Thursday, February 26, 2015

Voice Over

 You didn't give much thought to the matter of hearing voices until Rachel told you she heard voices.  After all, she was your mentor.  Perhaps mentors heard voices.  Perhaps this was something you should look into.

Not that you had much time to do so.  Rachel asked you if you heard voices.  The effect was similar to the running gag on the Jack Benny radio program, where Jack Benny, out for an evening stroll, is accosted by the actor, Sheldon Leonard, portraying a burglar.  "Your money or your life?"

Long pause.  The sort of long pause only Benny or his pal, George Burns, could ride off into the sunset.  At length, "Well?"

And the punch line from Benny:  "I'm thinking.  I'm thinking."

"Perfectly alright if you don't hear voices,"  Rachel told you.  "Some writers see things.  They write down the things they see."

At the time, you were in your twenties, meaning there was not all that much of your life to flash past your eyes as you faced what seemed the death situation.  You were not at that moment aware of hearing voices or seeing apparitions.  This could have spoken to your fear that you were too literal to be any kind of a writer.  What kind of writer were you if you neither heard voices nor saw apparitions.

Saved by the bell, as it were, when you heard a loud voice saying, "Tell her you hear voices."

Voices, you said, and she said that's what she'd have guessed about you.  For a time, you had to be content with that one, "Tell her you hear voices."  That's all there was.  You'd catch yourself listening, trying to hear more, sometimes thinking you'd had a breakthrough only to discover you were hearing some of the things you'd had to commit to memory, things such as the Preamble to the Constitution.  Listening for a story and getting, "We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union--" was not comforting.  

While you were concentrating, listening, sometimes acting on whatever ambient lyrics rang through the karaoke of your mind, you began to notice things written about writers who impressed you.  Eudora Welty found her voice in--  Mark Twain found his voice in--Carson McCullers found her voice--  Writers all about you had found or were finding their voices, all of this leading you to the fearful conclusion you were never going to be anything like the writer you hoped to be because now you not only could not plot, you had no voice.

When you thought about your experiences in public speaking classes, you often had to make some effort to focus on a subject as remote as possible from public speaking because the results were so dismal.  

One public speaking teacher told you she was so in awe of your ability to say "Rubber baby buggy bumpers" over and over, your speed increasing with each round, and your developing skill set with "Are you copper-bottomimg 'em, my man? No, I'm aluminiuming 'um, mum," that she was giving you the grade of B, but you had to promise you would not sign up for the second part of the course.

Today, voices and all, is in many ways a mystery.  Having spent time looking for your voice, you went off the trail on many occasions.  Not until a student once asked you what to do if you came up with a voice you didn't like were you, in the act of preparing an answer, able to develop a strategy that worked.  You were not crazy about the voice you had then, probably because you were hearing so many at once that the aggregate tended to shout down the one you wanted most to hear.

The care and feeding of a voice is a precarious venture; there are so many splendid voices out there, seeming to be able to tell story with no obstacle.  There are times when you wish to incorporate them all, knowing in advance that would sound awful.  The best you can think to do is read the books and journals in which these voices appear, trying to sound them for effect and music and drama as you read, trying to capture the individuality the way you seem to be able to do with so many jazz musicians.

Much is written and said about the beauty of artful narrative, things such as how elevating some writers and their stories are, as well as things about how they seem to illuminate the dark, unexamined places of the human psyche.  You have no quarrel with such views, but for you there is a lingering, painful presence in the beauty, the pain of the individual writer, striving to achieve beauty unfettered by pain, striving, and always falling a tad short.

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