Friday, July 31, 2015

Back into the frying-pan

This time last week I was very successfully not thinking about clients,  business, or my new play as I spent time with my family relaxing in the relatively cool Maine weather. When we were not at the beach, eating lobster, or visiting historical sites and lighthouses, I immersed myself reading the much-ballyhooed Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I found it fascinating! As a playwright who spends a fair amount of time constructing back stories and unfolding the histories of my characters, I could not wait to see what Ms. Lee's original concept of "Scout" Finch and her father Atticus were. And when I compared them to the characters they became, later-yet-earlier, in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, I truly felt that I learned a lot about the process of a literary genius!

Snapping out of my creative reverie on the ride home last Sunday, I tried to catch up on the news. As we drove south and the temperature soared, I was delighted to read an important article in The Guardian by feminist author Naomi Wolfe urging young women to stop engaging in the distracting and destructive practice of vocal fry. I cheered and mentally tipped my hat to Ms. Wolfe. In her article she reinforced what I have been telling clients for years. A sample: "Voice remains political at work as well. A Catalyst study found that self-advocacy skills correlate to workplace status and pay more directly than merit. In other words, speaking well is better for your career than working hard."

But in the days that followed, a backlash to her sound reasoning gathered steam. It has perplexed and dismayed me. Some read Wolfe's practical advice (to strengthen your voice and so reclaim it) as silencing those voices. Well, if Wolfe is a stifler of voice, then so am I. I  advise all my clients and students--men and women--to kick to vocal fry habit. This gravelly sound may sound sexy or grown-up to your inner ear, but to those listening it sounds as if you a) just don't care or b) might be ill. Telling young people on their way up the career ladder to eliminate a bad habit (experts say vocal fry is usage problem, not a physiological one) seems like a smart plan to me.

I know that voice is intensely personal. It is one of the tools we use to signify to the world who we are. I work with my clients to help them polish up their existing vocal tool kit, so they can maximize their vocal potential. I would never attempt to throw out anyone's personal toolbox and replace it with something that is inauthentic. But remember: you need to use the right tool for the job.

I don't care how much you creak or fry or wallow in the gravel when you speak privately or socially. But if you are a client of mine, young or old, male or female, I will certainly help you eliminate that sound from your professional and public speaking. Because I know I am not alone in experiencing a fingernails-on-the blackboard visceral response when I hear it. Consequently, I don't/can't listen to people who do it.  Which is a sure-fire way, regardless of age or gender, to silence your own voice.