… or mine.
I used to be very proud of my voice. I made a bit of money reading books for audio tapes in high school. For a few years I did the voice-over work for the training programs for the oil industry. But what is beautiful in one language isn’t always beautiful in another.
Only recently I realised – and I can tell you the moment I realised it – that sometime, over the course of the last 23 years, I’d become ashamed of my voice.
American: loud, sharp, harsh – cutting into the soft Norwegian melody. My tight vowels can’t reach the full tone of an ø or an æ.
Last week I attended a yoga class lead by an excellent instructor. But she was an American, and her attempts to pronounce the Norwegian sounds grated on my nerves. Whenever she slipped in a English word, I felt my body relax, but when she mispronounced yet another Norwegian word (as most of us will always do), I felt shame creep back into my solar plexus, where it felt at home. Where it has grown accustom.
It is a painful thing to admit to myself.
In so many ways, I love how moving to Norway has changed me. I’ve watched my poetry reflect those changes in metaphor: desert to moorland, sidewalks to stone hedges. I can even accept, sometimes celebrate, the changes that ageing is bringing. But this is different. This is a change that cripples me. It eats at my confidence, and worse, it makes me defensive.
I have a South American friend who is expressive in her voice and her body language, and I loved that, around her, I didn’t have to try to make myself small and quiet (i.e. Norwegian). But when I shared my fear of being “loud” with her, thinking she might also feel this way, she replied that, yes, indeed, I was loud sometimes.
She patted me on the thigh in consolation.
Recently I watched a video about a woman who developed selective mutism after moving from one country to another. I understand that. Still, after 23 years, adults listen to me with half their attention set on correcting my form, only half on comprehending the content of our conversation. It’s humbling. And at times, humiliating. It explains why I avoid social situations more often than I’d like.
And it has affected the voice I have as a writer.
It is time for me to embrace the ugliness of my displaced voice.
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Ren – you say “adults listen to me with half their attention set on correcting my form, only half on comprehending the content of our conversation.” When you are speaking English (whether in US or in Norway, or anywhere”, is this what you do to non-native English speakers, listening to correct their form? Maybe you are being a little harsh on yourself. Language is always, at some level, a struggle to connect through sounds (or signing with our hands) what we want to communicate with another person. Because each of us has a totally different picture of any word inside our heads than what’s in the other person’s head, that makes the connection complicated. It’s amazing that we are able to transmit ideas at all! I think you have a lovely voice, no matter the language.
Yes. I don’t really intent to make it sound like an criticism. But the truth is that children and teens approach the interaction with an openness and an attitude of receiving rather than – oh, I don’t know – setting it into a familiar pattern? – that it is much easier to converse with younger people. … And thank you for the compliment – that means a lot coming from a goddess of radio.
Oh – btw, no, one thing I have learned from being an expat is to (metaphorically) slap myself upside the head when I am not listening for the sake of communication but focusing on what I have to offer :). These days, I only find myself thinking proper grammar rewrites when I am falling out of the moment. in terms of being in an exchange of ideas (i.e. when I get bored or think I don’t have anything to learn from the conversation – then I need to be slapping myself upside the head anyway…)
Oh, yes! Expat status comes with so many slaps upside the head!