Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From Lipreading to the Radio to Hearing

Earlier this fall, I was on the radio. Or, rather, my writing was! (Long story short: an essay I wrote appeared in an on-campus literary magazine, after which someone from the Stanford Storytelling Project, a radio show on the local KZSU station, approached me and asked if I'd be interested in reading it as part of an upcoming episode. Although I didn't want to read it myself - I didn't feel that my verbal reading skills would do it justice - I was flattered and more than happy to comply if someone else recorded.)

I shared the date and time of my radio appearance with my family and friends, but didn't actually listen myself. That is, until this week when a friend reminded me that my essay, now in MP3 format, did have a presence on the web archives. Here it is, at the bottom:

(Text version searchable elsewhere.)

A few days ago I pressed "play" and sat in my room while it filled with the sound of my words, in someone else's voice. (With transcript on hand, of course. It may be my own writing, but my memory isn't perfect.) As I told my friend afterwards, it was neat but it was also strange.

One thing people have often commented on regarding my writing is its pacing and acoustic flow. They've asked me how I've come to understand the metrical rhythm that is inherent to language without ever having heard it. Or they ask me if I hear my own thoughts or words in my head like hearing people do. I'm not quite sure. I don't know what it feels like to be inside someone else's mind, so how would I answer? Writing for me has long been a matter of feel, or of seeing the visual balance of the words and their accompanying rhetorical devices on the page. Thinking about writing, or about words, likewise happens on that almost-unconscious level of feel. I touch words more than I hear them. I grasp their texture and their shape as they pass by, and although some of this might be related to sound it would be reductive to narrow that process to the physical property of hearing. I do gauge how my words unfold in terms of timing and rhythm, but on the whole rhythm isn't directly tied to sound. It's a more deeply-engrained property of the body, for me long associated with physicality.

Hearing all of these things, in the form of actual sound waves, was a remarkable experience. I won't say that listening to my essay made it feel more real to me, or anything like that. It didn't. Writing, for me, will always exist in the mind, in the life of the mind and its particular moods and flavors. But I still enjoyed accessing how the texture and affect of my prose translated into sound waves. And did experience a bit of a surreal moment, besides, when my mind made the leap from content to form: lipreading to the radio to hearing. It forms a nice little circle, doesn't it?

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