Too soft?

It’s something that baffles me. And comes up again and again. To some, it seems, I have a soft voice.

I’ve read and heard accounts of this. Never mind the context. And, from what I’ve gathered, being stuck in my skin the way I am and unable to view myself from an outside perspective, my voice is softest when I’m troubled or a bit unsteady. Not so, I can assure, when I’m angry. Although, when I’m truly angry, it becomes sharp, focused and unyielding — a laser beam of pointed words that skewer. Except in intimate situations, when I often clam up while my thoughts race ahead. (Working on the last one; residue — still — from married life.)

But back to the softy thing. I’m always stunned by this. I think of myself as a presence and, when I choose to engage, I’m seldom ignored. I’ve spoken in front of groups, classrooms, on live TV, in newsrooms (where, sometimes, you’ve got to practically shout to be heard), for audio projects and, of course, one-on-one, my admitted favorite way to communicate, save writing.

But today, as I donned my scribe hat for a Well Arts Voices of Our Elders writing workshop, I was asked to introduce myself. Granted, my graying audience didn’t have the sharpest hearing — although their memories were — but it stuns when I’m asked to speak up because I’m talking too softly. Especially when I think I’m using my projecting voice.

I’m hunching on something here. I’m hunching, that since I most enjoy an engaging and fully-present one-on-one conversation or interview (not that I don’t enjoy lively, although small talk, while necessary, can drain for its smallness), maybe that softness in my voice is what creates the capacity for the kind of intimacy I enjoy. The stuff that’s not loud and boisterous, but soft and supple.

No one complains about the softness of my voice during a conversation. Or interview. And I remember Dad’s voice sinking, sometimes dropping below my hearing range. Yes, sometimes I asked him to speak up, complaining to him that I couldn’t hear. And, other times, I just moved closer to him.

The conversation with the elder went just fine, once we got past the room introductions. Loved this exercise, too: The workshop leader played The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” asked the elders to listen and then tell their scribes whatever story that song evoked. One woman boogied from her chair, clutched her heart and proclaimed being in love while listening to the tune. I could see the young girl emerge, if just for a moment. And the lifted hearts seemed to stay afloat during the rest of the session. Including with my elder, who shared stories of a New York pool and her transistor radio, which blared the song.



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