I know I have a "unique voice."
But I can count on one hand how many people I know who can stand listening to their own voice. (That is not saying there aren't those guys who seem to love talking just to hear the sound of their own voice; but if you literally played it back to them--they'd cringe and crawl under the sofa.)
When I was in the 3rd grade, I was chosen to be in some experimental speech/voice therapy at our school. They tried for many weeks to raise the pitch of my voice by having me go up and down the do-re-mi scales until I hit one that they thought sounded pleasing. I had a deep, true contralto voice somewhere a few notes below "do." With the sort of rasping, old-chain-smoker undertones of a freckled Billie Holiday. The experimenters settled on "fa." For 20 minutes three times a week, I got to leave Ms. Foster's third grade classroom and go to the convent living room where I would sing "do-re-mi-fa" and say and sing everything at the "fa" pitch.
This was in the days when experiments on children without their parents' knowledge was just what you did and I think my mother was one of the reasons that shit stopped. When she got wind of their efforts, she rang the school up and gave them a voice lesson of her own. "You leave her voice alone--you hear??? I've got three other daughters with high-pitched, whiny voices and I don't need any more." she threatened. (That wasn't entirely true--my sisters do have soprano voices, but 'whiny' may have been an exaggeration used for effect.)
As a freelance writer, I discovered right away that people love to say that a "unique voice" was a good thing. This is horse shit. Unless you were a literary star, rank-and-file writers matched a publication's tone and audience tastes and editorial calendar openings--end of story. If you couldn't do that, they had no use for you. This was okay with me; it gave me a framework to push against and a tone I could mock.
That may have changed somewhat with the rise of the "internet content" writer, or the "blogosphere," but in practice, it's not much different than any other time where the outlying voice shouted in the wilderness or the renegades labored, unseen, in obscurity. And unpaid.
I was an outlier then and I'm an outlier now. The difference was, I could fake it a bit better then.
I'm not as compelled anymore now that I have my own "Publish" button.
|Cup is Half Full--yes. Note Bandaids and Dribble.|
Still when people blather those bromides about "expressing my unique voice," or "being myself," I'm nearly certain they don't mean it.
I know I will most likely never be featured in one of those "Inspirational" blogging anthologies: my politics aren't fashionable, neither is my language; it's either too vulgar, too archaic, or too verbose. Finally, my images simply don't fit into current, trendy categories such as: "Crisp + Clipped = Hipster Mod," "Mauve, Misty & Moody", "Gratitude with Groovy Gray-Tones" or "Soft-Focus 'n' Sentimental."
Yeah--I drink a lot of coffee too, but I almost never think of photographing my chipped-edged cups with my hands wrapped gratefully around them--my raggedy ass cuticles are always scabby and the lumpy scar tissue on my lips always causes a rather disgusting, not to mention, un-photogenic dribble down the side.
Yeah--my children are handsome and funny and amazing, too. But they're teenagers now and will immediately stop being funny and amazing the instant you open the camera app on your phone.
If I even think about it.
I'm usually either so overwhelmed by what's happening in front of my face that it almost never occurs to me to put a camera up between it and the thing that is happening, or I'm in my own little fantasy world where no camera can penetrate. Later, I'll think: oh, yeah--that would have been a really awesome image, but by then, it's too late. You can try and re-make it, reassemble the pieces, try and sketch it, but I'm already distracted by some metaphorical squirrel in my cerebral front yard.
And anyway, I know that they're lying about how great it is "to be totally you." They still want to shut you up if they don't happen to like or approve of "you."
So, as the lapses between my various blog entries indicate, I am increasingly quiet. Oh, sure, I love to put a funny, absurd quip out there on social media--to press a dull knife to what hurts and write obliquely about things that get on my nerves because I can't stand to defend myself anymore. But in my changing life, which is increasingly lived on a farm in rural Kentucky, which includes more art and less writing, I observe more. Listen more: to the animals on my farm (did you know geese actually snore like the Three Stooges? Honk, Snerr, Mimimi.) To the growing riot of craziness, nastiness, and discontent out there. Sometimes we don't all need to add our voice to every conversation.
Or, at least, we can start our own little conversations. With people who don't think you need to change your tone.