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Patagonia, El Chalten

The tone of a voice reaches me before the words. If someone has the parental tone, I switch off, because it reminds me of when I forgot to brush my teeth before I went to school. If someone has the salvational tone I start looking around desperately to see if I can find any doors. If someone has an angry tone I get scared that they are scorching the earth and nothing is going to grow again for 5000 years. James Hillman said that we should try and find a speech that is pregnant with the ‘voluptuousness’ of the ‘psyche’ and that has the joy and passion of ‘éros’. Put it this way, when Rumi speaks I could listen to him for days. — Jon Wilson

Voice quality is important to me. A grating voice is a huge detraction in my world. I’m sure my wife’s voice sealed the deal for me from the first moment she spoke. It’s a voice I could listen to for centuries without getting tired of it. I admit it’s a little less attractive when she’s irritated or angry but she can’t produce ugly sounds if she tried.

My father had a deep, gravelly monotone. There was something exhausting about his voice. He droned on and on, never seeming to pause even to take a breath. He needed only the most basic audience to hold forth. It could be the dog, a toolbox, the passing scenery from the car, he was always talking. Every fleeting thought was verbalized.

Some people are afraid of silence, I don’t know why.

I’m sure that’s why I have limited patience for big talkers. And since few people have beautiful voices, I’m happier with silence most of the time. When I read I try to imagine voices of quality and interest speaking. If I can’t, I can’t read any further.

I’m sensitive to sounds in general. Some animals have lovely voices and some don’t. If a voice isn’t funny, like a braying donkey or a yapping Pomeranian, it can quickly get exhausting. Machines generally have tiring sounds, overworking your ear drums and leaving only relief when they fall silent.

The sounds of nature are healing, though. Running brooks, the wind through the trees, the birds calling to each other, even the subdued buzzing of insects have a quieting effect on the mind.

I’ve been told that I’m losing my hearing. I can’t imagine not hearing music or the sound of languages with their characteristic cadences and accents. Sound discrimination has been paramount to me since childhood. I always loved imitating sounds I hear, especially the sounds of foreign languages and their infinite flavors. I know singers who lost their ability to sing as they got old. It’s a loss that’s hard to endure, I imagine.

It’s such an essential part of you that it hardly seems possible to give it up. Something you always thought of as a talent that brought you pleasure turns out to rest on a physical organ, like an eardrum or an eyeball. Getting used to an older body is a surprise, an adjustment that seems unjust somehow, but it’s better than the alternative.

The trajectory of a lifetime has a built-in lesson. The kind of person you were, often so different from what you thought you were or wanted to be, shows itself to be worthy in the end, more valuable and interesting than you thought you were when you were young. Things you loved or found unbearable were telling you about yourself. It takes a long time to figure out what kind of being you are and appreciate it. It takes a while to separate your influences from what’s innate and unchangeable. Decisions made from mistaken ideas picked up from what’s available around you can lead you into the weeds until you lose your way.

Respecting your innate self isn’t the same as identifying with the conditioning of your society, tribe or family. Separating the wheat from the chaff takes a lifetime sometimes, as it has in my case.

But doing so is a life well spent, in my opinion.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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