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Voice Training
I'm embarking on what may prove a quixotic venture, an attempt to change the way I speak. Being around my father so much in the past few months, I've been reminded of the fact that he can make the most innocuous question or comment sound agitated simply by the pitch of his voice. Mind you, he is worked up a good portion of the time and often over little things. But even when he is in a state of Zen-like contemplation, his voice can still make people think that he's angry or upset.

When I was a child, Honeymooners reruns were still running on a semi-regular basis on New York television. I found them unsettling, not only because of their appearance -- I Love Lucy looked HD by comparison -- but because the way the characters talked reminded me too much of the way my father and his family did. More recently, that same mode of conversation reappeared on Seinfeld as the default setting for George Costanza and his parents. By then I'd learned to laugh at the excess of agitation, perfectly distilled into the way his father would declaim, "Serenity now!"

The truth of the matter, though, is that I was really laughing at my own family and, by extension, myself. These days, however, that laughter rings false. I've spent over two decades with someone who, even though she enjoyed Seinfeld as much as I did, hears in my tone of voice the same tension I perceive in my father's. Even when I'm relatively calm, she thinks I'm upset or angry. And the same, increasingly, goes for my daughter.

That's why I'm undertaking the very difficult task of developing a "radio voice" for use around the house, one that projects confidence and ease. It will require incorporating the equivalent of the brief delay television networks use to catch slip-ups that will run afoul of the censor. I'm going to have to build a pause into my manner of speaking. But I'm willing to make the effort, not only because I need to reduce the level of anxiety around the house, but because I've never really liked my English-language speaking voice anyway. Ideally, I'll be able to borrow from the deeper, slower approach I developed when I learned German as an exchange student, one which led my friends there to discern in me a heretofore imperceptible mellowness.

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From: e4q Date: March 22nd, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 22nd, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
You're right! I have been paying attention.

Part of me worries, though, that going down the Buddhist path too far could prove counter-productive. I know that being "self-destructive" can be regarded as a good thing in that tradition. But the tendency to self-abnegation and letting things be I see in a lot of Buddhist teaching could bring out my tendency to put myself last, often with disastrous consequences, even if my ultimate goal should be selflessness.
From: e4q Date: March 22nd, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
naw. no need. there are buddhists who seem to do that, it's not really the middle way. practice metta. and always listen to teachers with nice voices. that's my advice.
From: e4q Date: March 22nd, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
(advice i should take myself, by the way)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 23rd, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's very good advice!
From: e4q Date: March 23rd, 2011 07:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i am never quite sure whether buddhists *tend* to develop nice voices or whether i just weed out the ones i don't like listening to...
st_ranger From: st_ranger Date: March 22nd, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Remember Buddhism is the "Middle Path" -- it isn't one of self-destruction. But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

I'm really impressed that you could have the insight into your own speech patterns and the effects they could have on others. That (and your speech itself) makes me really curious about your birth chart. Funny that you wrote this when Mercury, the planet of speech, was in the exaltation degree of the Sun in Aries, the planet of the Soul's journey. And Aries is nothing if not agitated and aggressive.

Know what a good exercise might be? I actually do this, though not as an exercise-- I just do it for fun. I actually do have a radio voice! I like to imitate my grandma's accent/voice (she was from Tennessee) so ever'-thing's noss n' sloaa, mah name buh-cums jay-mah (but much longer in pronunciation) -- just sort of imitate a slooooooow southern drawl while you're alone (I do it when I'm talking to the pets) and it's so soothin' awl tellll you!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 23rd, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks for your input! I was born May 6th, 1968, for what it's worth. And I have long been focused on language and expression, more generally. I had my chart done once, but the emphasis in the interpretation I received was primarily on how everything in it suggested that I had no interest or feel for money and that I was practically obsessed with diplomacy and mediating conflict.

I can't do "Southern" without feeling silly, but I'm trying really hard to speak in such a way that I'm registering the way my voice sounds, greatly increasing the intensity of the feedback loop. I've already had some pretty big slip-ups -- though none that led to conflict -- but have also had some clear moments of recognizing that I was trending towards that voice I'm trying to move beyond and redirecting myself before I reached that point.
st_ranger From: st_ranger Date: March 23rd, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Your chart's similar to mine in a lot of ways, although I need more info to pin it down. (Im May 10 1973, so we're not far apart in time.) The funny thing is you wrote this entry when Mercury, the planet of thinking, speech, and writing, was in the exaltation degree of the Sun, the planet of the Soul's Journey, which happens to be where your Saturn in Aries is-- Saturn at 19 Aries. Saturn represents the things that hold us back, which present blockages and challenges and also our father. And here you are telling us about your Saturn in Aries Dad who always sounds upset and how you want to practice sounding (Mercury) less like that, individuating (Sun) yourself. I can't pin down your Moon without a birth time and place because it's at the end of a sign... but boy are you Taurusy! I bet you have a much more pleasant voice than you think you have.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 22nd, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
This sounds like an interesting project, but also an extremely difficult and potentially problematic one. In particular, it seems likely that your daughter will notice the "brief delay" you refer to, and possible that to her your new tone will have a disconcertingly false ring. (After all, it can't be easy to project confidence and ease while remaining ever on your guard to prevent "slip-ups.") I can't help wondering whether you have discussed your plans with her, and thinking that it might be a good idea to do so.

I also second the suggestion that a Buddhism-derived mindfulness approach could be helpful. In addition to helping you stay aware of how you sound, over time such an approach might make a genuinely calm state of mind more readily available to you. (I gather that you do experience a substantial amount of tension much of the time, even if you aren't quite as stressed as your voice leads those around you to believe.) Buddhism really isn't about self-destruction in the ordinary sense of that term, but about overcoming the delusion that your "self" (or any aspect of your identity, personality, etc.) is a permanent, unchanging entity. Perhaps counterintuitively, a Buddhist perspective might actually help you to avoid putting yourself last, particularly if that is a tendency that has had negative consequences for you in the past. From what I've read on your blog I think it's exceedingly unlikely that you would ever be tempted become a Buddhist, but even so there may be elements of Buddhist doctrine and praxis that you would find useful.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 23rd, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I don't think my daughter -- or her mother -- will hear my new way of speaking, assuming I can continue to pull it off, as false, because it won't be inconsistent with what I'm feeling on the inside. Over and over I've found myself in tense situations because their perception of my tone doesn't match what I wish to convey. I used to chalk it up to my urban, East Coast manner of speaking -- inherited from my father -- but that explanation wasn't making things go more smoothly around the house.

You know, I've read a lot about Buddhism over the past decade and have tried to do some breathing work, if not full on zazen, at various junctures in that period. Certainly, thinking about Buddhism in general and Zen more specifically has done a lot for me in terms of managing my emotions, staying balanced etc. I don't think I will commit fully, which may be the same thing as saying that I don't think I'll commit at all, but I at least am open to learning from the tradition.
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