Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Loudest Voice

I haven't always been loud. My laugh, at one time in my life, was reserved and not likened to the sound of a mentally handicapped donkey.

When I was a little girl, I was insanely shy. I hid behind my mother's legs when strangers tried to talk to me. I would sit pristinely; my eyes wide, my lips pursed and my hands fidgeting nervously in my lap. I saw the world play before me like a movie, and I soaked in every detail. I learned from watching.

I am not sure when I turned into a loud, hysterical woman.
One who cannot seem to engage in casual conversation without flailing my hands about wildly. Talking about my trip to the grocery store, but making crazy gesticulations that mimic John Travolta's in Saturday Night Fever.As I got older, I began to thrive on my need to communicate to the world. Be it through my raucous laughter or loud voice...I had things rattling around inside of my head, I needed people to know!

Unfortunately, these things were almost always wildly inappropriate, and they landed me in trouble more times than I can count. However, for someone who spent a large part of her formidable years hiding behind her mother's legs, it was almost like an uncontrollable impulse.

I learned in high school that I could not only express my ideas by speaking them, I could write them.

There was something nice about having thoughts that were no longer beating on my brain like a hammer, but permanently inked on a sheet of wide ruled notebook paper.
I would write things down as I thought them, and like magic; it stays.

 Before I could forget what I was thinking, or scold myself for having strange thoughts, I would force myself to write them on paper and there they would be. Forever.

There was something nice about letting pieces of me loose, but still having them quiet. I learned that expressing myself didn't always have to be done in such a loud way.

I learned a lot:

I learned that it was possible to have an unexpressed thought. (Who knew?)
I learned that internal filters between the brain and mouth aren't necessarily something that you are provided with at's more of a learned skill. (Again...who knew?)
Above all else, I learned that others cannot learn from you if your voice trumps theirs. In order to teach others you must hear them. Not just speak at them, or listen to them...but hear them.
You can't do that if your voice is louder than theirs.

When I began teaching, I felt myself become softer. I still projected my voice, but it didn't come out with such an urgency or a crudeness. It was still loud, but it was knowing. This is probably one of the most valuable life skills I have learned. It has also caused me to gravitate toward students who have an internal struggle.
Youths who have problems communicating their ideas and feeling.
 People who can't seem to find their niche.

I am drawn to them with curiosity and an impulsive need to help them. Mostly it's because, while I cannot remember when I became so loud...I remember the days of being quiet. I remember the days of not vocalizing my feelings because of fear, or potential outcomes.
I remember what it was like, and I want to help them. Simple as that.

I have been teaching Speech and Theatre for the last six years. Every year there is one student that speaks to the five year old version of myself that I still carry around.

This year, I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful young lady. A young lady who holds, within her, an immense talent to make things out of nothing. This girl is not one of my students, but I have almost viewed her as such. For the sake of anonymity, I will call her Jane.

Jane has problems expresses herself vocally. She is a beautiful girl, with a smile that can light up any room that she graces it with. Of course, the first time I met her... I terrified her.
I am loud, even when I'm being quiet.

The first time I met this girl, I was having a wild day at work because the air conditioner wasn't working. I'm fairly certain that I mentioned something about having a fan under my desk, so it could blow up my dress...explaining very matter of factly, "You gotta do, what you gotta do."In short:

See, Jane.
See, Lucy give entirely too much information to a complete stranger.
See, Jane's eyes get wide.
See, Jane breathe an audible sigh of relief when she gets to escape Lucy's uncomfortable conversation topics.

Over the weeks to follow, I made a point to communicate with Jane. It was my goal to communicate with her by telling weird jokes or making crazy faces in order to ease her very obvious discomfort.

I am not exaggerating when I say, it was like hitting my head against a brick wall.

For heaven's sakes! I helped a girl with a terrible, terrible speech impediment make it to State competition in a speaking competition!! Why was this so different?

I was beginning to doubt my abilities as an educator, and a helper to those with social, communication problems. It was my forte, after all.

I continued to stay in touch with Jane. Keeping her busy with projects.

I would like to say it was all to help her, but it was 90% selfish.
I needed a good painter, and her mother had expressed to me that she was very artistic.
Thus...I called her.

Her painting was amazing. It is very, very difficult to rob me of words, and this girl did.

Which, is kind of ironic because... the girl who never talks, left me speechless.

That's when this sudden moment of clarity fell upon my perfectly shaped head like an Acme safe:

A person does not have to verbally communicate to express who they are inside.
Their ideas.
Their passion.
They don't have to write eloquent prose or poetry.
They don't have to stand in front of a large crowd of people and give an oration. 
If I wanted Jane to express herself and her ideas... I was going about helping her the wrong way.Sometimes, the most beautiful ideas, dreams and thoughts are made with nothing more than a few colored pencils and a sheet of paper.

 Over the last few weeks, I have learned a lot:

I learned you are never too old to learn something new.
I learned the most valuable lessons are the ones we least expect, and they are never the ones we actively search for.

Above all, I learned the loudest voice is also sometimes the voice that never speaks.

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