Thursday, March 27, 2014

ACTIVE Voice(s)

The first moments of my day this morning were spent in the usual way, but with a soundtrack that nagged me almost from the moment I turned on the TV.  I tend to listen to old movies in the morning rather than watching any news; a holdover from a schedule that had me out of the house before any news even began airing, I've learned it is a far nicer way to start the day than with the important boxes ticked off - what will the weather be, what terrible thing has happened or is about to, what pontificating on the economy can we do at this hour?  NPR always tells me exactly what the "news" does, so first thing out of bed, a gaggle of people long since dead and gone acting out stories I don't even have to look at on the screen turns out to be a peaceable starting point.

Today, though, my peace was niggled.  One of the actors in the day's pre-code romantic comedy (Oh the scandal!  A wife trying to wile her husband back into her own arms!) had a voice it took me only syllables to know I had heard before, but which I could not quite identify for a few minutes.  That sort of thing can drive you to distraction at the best of moments; at six-thirty a.m. when you've hardly washed your face, it can topple you outright.

I did get to it, though.  The voice was attached to cartoons.  I knew that almost right off - a voice I had HEARD, but knew that was the end of it.  It wasn't a familiar "actor" I was hearing, but a voice-over.  I let it percolate as I brushed my teeth, coming in and out of the room, and once I was getting dressed for work I knew it wasn't just voice promotions or narration, but cartoon work.  And yet - not character work, not per se.  This wasn't Mickey Mouse talking to  me.  It was the voice, in a cartoon, that comments upon action otherwise scripted and drawn as pantomime comedy.  It was the very particular voice of the man who had explained to me what was up onscreen in enough cartoons to stick in my head, and I sensed it wasn't Looney Toons, but couldn't put my finger on it.  Thank goodness for TCM's movie schedule and this little career summary.  As coolness goes, he couldn't have much outdone this cultural contribution.

When I got into my car to go to work, the necessity to appear as if I am not entirely ignorant generally prompts me to listen to NPR rather than music in the morning, and I was rewarded once again with a voice from my past - but not one I had heard before, this time.  Athol Fugard was a playwright during a little-known (now) period in my life, when I believed I was going to go into theater.  *Master Harold and the Boys* and Zakes Mokai were the chords through which his voice played in my life, so I knew the structure and shape of his voice without knowing its sound.  Zakes' voice was quite fine enough, and I remember it to this day - but the words and the shapes were written by Fugard.

It got me to thinking (I'm nothing if not self-absorbed) about how many people will know the shape, the structure of my voice, who may never *hear* it either.  Less and less, perhaps, as the age of information progresses - yet I have always found some charm in not "knowing" the authors of the works I love best, and suspect that the sacred-space of reading may not drive all readers into personal relationships with authors.  One may hope, anyway.

It doesn't even take the publication of the novel to create this strange, intimate remoteness either.  I think of the friends I have made online - some, over the years, have become the dearest "real" friends I have; but most are people I will never meet in life -and am struck by the realization, not that we'll never see each other in this world, but that we will never hear each other.  There is a power in a voice, which brings to immediacy people we may never meet otherwise.  I had team members at my last job - the resume phrase was "highly virtualized team" - I never met at all, but we did talk, and many of us regularly.  The number of "my kids" I never met in person was remarkable, really - and that's far from my first at-bat on vocal relationships I'll never realize face-to-face.  Back when I was the assistant to the president of the largest of four nationwide divisions, I trained the other ADMINS without ever meeting them - and still think fondly of "my guys" whom I took such care of, but who never had occasion to come to our little satellite office to visit.  I've had countless encounters and acquaintanceships which took place through work and/or strictly by phone.

The girl from a finance company who own the loan on the windows I had installed  years ago is familiar to me by name and by speaking with her "Thanks, I don't need a new loan today, but you have a good one!"  The guy who's been calling, trying to sell my boss some service or other, who keeps his follow-ups regularly enough he feels "bad" for "bothering" me "all the time" is fine by me; we're both doing what we get paid to, and he doesn't treat me like a menial, so he gets the polite treatment.  The person who once called a job I had, to report a crime relevant to my employers, who was scared ... and whose fate I will never know, but which matters to me to this day ...

I have to imagine I'm not unique in this curiously modern development; that there are more voices in all our lives than we realize from day to day.  Then one voice pops up, saying something we don't recognize, but with tones so particularly familiar we're taken back into childhood ... and another voice reveals itself, thirty years after his words spoke to us first, through others ... and a day is filled with echoes of voices, and that is a good and interesting thing.  How many people do you speak with in a day, develop lightweight rapport with, perhaps even "get to know" over time, through repeated transactions ... whom you will never meet in the way we used to think of that word signifying?

How much does it matter, if you meet them - or hear them - or never do at all?  I can say I still care about my friends on Twitter, though there are few I expect ever to know outside of the internet.  I want the best for 'em, we find encouragement together, we're cheerleaders and shoulders and wisecrackers and pals.  It may not be friendship like I have with Cute Shoes, nor engender the compassion I have for my family - but it cannot be said I'm indifferent to the fate of those I know online, either.

Are you indifferent enough not to need to comment ... ?  Or does this happen to you, too?

Edited to add:  Smart Woman is apparently the movie I was watching, with the extraordinarily familiar voice of  Mr. Edward Everett Horton.  Remarkably:  his voice did not age from 1931 to 1964 - the latter of which was the period of his career from which I came to know it ...  (Hear here.)

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