)Thanks for this post - it made me think.

I'm with you. I want to be much more conscious about how I come across to people. I want to be taken seriously and listened to. My mom recently told me that I didn't speak until I turned 2 - they thought something was wrong with me. Then, out of nowhere, I started speaking in full sentences. Maybe the reasons were similar to why you stuttered?

Lately, when I don't feel the confidence that backs up what I want to say, I don't speak at all. I'm learning to wait and listen instead of filling up space. :) It's been interesting.

Have a great day Shoko, and thanks again for the inspiring post.

max said...

such a beautiful voice you have. thank you for always sharing it in so many different ways.

Anonymous said...

beautiful, as always.

Shoko said...

Rose, that's so interesting! And I love what you said about waiting to speak rather than filling up space - I think that's so wise.

Max and Anon, thank you :)

eileen ragan | leaner by the lake said...

Voice is such an interesting thing. I recently met one of my blog friends in real life for the first time and it was sort of mind blowing to put voice to words that I'd been reading for a year. It felt like an entire side of her to get to know...

Natalie said...

You are cute as a button in that photo. Nice of you to remind me that flaws can actually be endearing.

Camila Faria said...

I always think my voice sounds weird on answering machines, recordings... Listening to ourselves is a kind of outer body experience, don't you think?

Paw! said...

Love your voice, in person and in print. and otherwise, elsewhere, and everywhere.

girlseeksplace said...

I tend to be shy in meetings or other similar situations. I get nervous about speaking up, that my ideas won't be well received. I don't know how to overcome it, though. I need to work it, especially since I want to go into a field that's going to require me to meet with and talk to people all the time. I will likely never enjoy the sounds of my own voice - I sound really nasally and sick on recordings.

Raquel R. said...

The past and present coexist beautifully in your words.

angela said...

I am sure you have a lovely voice!

Shoko said...

Thank you all so much for your very sweet words!

Eileen, I know exactly what you mean - that's happened to me before, too!

Camila, definitely.

Jocy said...

Love this post, as usual. I've been thinking a lot about my voice lately, how it has changed, how it needs to adapt to the fora I'm in, how I can water it, nurture it to grow, and, how in this city where I currently live and in my line of work, people do tend to fill up a lot of empty space with their words.

Shoko said...

Jocy, so beautifully said.


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