Thursday, April 29, 2021

It Took A Mask To Find My Voice

I have always been some version of quiet. Over the last few years with failing hearing and now having to wear a mask, I had to find some volume to be heard by others. 

Growing up, my Mom, a one-time music teacher, always encouraged me to speak from my chest and deeper in my throat. I never really understood what she meant, nor did I think it would work. I humored her and became a bit louder. 

Me Practicing To Be Loud

 Despite my disbelief, I did practice this beyond the car in places   like the tennis court with friends I was comfortable with, and later in the company of colleagues. A fellow colleague at work and I were even dubbed "loud and obnoxious." We always joked, "Are you 'loud' or 'obnoxious' today?" It wasn't the authentic me, though, just a role I was playing that I enjoyed more than my actual self. 

My Mom was on to something, but I would not know that until I took choir classes of my own in middle and high school. She was teaching me breath control, how to create sound from my diaphragm, chest, and throat. Head and nose voice were out. The power lived in my abdomen and chest. Upon further reflection, I realized each car ride to CVS and the video store was a masterclass in how to sing and project my voice. 

This training would come in handy in 2020 when we would all be wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Behind the mask I can relax a bit when it comes to my appearance. Men find me attractive, not knowing what lies behind the cloth covering my nose and mouth. I go from a 7.5 to a 10 with a simple swatch of cotton. Appearance is not everything, though. The new problem is being heard by others in all kinds of acoustic environments with your mouth covered by multiple layers of fabric and a filter. We are all muzzled! For instance, the grocery store deli counter, the scene of many questions about my repaired cleft lip over the years, continues to be riddled with minefields even with my facial difference covered. Trying to project my voice over the refrigerated charcuterie case is the newest insult to my already injured ego.

What do I do? 

How do I overcome this new hurdle? 

I got louder. Like, "Hockey Dad" loud. You know the type, a Dad (or Mom) in the stands that can be heard from across the ice rink. When you stand in closer proximity, the flesh of your face feels like it is blown back by hurricane-force winds. Well, with all that cloth in front of your face, this decibel level is necessary. I put everything I was formally and informally taught all those years ago into practice just with more "oomph." 

For the most part, this new tactic seems to be working. People are able to hear me, even if it means damaging their ear drums. 

After this is all over, I worry about being too loud, but I want all the love in my heart and the incredibly brilliant (and some not-so-brilliant) thoughts in my head to be heard. Now is the time to harness my inner lioness, to be authentically and unapologetically me. 

With or without a mask, my face is beautiful. 

With or without a mask, my voice holds words that must be shared and heard.

Wearing a mask allowed me to be my authentic self with everyone. It has been the great equalizer for many of us in the facial difference community, while also pushing us to dare to utter our truth, louder, with power, one syllable at a time. 

Double-masking! Thank you, Target!

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