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Embodied Voices

How would you describe the voices of your loved ones? Warm? Cool? Breathy? Full? Melodious? Monotonous? Loud? Soft? Boisterous? Calm?

How can you tell when a voice belongs to a particular source? From the way that it sounds? From the words that it shapes? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, at least not any than wouldn’t require researching the neuronal pathways necessary for vocal recognition.

As you formulate your answers, consider two key things. First, remember that a voice doesn’t have to be aural. Whether you like it or not, you are experiencing my voice right now through the words on this page. We can experience each other’s voices through a variety of different mediums. Second, a voice doesn’t have to belong to a single person; a voice can be shared in a mosaic-like way by a dynamic collective. And sometimes it’s hard to tell where an individual voice ends and a collective one begins and vice versa. Perplexing, right? This is the confusion I love for.

I love the swell and the rhythm of human voices. When I try to make sense of what voices mean to me, my first impulse is to organize my thoughts into dichotomies. Are the voices on or off the page? Are they recorded or live? Are they edited or unedited? And then things start spiraling from there for only the good Lord knows how long. (As you are starting to see, part of my voice is to ask a lot of questions, perhaps too many at times.)

And yet, when I take a miraculous break from overthinking and step away from analyzing the particulars, I get a quick glimpse of something that may be universal: all voices are embodied. They are shaped by the corporeality of their sources. Even if a bunch of people were to tell the same story, that supposed sameness would be an illusion. Voices breathe life and multiplicity into storytelling. Voices bring diversity into otherwise limiting spaces.

A voice is a story in itself. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people forget this. Social media can be toxic because it can be easier to dissociate a voice from its source and story and tear down a discombobulated opinion. But if people actually remember that most comments come from other humans, (with the exception of bots, but that’s a whole other dystopian discussion) , then perhaps empathy prevails and one less problematic echo chamber is formed. This is obviously optimistic though. The truth of it is more tangled then that, but in a grounding way.

During my time in college, I ended up majoring in Medicine, Literature, and Society, a program which has been more succinctly named Medical Humanities since I’ve graduated. I was also pre-med and pre-law because I apparently enjoy existential dread. When I tell people that I studied medical humanities, many of them are surprised. They say they would’ve guessed I were an English, Creative Writing, or Linguistics major. And as I reminisce on my fascinating yet soul-crushing biology classes, I wonder why I didn’t press into my love of language and the arts sooner. But ultimately, medical humanities helped me understand the stakes of embodiment.

The stories we’re told, the systems that try to contain us, the advancements, medical or otherwise, made in the name of “progress”, and the people left behind, we knowingly and unknowingly hold all of these things in our bodies. This shapes our voices and how we move in the world. Without studying medical humanities, I wouldn’t have realized that stories are a matter of flesh, blood, and bone. Without medical humanities, I wouldn’t have written my debut novel, The We and the They.

As a writer, reader, and human, stories stir in my bones. I use my voice to share how these stories are embodied in me and my community. As an author, I can only hope to invite others to embrace their embodied voices and stories to form new collectives.

What voices do you hear telling the stories in your bones?


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