I don't know how old I was when I said my first word. I know I was still in my crib, literally, when I said it. My father was in my room, hanging something on the wall... or attempting to. As he drove the hammer toward the nail, he missed a little and nailed his finger instead. Now, my dad is aces at using colorful language, long and loudly, so I'm guessing that Mom was kind of relieved that the only word that came out of his mouth was "damn!" She was not so relieved when I immediately copied him like a little monkey, repeating, "damn, damn, damn!" over and over.
Of course. My first word was a swear word. But it was only the first of many words, most not quite as colorful. I fell in love with words. Hearing my mother, listening to my dad reading stories at night. When the time came, reading them and writing them. I'm a word girl.
I'm also a talking girl. Not a chatterbox who talks long and aimlessly for no reason, but I inherited a voice from my father's side of the family and learned to use it at an early age.
My grandfather was a stage actor. My father spent much of his professional life in radio - reporting and doing commercials. Both had outstanding, recognizable voices. And I got one too.
I cut my first commercial at the age of three, and my dad would use my voice periodically for work. I would read or tell stories to my brothers and the kids I babysat and they always begged for more. I learned the art of storytelling, using inflection and different voices for each character.
When I got my first real job, I was a disc jockey. I worked weekends and weeknights and my voice helped a few people get through the night.
At that point in my life, I didn't realize that there were people who had trouble talking. Whose throats closed off at the mere idea of speaking in front of other people. Who stuttered and stammered or lisped. I did know accents though, and listened to so many growing up. My mom was of the South. My dad was British. The combination of them made me sound almost regionless, but I could tell the difference between voices from different counties, states and countries.
As a young adult, I moved to Oklahoma, where I was an ace floor director who could be loud without yelling. I voiced national commercials. And picked up "fer" in place of the word "for" and "aig" in place of "egg." I'm still trying to shake those years later.
Being exposed to all those words and accents made me an excellent mimic. I'm not Rich Little, calling up impressions at the drop of a hat, but if I am in amongst people with an accent, I blend in. I was asked for directions in London. I blended in New York (except when I didn't want to... I found a Southern accent very useful there). One night a boyfriend was trying to order out Chinese but couldn't understand what the woman on the other end of the phone was saying. I took the receiver away and talked to her, placing our order. When I hung up, he was staring at me and asked when I learned to speak Chinese. It's an odd talent and not intentional in anyway - it just happens.
As I've gotten older, I've discovered my voice for myself. I recognize the things I need to do to keep it. I stopped smoking. When I know I need to read a piece of copy, I don't wear anything on my lips. I drink something warm. I warm up by singing on the way to work so that everything is loose and ready to go.
I grew up with my voice and the voices of so many others. I didn't know anyone who couldn't sit down in front of a microphone. I never thought it was unusual. Then two things happened that made me realize that there really was something to it.
First, my dad, who has a public affairs program on the radio interviewed the woman who wrote a blog letter to her daughter about bullying. It went viral over facebook - you've probably seen it. As a part of the interview, Dad wanted the letter read. He asked me to do it and one afternoon, I popped into a sound booth and read the letter. And people stopped him in stores and asked about it.
The second was at my brother's wedding. They wanted the Song of Solomon passage read - and Dad couldn't do it. The mere idea of it made him tear up - so they sprang it on me. When the time came, I stood up and read the Song of Solomon out to a small chapel of about 70 people. They heard it in the back row - every word. And when I looked at my dad, he was wiping his eyes. And so were a few others.
Today, I went to see "The King's Speech" with my parents. I'd been wanting to see it since I'd heard of it. It was painful to watch Bertie trying to speak publicly, to know that people all over the world can't say what they want to say. His struggles to get the words out made me appreciate my own ability. And yet, when he finally gave his speech, as halting as it was, it was so powerful. So much more powerful than anything I have ever said.
Never underestimate the power of voice. But more importantly, the power of words - they have the ability to make the world a better place or one that crumbles. So many people use their words to tear people and ideas down. Won't you use the power of your voice to build them up?
I have a voice! King George the Sixth shouted those words. I know you do, came Lionel's reply. So use it.