“It’s not the face, but the expressions on it. It’s not the voice, but what you say. It’s not how you look in that body, but the thing you do with it. You are beautiful.” ― Stephenie Meyer
When I first saw the focus of this week’s Daily Post Photo challenge: Express Yourself, for a fraction of a second, like a fragment of a fractal, I felt an old and familiar feeling creeping over me.
A similar feeling vibrated through me when I saw one of the questions on this week’s Cee’s Share your World – When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This feeling resonated, reverberated and rippled out…
…connecting with a personal photography project, to depict the chakras, as I see them. This one linked within through inner sound to the throat chakra – The Vishuddha.
Chakras are places where energy flows… yet sometimes that energy gets blocked. Of all the chakras, my throat is the one which is most likely to get and be blocked. Both consciously and unconsciously, but more often than not it is an aware closing of expression. A censoring of sound. Closing the mouth, covering it with a hand, a finger, visible and invisible. A ‘Don’t speak, don’t say that, a word, a sound, a breath, hush, shhh, be quiet…’.
Before I had even heard of chakras, I knew this one was being closed, bit by bit, perhaps before it even opened. A wooden door which swells with moisture in the air and seals itself, the hinges rust, and there is no need for a lock, bolt, or any other mechanism to keep it shut for it does that all by itself. It does so not to keep others out, but to keep others in, and those others are words, sounds, expressions… of self, things which must never be said, spoken, uttered, revealed, which must not leave these inner walls for when they do, when they find cracks through which to squeeze through, moving along waves, micro-waves, they set off a chain reaction which ends with a shhh.
“When you cried I wanted to throw you out of the window,” she said with a melodic laugh, more than once in our time together just in case I hadn’t listened the first million times she had told this anecdote, “and we were on the 15th floor!”
Her voice was well-trained to pierce through silence, to reach the gods, the farthest audience member, but on this and many occasions I was the only member of her audience, and I was up close, this was personal.
“It’s an awful thing for a mother to say about her baby,” but she didn’t believe that, for her it was hilarious, wonderful, liberating (which is why she repeated it so often), good not awful, good because it was awful and therefore good to express the awful.
“While he is writing, Tosca catches sight of a sharp knife on his dinner table and, unnoticed, takes it. Scarpia seals the note, then turns eagerly to embrace the trembling diva. “Questo è il bacio di Tosca!” (“This is Tosca’s kiss!”), she cries, plunging the knife deep into his heart. Scarpia cries out for help as Tosca curses him. She takes the safe-conduct pass and slips out of the room.” – Tosca – story synopsis (her favourtie part of her favourite Opera).
Bold, she was so bold to say such a thing, she reveled in it (while I shriveled), reveled in being a mother who told her child things which mothers perhaps should not say to their child. But she was no ordinary mother (and by default I was not allowed to be an ordinary child, even if I was) and flouted the rules of the ordinary due to being extraordinary in every way, especially when it came to the voice.
“Where is the bug spray!” She exclaimed with a strident tone dancing with humour, “I think there is a mosquito in the room!” How funny she was, the queen of the zing. The mosquito was me, a child singing. I thought I had been doing it quietly to myself, but no, she had heard it, she could hear a pin drop on the other side of the world if it suited her to do so, but it usually was only heard when the pin was dropped by me. I was her frequency, Kenneth, and aluminium foil was not going to keep her out.
“I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed…I never understood the frequency, uh-huh… You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh…” – What’s The Frequency Kenneth, lyrics by REM.
Any sound I made offended her ears. So did my silence, particularly when I took refuge from her within it.
“Answer me!” She would scream, fury snarling her lips. “When I ask you a question I expect an answer!” But she didn’t want one, she just wanted me to give her the cue for her next line “Don’t talk back to your mother!” It didn’t matter what my words were as long as they were said and she could continue her rant, her monologue of rage, spilling and spewing all the frustrations which had built up inside of her, steam in a pressure cooker needing to blow. “Sometimes I need to vent…” she would explain to excuse what she had just done in my general direction, not excuse herself to me but to make herself feel better for doing something which she might perceive as being bad. It wasn’t her fault, it was mine in some way, never hers, I had pushed her buttons, of which she had so many that she was made of them. Easily pressed and the rest was all about the mechanics of being triggered and bullets flying, spraying everywhere but at the gun and its holder, after that.
It didn’t matter what I said, but what I said always mattered, became the matter at hand that needed to cease to be matter.
“When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke round me I am in darkness—I am nothing.”
― Virginia Woolf
She had trained to be an opera singer, her teacher had been unappreciative of her advanced skills before she had even started her lessons. Teachers are so stupid. She had worked as an actress, oh the things actors must put up with when so talented yet surrounded by idiots in authority. Her work on the stage of theatre, then on the screen, was never what it should have been. Always unappreciated for her natural giftedness, the gratitude required to continue was declined. Dramatic sigh, Eleanor Duse would be green with envy. And so she took her work elsewhere, into a place where she could control its reception, control the audience through fear, fear which she chose to perceive as admiration.
She knew how to carry her voice. And she knew how to make others carry it too, a lead weight, a load too burdensome to bear, yet bear it you must for he was too frail to do so… or so she said.
She never sang, a story too terrible to tell lay behind that… but she loved to discuss singing, her unsung songs. Talking about singing. Talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and… shhh… if only it would shhh… But it would never shhh…ut up!
Oh how I wanted to yell, shout, scream – SHUT UP! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
But one mustn’t interrupt, that would be rude.
Children should be seen but never heard… and preferably not seen either.
“Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets… and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you…” – Pablo Neruda
The voice within remained a child who must never be heard or seen. When others spoke, you listened. When others asked you a question… you answered in a voice so quiet it forced them to demand of you to speak up, and that was impolite, to challenge their hearing in such a way. But mostly they did not mind if they did not hear, for they were not listening anyway. The question was just asked to hear themselves ask it and feel how people feel when they say the right thing at the right time, because it is what you do and it sounds good to you when you do it. You are a good person, doing good things. Well done. Now you can move on to the things which you really want to do as you have paid the toll, the piper, homage to going through the motions.
Years passed, as they tend to do, and the voice stayed preternaturally immature. A child speaking from the lips of an adult, embarrassing the grown body by wearing clothes on its words which were too small for its XXX curves. A vocal gamine, a woman disguised as a boy, a boy who looked like a girl before puberty. A playful siren, isn’t the mermaid alluring, don’t worry about the sharp and jagged rocks. No harm can possibly be incurred when she looks like a woman but talks like a child. A weird and slightly disturbing paradox made sexy by the silver screen. It’s okay… if your clothes don’t fit your body as long as the parts which are exposed arouse the interest of the listener who is only really listening with their eyes, the eyes of ears which want to see what they want to hear so their ego can get a hard on.
Tell people what they want to hear how they want to hear it and they will love you however you sound or look, because your words make them love themselves, and that is what this expressing yourself lark is all about.
Tell people what they don’t want to hear and they will hate you however you sound or look, because your words open the Pandora’s box within them and… shhh…ut up! You harpy, you fury, making the hero or heroin cower at your words! Be still and…
Sing a song of sixpence… the birds began to sing… and wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before a king.
And if you insist on talking, on expressing your self, be aware, beware, for it is not what it seems to you when it is heard by others. And you will fall into traps covered by leaves, skewered by the freedom you thought was yours, but you won’t die, not swiftly anyway, you will slowly die while alive a million living deaths over and over. The ghosts of sentences spoken will rattle their chains – Oh, if only I could take that back! But you can’t because you spoke it years ago. And if the ghosts don’t get you, the poltergeists will. Each word you speak or have spoken will knock over tables and throw chairs across the room. Oh, dear, what did I say now!?! What did I say then!?!? Or not say which was expected and disappointed!?! Which bit was wrong, was there a right bit at all in it… somethign I can cling onto or should I just drown.
“Several years later, from a taxi, you will see someone in a doorway who looks like her, but she will be gone by the time you persuade the driver to stop. You will never see her again.
Whenever it rains you will think of her. ” ― Neil Gaiman
Perhaps you should stay silent… but that is wrong too. And that too will be regretted and turn into shame, to carry, another gift added to the load, but who are these gifts for? Are they for the little children? Passed on from other children through their adult selves to their children in whom they see themselves, in whom they try to fix what was broken in them but only end up passing the cracks on.
One day I was given the chance to sing… but the voice, immature, unsure, rarely used, cracked and the pieces of that which cracked became lodged in the throat. Embedded within sound the slivers shivered, a cut here, an edit there, sore, harsh, rasping at times. An inflammation of the larynx that may lead to ventriloquism.
“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.” ― Dorothy Parker
What she did to me, to the child I once was, was the child in her expressing itself, telling as best as it could through the only outlet it found what had happened to it, why it never grew up and never said what it had wanted to say. By silencing me it could finally speak… but it found no solace in that, only more trials and tribulations.
It’s not an excuse for her, what she did, it is an explanation. The mouth often does the former when it speaks, but it is the latter which motivates it. It wants to explain, but instead it excuses, for shame… the shame which closes a door which perhaps never opened.
If a tree falls in the woods… what do the other trees hear?
If we express ourselves… do we need others to notice, hear, see, acknowledge?
Our self is expressed in our every moment Do we notice, see, hear, feel, think it… us, or are we focused on whether others notice. Is our existence dependent on others seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking it… us, about us – there is someone expressing themselves, this being interests me, let me pay attention. Me… which me? Me = me or you? And this me… is their attention paid to us in coins of eyes, ears, feeling, thought, is it the value of us.
Our face, what is it worth? What does it express?
Micro-expressions… saying everything yet often unheard.
I’m fine… but… the smile fades once no one is looking, whether it was a smile of eye or mouth or voice… for you, we do it, but not for us, for me… for me, for ourselves we express something else. Maybe, perhaps, hoping… hope, the one who supposedly was the only good in Pandora’s box, but was it…? Or was it the worst of a bad box…? Or maybe what was in that box wasn’t bad at all… just a voice amongst voices freed at last like an ancient genie expressing itself, waiting to be heard… its true wish to be granted, rather than living a life granting the wishes of others.
“The voice of Love seemed to call to me, but it was a wrong number.” ― P.G. Wodehouse
How can we be heard when so many are unheard, how can we be seen when so many are unseen, how can our self expression be… when…?
Express yourself… like a tree falling in the woods.
And now I must prepare myself for the inevitable regret of having expressed myself. It may be silent to all, but it is not silent to me. When you have forgotten your question, I will still recall my answer. You may ignore the consequences of asking, perhaps by not listening to the replies because all you listened to was your voice, your self expressing itself through a question and then it left the room, but I will not… ice. And will feel it echoing within me for years to come as it does for years past.
Time has a sound… we have a sound… even when we are silent… it is there shimmering in the air. Whether it is heard…? Who ever said it had to be heard was speaking to the wind, why do we need it to be heard…it just longs to be expressed. Whatever it is… whoever we are… just be as a tree silently falling loudly, even if they do not hear, the vibration is clear.
Mary – Patty Griffin