“Can you really just tell a story and create images inside of other people’s heads?” I asked
“Oh, yes. It’s easier than you think,” said the old man with the television valise.
It was a strange moment my dreams from last night.
That was followed up by an article in the New York Times about Apple’s in-house training programme where they specialize in teaching Apple style. I have never been a huge fan of Apple because they often seem to venerate style over substance, but the elemental Jobsian lesson that style is a powerful tool to build a following. Simplification does creates an elegance that makes it easy and desirable to brand yourself with those products, even if is always at least a bit reductionist, creating over-simplified and limited solutions.
I am very much aware that the biggest challenge for people in connecting with me is the fact that they see my work as abstruse, over-complicated, too twisty and just plain baffling. I know that Janet Mock isn’t wrong when she conveys the wisdom of herself and her editor: to communicate with people about transgender issues, you need to be at third grade level.
This is why I have never, ever tried to cultivate an audience for this blog. It is a place where I speak at my level, work to explain myself as clearly and fully as I can, not a place where I try and make my concepts and knowledge easily accessible to a broad audience.
To get what I need, though, to make a dent in the world, to gain people who want to follow me, that is what I need to do. I need a different voice that tells compelling stories people want to hear more of, a voice that builds visions of a different world in people’s imaginations, one where they see themselves and their possibilities in a different way.
I know that in one-to-one conversations with people, my language is quite different from what I use on this blog. I am looser, funnier, punctuating with characters, voices and stories, reflecting back what I hear in a way that lets people hear what they are saying in a whole different context. I take tangents, moving the conversation around the point at hand so we can come back to it from another direction, looking at it from an new and enlightening angle.
My approach is all about meeting the other person where they are, rather than trying to express where I am. I’m really good at this, as you have to be to be primary caretaker for people with Asbergers all your life. When I focus attention on other people, they feel seen, heard and valued, feel cared for even as I ask just the wrong question that sheds light on dark spots of their understanding of themselves. And I do all this with a sly wit that the universe uses on me, humour takes the sting out of a-ha! moments.
That approach doesn’t work well in writing, though. Marianne Williamson was first known for her presentations on ACIM, which were followed by a Q & A session. One of these was even mocked in Sex And The City. A publisher wanted her to create a book, but she told him she had no material. He had the perfect solution: just transcribe her presentations! Great idea, but when the verbal play and process was reduced to text, all the life went out of it. Devoid of her voice, nothing hung together, all the twists and backtracks and asides shredding into insensibility.
Words that seem like three dollar clunkers in writing, arcane, erudite and heavy, become part of my poetry in speech, their meaning evident and their sound continuing the flow. People who know my voice can hear it in my writing, but in my experience, few who just read my writing can imagine how playful and personal my voice is. My text comes alive when voice is added.
Target had the Samson Q2U recording pack for $59 in store, and when I saw it marked down 30% to $42, I thought about it. On the visit when the price had dropped to $18, though, 70% off, I knew it was meant for me, so I brought it home. It’s basically a high quality USB and XLR microphone, heavy metal that feels like an old and comfortable Shure, bundled with accessories.
Like any transwoman, I have always felt unsure about my voice as a woman. i don’t sound like what I want to sound like; I just don’t have the vocal hardware for that. Heck, some transwomen have even had surgery to raise their voices.
What I do have, though, is the effusive comments of two women judges at my first big out just two months after my parents died where I ended up presenting as a woman. They loved, loved, loved my voice on the PA system. Astounding.
It is so very, very hard to hear yourself as others hear you. For most people, the first time they heard their own voice on tape, they often recoil. Voice is performance, and all the nuances of that performance are often not considered.
I remember telling one of my staff that one way she could be more effective was to use her voice more strongly in meetings, as it is the one of the few tools we have.
“But I can’t sound like you!” she said.
“Nor would I want you to,” I agreed. “But you can listen to women whose voices you admire, maybe broadcasters, and learn from how they use their voice to communicate, to cajole, to convince, to connect.”
In the internet world of podcasts and videos, being effective with your voice is even more important. I listen to authors not primarily to hear their content, but to hear how they use their voice. I watch television shows to observe women expressing themselves in the world.
When I went to the transgender voice training introduction at St. Rose, Jack Pickering and I chatted. “I tend to use voice to talk about tone production,” he told me, “but you use voice as expressing meaning in the world.”
As a kid I used to do voice skits on the school PA system, much like the later “radio plays” another boss commented on. Then, though had a “thousand voices” as Faria the drama teacher said, I had trouble staying centred on one, instead getting drawn into the voices around me, shifting quickly.
“You have spoken for your mother. You have spoken for me. Now, speak for yourself,” as my father told me many times from the delirium of what was to be his death bed.
Can I really just tell a story and create images in people’s heads? Do I have the style to carry my substance, to draw people into a new vision? Can I stay in my own confident and feminine voice, no matter how easy it would be to just give people a voice they expect?
Can my voice be heard and valued in the world?