Singing into the mask
For Christmas, my true love gave me singing lessons. I am a sing-in-the-shower, sing-while-cooking, sing-along-to-the-car-radio kind of singer, which is to say not much of a singer at all. But warbling a tune brings me pure joy, pure in part because I sing without the burden of expectations. My career, luckily, doesn’t depend on my doing it well, or at all. My dogs don’t care if I can’t hit the high notes when we’re out on a walk. The human members of my family, all of whom have lovely singing voices, tolerate mine.
And though I will never be Kristen Chenoweth, my voice isn’t bad, really. It’s just under-used, and I’m often not quite sure what to do with it—how to make it sound richer, truer, more sure of itself. Humans sing; it feels natural to do. But to do it well requires practice and skill and feeling and control. Lungs, larynx, palate, tongue, cheeks, mouth and brain—so much has to work well together to let a tune out and make it really flow and resonate.
Here’s where I make a predictable (but true!) observation: Writing also takes practice and skill and feeling and control. Like my singing voice, my writing voice has felt underused lately. As 2022 rolled in, I made a commitment to get back in touch with the creative side of myself that had gone quiet during this godforsaken and never-ending pandemic, which has left so many people exhausted and tapped out.
In 2021, I’d gotten distracted, too, by the aftermath of publishing a book. I learned how easy it is to get stuck on the work you have done rather than the work you could be doing now. And under what felt like COVID house arrest, I’d finally gotten around to sorting through a three-generational archive of family papers. My biggest accomplishment so far: I consolidated all my school papers, from kindergarten through grad school, into one archive box.
In a meaningful way, all the sorting represents a work in progress. It has felt important to do—to make peace with my mother’s death and to lighten the family-history load for my children—but as a WIP it’s far more interior than expressive. Satisfying, but not in the deep way that creating something does. That’s what I have missed this last year.
My husband thought singing lessons would help uncork the creative spirit. I’ve only had a few meetings so far with my voice teacher—a half-hour every Wednesday afternoon via Zoom—but I have loved the chance, the permission, to think about how I breathe and how to support my voice when I use it. I’m using it more and more often these days.
During our first lesson, my teacher talked about “singing into the mask” as a way to visualize where to project the voice to get the sound I wanted. The phrase has kicked around for a long time, but it feels like a pretty good motto for how to live a creative life two years into the pandemic: Stay safe, yes, but make yourself heard.
Here’s a YouTube singing-into-the-mask warmup by Jeff Rolka, whose videos I’ve found useful as I get going:
Some of what I’ve been reading/watching/listening to this month for inspiration and diversion:
Matrix by Lauren Groff
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation by T.J. Owens
The Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan—I’m kind of addicted to this now, though it is a big commitment if you do the whole thing.
On the TV front, it’s been a weird mix of brutal and heartwarming and inspiring shows lately: “Succession” (such well-scripted and beautifully acted nihilism) and “Euphoria” (not sure how much longer my nerves will hold out for that one) and “All Greatures Great and Small” (because animals and Yorkshire and I loved the books as a kid) and the “Sex and the City” sequel (not proud of that one) and “Star Trek: Discovery” (because of course this OG Star Trek fangirl watches that).
Book news: The paperback of CLUTTER, featuring a new afterword, is now out in the world. Buy it, regift it, give it a nice rating on Goodreads or Amazon or StoryGraph. (This really does help authors, and it’s much appreciated.) If you bought the book in hardcover and want to see the new afterword, drop me a line and I will share it with you.
I’ll leave you with one fun thing, courtesy of Jane Friedman: a literature clock that minute-by-minute matches a literary quote to your local time.
Thanks for reading!