Why Not Try It On?

A “neutral” voice is not a voice at all.

I was thinking about that the other day when I had trouble listening to my silent reading voice and I altered the sound it had in my mind until I got creeped out by my experiment.

I gave it a cute accent first, then switched it up and created various ways of talking, some of which I found more pleasant to listen to than others. I gave it personality, character, until eventually there was a convincing enough representation of what could have been the voice of a real person talking. At that point, the person became alive.

But something also appeared to be happening with the words: they acquired intention, conviction, doubt, hope. The humanness of my thoughtless creation startled me, shocked me, and I addressed the issue by ending its life. The words were just words again, lining up beside each other like shirts on a rack, lifeless and desiring of a body.

Reading words without a voice feels like going clothes shopping without ever trying anything on. I hold things up to the light to better look at them, my arm acting both as a physical barrier and a way of connecting cautiously with the held object. Why the caution? What’s to be afraid of?

There is in fact something to be concerned about: as soon as the clothes take on the physical shape of my body, in addition to becoming animated themselves, they alter my appearance and present me in a new light. They have the capacity to suggest a new meaning for who I consider myself to be.

“That’s not me.”

I have the ability to resist, but only if the part of me that makes the choice isn’t already persuaded. Neither resistance nor acceptance can be trusted as a way of protecting myself from what I shouldn’t be if what is to be defended is both the meaning of ‘myself’ and ‘should,’ which are in fact tightly interlinked: ‘should’ is the leash that I put ‘myself’ on, but at the same time I am also holding the leash myself and so the distinction between the two parts is very weak, if it meaningfully exists at all.

So anyway. I wonder if I should(?) allow words more often to be animated by the voices I can create for them, human-like voices assembled from memorized bits and pieces of the way real humans have expressed themselves for particular reasons that were important to them. Could I take a sentence and keep changing the voice to animate it with until eventually I find one that allows it to resonate with me? And if it was me who created the internal situation where that resonance was possible to occur, then maybe I have found a version of myself that I wasn’t aware of before and that only became visible to me through the clothes I gave it to try on?

Exploring potentiality is always risky. What if I lose myself in the process of continually seeking to find myself? But I find that fear is an immature reaction to a threat. As I hold words up to the light to look at them in their cold, lifeless form, am I not also observing in myself an unquestioned habit of acting according to my fear of changing, of losing control of what I allow to change me? What if I took that fear and held it up to the light? Would I be able to look at it more neutrally? Would I be able to let go of it?

But now that I think about it so vividly, I see that it doesn’t quite work like that. What I would really need to do is take off the fear I am wearing, hold it up to the light just long enough for me to recognize it as an object of consideration that could in principle be separate from me, and to then realize that in order to see what it is to me, I need to put it back on.

And so I am standing in front of the mirror looking at myself wearing my fear of changing, of continually becoming. Does it suit me?

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