I'm reading a professional guide in Spanish for voice actors and singers, and it has been so unexpectedly useful. I'm learning stuff I didn't even know how to look for. Even better, though, I'm finding out what to do about some old, unfortunate habits.

No one tells you how to talk unless you're unintelligible. Most people are proficient at it without being told. But unfortunately, because we picked up the skill intuitively, it's easy enough for external pressures to screw it up. And if they do, we don't know exactly what has changed or how to correct it. This happened to me. I bet this happens to plenty of people. I'm writing this post because I have a story to share, and some new information that may be useful to more than just me.

The crux of what I learned is this: the more you're projecting, the less well you can hear yourself. The less you're projecting, the more your voice vibrates the small bones in your inner ear and resonates inside your own head. Everyone else hears what comes out of your mouth. Unless you're standing right in front of a wall (and outside of theater exercises, no one does this) what you're hearing is the part of your voice that doesn't leave your mouth. That's why it sounds different. That's why typically, the first reaction people have to hearing a recording of their own voice is "I don't sound like that."

My mom has complained that I have a shadow of a voice, a denatured, ethereal echo of myself. I can pinpoint exactly where and when I got it - in school. It goes back to a particular incident in first year. We were waiting in line, to use a water fountain or something, and I was singing Jingle Bells. The trouble is, I was singing inside the school building. When everyone else (everyone "normal," as my teacher probably saw it) was quietly talking amongst themselves. And it was April, to boot. She chewed me out. I somehow managed to stop singing, but it was so difficult. I had this song going in my head at full volume, and being told to be quiet was like being told to hold my breath. I found a solution. I found that I could expand the air in my mouth in such a way that I could hear the inside of my mouth. That done, I could sing so quietly that the slightest background noise covered the sound. No more getting in trouble for singing. But ... with the unintended consequence that too much of my voice stays in my mouth.

I didn't know about that. Almost no one talks about the different ways you can use or mutilate your voice, and most of the common knowledge is gibberish. You don't "project" your voice by singing from your stomach or your diaphragm. You talk or sing with your vocal chords. Period. Learning to increase your lung capacity and control your diaphragm gives you more and steadier air flow to work with. And in that sense, your voice is just like any other wind instrument: too little air produces a weak, strained sound. If you've seen the way little kids jump, shout, and run, it'll leave you with little doubt that they start out practicing efficient oxygenation techniques. One of the things my book stresses unequivocally is that the way people are taught to breathe in gym class, by lifting their shoulders and puffing up their chest, is probably the worst thing you can do. That's not a problem for me, but I can assure you, I have others. What does it say about our culture that most people were indoctrinated with a false technique for something as basic as air intake? I'll leave that to you.

The low grade exultance I'm feeling owes its existence to the fact that, now that I know what I'm doing, and what I want to be doing differently, I can change. I can look at a self-protecting, dysfunctional behavior that was mine for over a decade and a half and say "I've found something that serves me better." Because I have, and that's a relief and a success. It's the result of taking my education into my own hands (again) and discarding some of the noxious miseducation I was burdened with. I'm not a cheerful autodidact who forgets why I need to do this in the first place. If more of us blamed the guilty, rather than saying "well, I didn't fit the system," we would have closed the schools a long time ago. But for now, I'll be over here repairing something that's been wrong, and felt wrong, and I didn't know what to do about it. That 'be quiet' had a lot more power over me than it should have. And yet, more than feeling resentful, I'm overjoyed that this is something I can undo. No one can give me back the time I was compelled to spend in classrooms. No one can erase the stress, disappointment, or bad memories. I was a straight-A student, but I still hated it there. And the things that I *can* take into my own hands, like the queasy feeling that I never want to see another math problem in my life, take work and willpower to overcome. Even so, I prefer them. I'd rather have ten things that are going to be a pain in the ass to change, than two I never wanted, and still have to learn to live with.

The book that inspired this post is called Cómo Educar la Voz Hablada y Cantada, by Cristián Caballero. It's in its eleventh edition, and is a standard resource in Mexico City for everything from radio announcing to musical theater.

The other book I'd recommend, if you want a more exhaustive sense of why to close the schools and how to self-educate, is The Teenage Liberation Handbook, by Grace Llewellyn. Adults (or lifelong homeschoolers) evaluating the case against compulsory education might prefer something by John Holt, who takes a more theoretical approach. But for anyone who's been there recently, or is still in school ... Ms. Llewellyn is singing your pain with her words, and explains in full detail how to do something more rewarding with your life.
coffeevore: A woman holding her exposed wrist with a flower on it, pale and vulnerable in white lace linen clothes. (vulnerable)

From: [personal profile] coffeevore

Really, I have the exact opposite problem. I talk far more loudly than I think I do. Part of this is that my mother is even LOUDER. The other part is probably explained by some old home videos where she keeps calling me over to the video camera and demanding that I talk and sing for it louder. Wanting everything to be bigger, more showoffy, not letting me just go off and dance to the music in front of the mirror where I could see my skirt twirl around like I wanted to.

And the loudness of my voice has caused me to be misread, misunderstood, mis... everything. I think it's possible that one of the people I've been fighting with since I was a teenager, an old friend who now thinks I'm just cuh-razy ("what's HER problem?!") but is dating someone I care about... is actually just really sensitive to voice volume and thinks I'm yelling at him all the time. Plus, the fact that it's combined with terrible pressure to "put myself out there", has made me project as a highly extroverted, energetic person, which has made people wonder what's gone wrong when I then actually feel too shy/withdrawn/tired to spend time with them. I actually didn't even understand that I was shy until I was 25, because everyone kept telling me that it was impossible for me to be shy because I was so "loud and friendly", and I believed it, so I didn't know what my own problem was.

Jessica says my voice has gotten a lot quieter since I moved far away from my mom, but that I get loud again for a couple of weeks every time I go to visit her. And I still have problems. I'm not consistently quieter. I keep trying to work on it, but... it's hard.

There's so much I want to undo from my parents, as well as school. So it wouldn't have solved all my problems if I hadn't been in school... but school didn't help any of the problems I did have, and it created a lot more. I miss being five years old and not being perpetually frozen with fear that I'm saying or doing something horribly abnormal and thereby about to be humiliated. But yeah. I still wish I could have won the argument for homeschooling against my parents. It's just really hard to argue against "No, because we don't feel like doing it, and just because we said so," if "But I'm being abused daily and my life is so miserable I could die" doesn't already make the case.
coffeevore: A tousled-looking woman stirs coffee. (Default)

From: [personal profile] coffeevore

But that really isn't what you're comfortable being. (Anymore? I wonder if you'd be more extroverted if you hadn't had such awful experiences with other kids.)

Nah. Well, more so than I am for sure, but probably not totally. I've always been too inwardly-focused to really be that excited about playing with other kids. I mean, yeah, they could be fun, but I wanted to do my own thing my own way a lot, too.

Most likely, I would have evolved better strategies for acting like the level of introversion that I actually felt, rather than behaving like an extrovert until I exhausted myself and collapsed, leaving everyone to wonder what went wrong.

Hmm. Is it bothersome to anyone in your immediate family, or just something Jessica observes about you?

It's bothersome to her sometimes, yes, although she's gotten more used to it over time. And it's bothersome to me because it's dissonant with my identity and my preferred mode of expression. I don't feel like a loud person, and I kind of hate to admit that I am because I don't want to be. Like a 200-lb woman kind of hating to admit that she's fat, but she knows that she is.

Have you tried standing in front of a wall or in a corner, and then talking, so that your projected voice reaches your ears?

Nope. I was physically taught how to project (in drama class), not to listen for it. But I think I can tell when I'm doing it; the problem is more along the lines of habit correction, when I'm paying all my attention to what I'm talking about rather than how I'm saying it.

By the way, what they taught us (though I was probably doing it already) was more along the lines of visualisation. If you're on stage, you imagine your voice coming out and hitting the exit sign at the back of the theatre. (Or whatever else is there.) If you truly visualise this, and you talk from your diaphragm, maybe you will instinctively put your voice there. This is also how I learned to throw a ball: don't focus on the motions you are making, just make the ball be there, know it will be there, and your body will do its own calculations; but make sure it goes to that spot. (And I'm not that great at throwing a ball, but I'm better than I was before I started doing it that way.)

But knowing that they aren't automatically expected to write the curriculum and teach lessons does sometimes persuade parents, when the objection sincerely is "I don't have the time / energy / desire to be your teacher."

That may have been useful or it may not have... I'm still not sure how much of their objection was comprised of "I don't have the time/energy/desire", how much of it was "I don't trust the homeschooling/myself to give you a decent education", and how much of it was actually "I want you to be normal". Like their refusal to skip me to the end of elementary school when they moved me to the public school and said public school reacted with "omfgbbq, even our gifted program can't handle this kid". Because it would have been just such a terrible shame if I didn't have as "normal" an upbringing as possible, and keeping me at my own grade level was really going to actually give me that. I feel like it's so ironic, though, that I'm even less normal now (in particularly unhealthy ways) because of what I went through in school than if I'd managed to escape that trauma...

By the way, I think it's not that my parents wanted to be obeyed for their own sake, but they just thought that was the best way to not mess up. And I don't think they were actually particularly strict, either. They were like normal-level strict, I think. (It's just that a little bit goes much, much further with me than they ever noticed or were aware of.) The more obnoxious thing was just that they confused "we don't have to justify our authority to you" for "we don't have to explain anything to you for knowledge's sake, either".
coffeevore: A cat meowing up at people. (cat)

From: [personal profile] coffeevore

doesn't necessarily makes you an introvert

Well, being around people seems to drain my energy, and being alone restores it? I think pretty much any criteria you can find for "introversion", I match it. Except for one (which is a learned behaviour, not a feeling): my openness in talking about myself. And the reason I'm so open is that I have a habit of defensively talking about myself so that no one will ask me questions, so that I stay in control of what I reveal, because I'm a little bit frightened of/threatened by being asked questions.

Out of curiosity, which personal characteristics feel most dissonant to you?

Out of my whole personality? I don't think I could list them off the top of my head. Or if you mean "what's dissonant with being loud", well, I just... don't like it? I'd rather be quiet and observe, I'd rather not have to put myself out there, I'd rather not become a target for attention, I'd rather not have people think that I want attention, and quite frankly, I don't think it's very attractive of me either. --And, oh wait, I think I have it now. I'm more of a serious person than a comedic one, so I don't want to overdramatize; I want to accord things the proper amount of seriousness/respect. Being loud tends to read as "goofy, funny person" when I'd rather be "serious, thoughtful person". Of course, I have the silliness in me too, but not primarily. Also, for the past twenty years I've been struggling with depression, and it's harder to get people to understand that about you if you're always shouting in an excited-seeming way about stuff?

Like saying the average kid wears size ___ shoes, insisting on that size at the store, and then wondering why your kid's feet are deformed.

Yes, it's exactly like that. I'm sure that I would have been quirky anyway, but it would have been a more healthy sort of quirky that can deal more gracefully with "normal" people, rather than "completely broken and unsuitable for the 'normal' world".

In this country and age, I think expecting "because we said so" to be the final word is pretty strict.

Is it? I don't know if it is? I thought that was average, too? Mostly I say they weren't strict because the rules themselves were not strict, were very average; they let me do a lot of things that other kids' parents wouldn't let them do. And their punishments were neither severe nor inevitable. I seldom got punished beyond being yelled at (although that was dramatic and bad enough for me), and whenever punishment was decreed, it was retracted more often than not after my mom had like an hour to calm down (although she'd be grumpy and cross with me for days). She'd yell, "That's it, you're not going to [X]" and then when she was done being violently angry, she'd decide that that was too harsh and let me do it after all, and I'd get no punishment whatsoever. When I think of "strict parents", I think of parents who had harsh rules and actually punished their kids consistently? And mine were neither.
Edited Date: 2012-07-27 06:28 pm (UTC)