Tag Archives: voice

I Can Barely Say a Word. It’s an Interesting Situation.

voice-300x200 (1)I lost my voice.

I woke up with a sore throat, then gave two long talks, back to back, at a conference and then — wham, my voice went out.

I thought it would be back this morning, but no luck. My sister and I were supposed to record an episode of our podcast, but that just wasn’t possible. When I told my husband I was going to try, he laughed. “You’re not recording anything today,” he said.

It doesn’t hurt when I try to talk — but practically nothing comes out.

It’s been a very interesting exercise in silence and listening. For instance, when I walked my younger daughter to this school this morning, it seemed odd not to chat. We often walk for several blocks in silence, but this time, we walked in silence the whole way. It was a companionable silence, but it wasn’t as companionable as talking.

On the other hand, she told me, “It’s very calming, your whispering. It’s like being in yoga. I feel like harps should be playing.” So that’s nice, I guess.

I’ve also realized how much I talk to my puppy Barnaby. I hope he doesn’t think I’m angry at him; I’m not saying a word, when usually I talk to him quite a bit — which I’d never realized.

This morning, I was on a conference call, and I explained by email ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to talk much. I thought that I might listen more acutely, given that I wasn’t talking, but to my surprise, I found it harder to listen. It’s like knowing that you’re going to be called on in class — you pay more attention when you know you might be put on the spot. Because I knew no one would expect me to participate, I felt less pressure, so I had to work harder to stay focused.

One hilarious thing: when I have to talk, it’s much easier to whisper, and people always whisper back to me! Apparently it’s very tough to speak in a normal voice to someone who’s whispering.

It has been interesting, if involuntary, experience, but I sure hope my voice is back tomorrow.

Have you ever lost your voice? How did the silence and the listening affect you?


Also …

4tendencies-blue2-300x321Do you love to take quizzes that teach you more about yourself? I sure do. If you’d like to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, take the Four Tendencies Quiz. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken it.



Other posts you might be interested in . . .

Why Your Voice Matters and How to it Get Heard

girlOver the course of my life I have been given certain “gifts” that have forced me to step into the arena of life. I’m a firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, and if we don’t step up and use our experiences as catapults for change and growth then we’re throwing away opportunities to touch and heal other people with similar challenges.

Over the past year I made a conscious choice to step out and speak my truth around my battle with Cancer and the loss of my marriage. My sole intention has been to be honest and authentic about my struggles and imperfections with the hope that my story will inspire and heal the many people who suffer silently.

For most of my life I have stayed silent to avoid feeling wounded, but now my voice has become my medicine, and a necessary part of my survival.

Last week I took a risk with a blog I posted online. It was a very vulnerable and heartfelt blog that I was really excited to share because I truly felt it would resonate with so many people struggling with similar feelings.

While I have posted plenty of vulnerable blogs in the past, this particular post left me feeling like I had stepped up onto a podium completely naked. The minute I hit submit, I wanted to take it down.

While I’m well aware and prepared to encounter naysayers and haters that post provocative comments, somehow the few attacks that immediately showed up below the post rattled me. After the first comment my instinct was to contact the website to ask if they could take the post offline. I felt completely powerless, and like I was standing in front of a firing squad waiting for the next bullet to be fired. I panicked, tried to defend myself, and then had an incredible feeling of wanting to run away to another country.

I was completely enveloped in shame.

I know from working on myself and learning about vulnerability from my mentor Brene Brown that I put myself at risk for shame when I share my imperfections with the world. It’s a conscious choice (and risk) I want to take. I just never thought it could feel so awful.

The hardest blow came from a comment that held the implication that as a therapist I should have “known better”, and that I shouldn’t be dealing with this kind of “problem” in the first place. Apparently there are people out there who think that being a therapist and being human are mutually exclusive. The truth is that it would be impossible to do the work I do without acknowledging my faults and mistakes.

I’ve learned more from my own life than I could ever learn in school.

I share this story with you because I want you to know that we need your voice. It’s lonely out here in the arena of life, and while I know it’s terrifying to show up in this way, we need more people to stand tall in the face of imperfection and vulnerability.

This is particularly true when it comes to the stigmatized and shame ridden experience of divorce and disease.

I realize that when people aren’t ready to play in the game of life, they sit on the sidelines yelling at the players without really knowing what it’s like to be out there. When it comes to my I own life, I would rather be in the game and get injured, than to never know what it’s like to play.

Here are 3 easy ways to make a difference with your voice:

  1. Comment on posts that impact you. Whether it’s negative or positive, your opinion and voice matter and will invoke change. How many times have you thought about something you read, but didn’t respond to it? Keeping your thoughts and ideas to yourself is like holding onto a life preserver while watching someone drown.
  2. Override the discomfort of being seen with being heard. Many of us don’t want to draw attention to ourselves so we stay in the shadows hoping not to get noticed. Remember that it’s not about you; it’s about your message. Your words are more powerful than you could ever be, so don’t let your personal insecurities get in the way of what you have to say.
  3. Share a quote or words from another source when you don’t trust your own voice. It’s less risky to speak through someone else’s voice, so vicariously sharing in this way is awesome as long as it truly represents your point. Use a quote or affirmation to express yourself. Think of it as a form of ventriloquism.

Mindy Kaling’s Rules For Writing in a “Voice Checklist.”

mindy-kaling-mindy-projectI’m a huge fan of Mindy Kaling. She is one of the geniuses behind one of my very favorite TV shows, The Office–and also played the great character, Kelly Kapoor. I love her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). And I’m looking forward to binge-watching her newish TV show, The Mindy Project. (Added bonus: I love anything that’s an “___ Project.”)

Mindy Kaling also gave one of my favorite happiness interviews here. One great passage: “When I was 18 years old, I took a semester off from college and was an intern at Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was the most glamorous job I ever had, and I idolized the writers there. I remember lying in bed every night telling myself that if I ever got a job as a comedy writer, I would be so happy and all my dreams would have come true. Six years later I got that job, working on The Office. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for a about a week, and then a whole new set of complaints set in. This would’ve shocked and disgusted my 18-year-old self. It’s helpful to remember the younger version of me because it reminds me to feel grateful when I want to be snotty.”

Mindy Kaling was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly this week, and the accompanying article included “Mindy’s Rules for Writing,” which is the “voice checklist” that hangs in her writers’ room. “The truth is,” she explained, “it’s much easier to write a bunch of mean zingers.”

Characters are helpful and kind.

No one is a moron.

Characters are polite.

Conflict should never come from a desire to be cruel or mean.

Do not fear nuance. Comedy from avoiding conflict, not instigating it.

Characters don’t have to be maxed out to be funny.

To me, this list also suggests how TV writers can avoid cliche. We’re also so familiar with the tired stock characters, the broad insults, the unrealistically extreme behavior that falls into the same patterns. These kinds of rules make it fresh.

What do you think of these rules?

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Also …

  • Are you reading Happier at Home or The Happiness Project in a book group? Email me if you’d like the one-page discussion guide. Or if you’re reading it in a spirituality book club, a Bible study group, or the like, email me for the spirituality one-page discussion guide.

Embodiment, Voice and Literature: From ‘Women Doing Literary Things’

From Stories are Good Medicine:


 ‘Women Doing Literary Things’ is a fantastic new blog dedicated to exploring the role of women in the literary world. This week’s featured essay was mine. I’m so proud and humbled to be adding my thoughts to this collective space honoring women writers, readers, teachers, publishers, editors, and activists.

What is the connection between voice and the body?

As a daughter of Indian immigrants to the U.S., it was novels, essays, plays and poems – the ‘literary things’ of this blog’s title – which introduced me to myself. I remember reading Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones for the first time and thinking, “This is what it is to be a young brown girl in America. This is what it is to be me.” Marshall’s words were not my exact experience, to be sure, but they gave me a space, a recognition, a permission to be.

From Rabindranath Tagore to Sharon Olds, from Alice Walker to Salman Rushdie – authors of various personal, political and national bodies all taught me to better understand my own. Like looking in a mirror – or use an image from Rushdie – like peering into a stream of stories, the voices of these writers taught me how to live within my own skin. They introduced me to my own face.

In my academic work – teaching illness and disability memoirs, thinking about the connections between narration, health, and social justice – I often make the connection between voice and body for my students. In particular, I am interested in the political act of speaking from, about and through marginalized bodies. Ill bodies, disabled bodies, female bodies, immigrant bodies, bodies of color, working bodies, queer bodies, trans bodies – we are all told to be quiet, and in so doing, uphold the tyranny of the ‘normal’ and ‘normative.’

To read the rest of this post click here.


Story Rx: Is Achieving a YA Voice That Important Afterall?

From Stories are Good Medicine:

Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.

              –Shakespeare, MacBeth, Act IV, Scene 3
We’ve all heard it. There are three crucial ingredients to any YA novel:

1. Voice.

2. Voice.

3. And oh, yea, did I mention — voice?

Since I’ve ventured into the brand new and exciting world of children’s literature, I’ve heard this focus on the voice in writing time and time again. Voice of course refers to how engagingly a tale is told. But it also means hitting that correct note so that your writing will connect with your readers. For a writer of young adult fiction, this means finding your inner teen voice. Which, unless you are actually a young adult yourself (think S.E. Hinton, or, for a modern day non-novelist, Taylor Swift), ain’t always that easy.

Recommendations on how to go about this vary tremendously – from listening to popular song lyrics, to hanging out in school cafeterias, to reading lots of children’s novels, to eavesdropping in Starbucks. Meg Cabot, author of the tremendously popular Princess Diaries books among others, is known for dropping popular culture references in her writing, while Prinz award winner Libba Bray writes faboo paragraphs like the following (from Going Bovine):

The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World… I know what you’re thinking: WTF? Who dies at Disney World? It’s full of spinning teacups and magical princesses and big-assed chipmunks walking around waving like it’s absolutely normal for jumbo-sized stuffed animals to come to life and pose for photo ops. Like, seriously. (p.1-2) 

Sure, Libba Bray uses phrases like "WTF" and "Like, seriously" in the above sentences… but when we step back and think about it, do these authors really sound like teens? The fabulous combos of Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares) and John Green & David Levithan (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) write teen voices that are smart, edgy, witty, brilliant and, quite honestly, a little not-teen-like.  Consider the following dialogue from Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares between the main character Dash and Lily’s 80 year old aunt, whom they call Mrs. Basil E:

"I need to gauge your intentions," she said, "before I can allow you to dillydally with my niece."

"I assure you I have neither dillying nor dallying on my mind," I replied, "I simply want to met her. In person. You see, we’ve been — "

She raised her hand to cut me off. "I am aware of your epistolary flirtation. Which is all well and good – as long as it’s well and good. Before I ask you some questions, perhaps you would like some tea?"

"That would depend on what kind of tea you were offering."

"So diffident! Suppose it was Earl Grey." (p.150-151)

The ensuing banter about various kinds of tea is one of my absolute favorite passages I’ve read this year. And yet, can I imagine a teen engaging in said banter – nonetheless said references to dillying and dallying or Earl Grey? Maybe not.

But does it really matter? And here, I’m not arguing that YA writers should NOT sound like teens. Not at all. Rather, I’m wondering aloud what the purpose of YA literature is for teens altogether. And if YA literature, like any form of literature, in fact seeks to illuminate otherwise internalized experiences, giving form and texture to that which would otherwise remain hidden, maybe it doesn’t need to sound exactly like every inarticulate teen. Because if it did, it wouldn’t accomplish it’s goal, which is to narrate all those difficult, gushy, mixed-up, confusing feelings and experiences that probably feel utterly un-narratable to most young people.

The other evening, I had the honor of guest teaching a class on the YA novel to a Teacher’s College seminar on Narrative Medicine and Secondary School Students. I had assigned Laurie Halsie Anderson’s Speak, a book with whose voice the students struggled. Many felt it sounded too much "like an adult" rather than "a teen." Until one of the students told us how, as a teacher, she really didn’t like the book when she had assigned it to her high school students, but was surprised to find her students loved it. We tried to dissect what this could be about – an adult who thinks the book sounds inauthentic, but a teen relating utterly to it. And then one of the other students explained it perfectly. "I can imagine," she said, "a teenager looking at this paragraph and saying, ‘yea, that’s it! that’s exactly what I was feeling!’ Maybe this kind of writing gives kids the words to say what they couldn’t otherwise." Interestingly, the paragraph she was referring to is all about ‘giving words’ to experiences (from p. 9):  

It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing your feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.

In a world where teens are still silenced, where their voices are not given the space to sing out, perhaps it is the responsibility of YA literature to provide (sorrow) words. And not in the sense of ventriloquism, but in that magical way that all literature can help you find that part of yourself you never knew you were searching for. The way that I can still open a book and blush, or have my heart race, wondering if the writer somehow knew my innermost experiences or thoughts. The way I can quite literally see myself in the bodies and lives of characters on a page (all the characters quoted above) – characters who are ostensibly nothing like me, but who are, really.

Maybe authenticity of (teen) voice doesn’t matter as much as just plain old authenticity – that ineffable ability of literature to connect with our lives. To give words. To be both a mirror and a place of aspiration and imagination.

What do you think?

Vocal Harmonics and Transformation

The use of vocal harmonics as a sacred and transformation tool all but vanished here in the West.  In some of the Mystery Schools that survived, there has been continued knowledge of the power of vowel sounds.  These vowel sounds have been understood to convey great energy and some realize that many of your Divine Names may be encoded as vowel sounds.  We will add one more key to this puzzle.  Inherent in each of the vowel sounds are particular harmonics.  So that if an individual were able to properly intone the vowel sound name of a deity so that the specific harmonic resonated, what you would have would be a melody.  In other words, when correctly intoned, these Divine Names as vowels would actually be sonic formulas that would resonate to the frequency of a particular deity. (CHINA OUT) A lama ...

All of this, has, for the most part, been forgotten in the Western traditions.  The use of vocal harmonics maintained itself in secret in certain Tibetan Monasteries, where the Tantric Colleges would stress specific harmonics in their chanting that was resonant with the particular deity they were working with.  In Mongolia and Tuva, overtone singing is known as "Hoomi" and became a powerful technique where the singers could easily create two or more notes at the same time.  The Tuvans and Mongolians were able to sing specific melodies with harmonics in this manner.  However, the sacred and shamanic knowledge of the uses of overtones became lost to these people (it was perhaps wiped from their memory during the time of Genghis Khan).  "Hoomi" became a folk art rather than a sacred art.  The esoteric uses of vocal harmonics disappeared and only the exoteric, or external folk music remained.

The Tibetans on the other hand seemed to be quite aware of the power of their sound as a sacred tool for manifesting energy.  When the Chinese invaded Tibet, (an abominable massacre of high consciousness), those Tibetan Buddhists who managed to escape began to make public some of the more arcane and hidden of their practices such as their "Deep Voice" chanting.    The Tibetans, incidentally, work with vocal harmonics in a very unusual way.  As we have said, there is an inter-relationship between the vowel sounds and harmonics.  One can simply begin to chant the vowel sounds in a specific way (this is related in detail in my book HEALING SOUNDS) and certain harmonics will evolve.    

The Tibetan voice is very different.  It is an extremely deep, guttural sound that is as low as is humanly possibly.  For those of you who know the Australian Aboriginal Didjeridu, the Tibetan Deep Voice sounds much like that.  Now, this sound of the Tibetans creates a chord–that very deep undertone, plus very distinct harmonics, so that it often sounds like a children’s choir singing along with these impossibly deep bass voices.  This chord created by Tibetan chanting is monumental.  It invokes dieties.   And it can create Merkabhas.    As a friend of ours, Sean (as channeled through Kaimora) remarked, "It is a voice that can summon the ships".   The  Tibetan Deep Voice can create  inter-dimensional fields through which beings can travel.  The Tibetan sound is a very "off world" sound, from an ancient celestial source.  It was given to a high Tibetan lama many centuries ago in dreamtime.   Along with its extraterrestial and multi-dimensional focus,   the  Tibetan Deep Voice is  also an aspect of the creational tone–the embodiment of the low frequency sounds that manifested the physical plane.   The Didjeridu creates a similar sound.  So do certain whale sounds.  It is one of the most powerful tones for resonating with the energies of Gaia.

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

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