How do I know that the way I am doing the thing I am doing is the best possible way to do it? If you are like most people, the rare occasion you hear a recording of your voice is a cringing shock. Our perception of the sounds we make is different from how every person has come to know and experience us. I don’t have that experience as much anymore. During the several year course of making a documentary, I’ve had to listen to my voice-over so often that I have become desensitized to the shock and now recognize when I speak, that my voice is not the sound in my head, but the sound that is bouncing around the room. And along the way, I’ve made a few changes to the way I speak casually. I pronounce certain sounds differently. I mumble a little less. I use less effort than I used to. It’s not the voice that I would choose given an election, but it feels better to know the truth of it and work with what it is, accept it, and fall in love with it. Like my receding hairline.
When I lived in Phoenix for a few years, no one was hiring me much to choreograph, so I enrolled in a writer’s workshop at ASU. I presented a writing sample in class with no designs on being a writer. I was there to learn something new. The teacher of the workshop told me to never listen to anyone about my writing. He valued my unique voice enough to get me to protect it from the world. He didn’t want to introduce me to the University thought; he just wanted me to write. Now of course I knew that there would some day be a back and forth and things to make better and refine, but I have held onto a steadfast belief in my own voice in this.
I’ve just now been working with an editor on the introduction to my 1st book of photography and it’s been a real challenge for me and it’s a very particular version of feedback, because on one hand, my editor is deeply talented and knows the medium thoroughly and can keep the focus squarely on the goal, which is setting up this collection of photography, but on the other hand I struggle with staying true to what is authentic in my voice. How do I serve both of these masters with integrity? How do I let the photography be the forefront and provide the easiest inroad while not washing my spirit out with soap?
What I relish about this blog is that it doesn’t pass through an editor’s hands. I don’t check for correctness, not even for punctuation, because I value the exploration through the possibility of language…well beyond the ways in which academia has strangled it. What is the use of a set of rules to something like language if they inhibit its very use? If they inhibit the ways in which experience can be expressed in ways it has never been expressed before?
One of the greatest breakthroughs I have had in studying voice has been how my teacher has helped me to hear and correct myself. She worked until I could recognize from out of all the sounds zipping around the room, which are the ones that represent my voice. Much of this came from singing into walls and into corners, but none was so exact and nourishing as singing into a microphone and hearing what comes out of the monitor. That information is pure macaroni gold. What I am hearing is what an audience hears. I know immediately if the pitch is off, what the true volume is of this note compared to this note; it sounds how I sound.
The way Donna gives me feedback is often poetic. And I have to interpret her poetry into what I think it means and then translate it into my body. There are amazing things that come from that. There is significant discovery along the Plinko from the original thought to the moment of singing…but the monitor, is delicious. I can’t think of another interaction where I can know a true version of what I’m doing and make my own, subjective, real-time assessment.
Making choreography isn’t that. A pitch is correct or not. But dance is a slow building of layers, colored by constant re-interpretation from everyone. I can coach a dancer in being different in each of the different moments, but the sense of how the entirety of a ballet is shaping up can really only be in the mind of the choreographer and feedback is often an insecure distraction. There is so much intuition and faith and gambling involved. There is certainly no culture of feedback to support making choreography. When I look for it, I look for it in specifics…and my question needs to be specific. I only go to people whom I deeply trust and I’ll ask something like “I am attempting to achieve X here, do you perceive that X is being achieved here?” There is no shortage of unsolicited feedback once a piece is finished. But judging a finished dance is easy. You have so many things that the choreographer never had: a first impression, a comprehensive account of the piece in its entirety, you see how the dancers eventually danced it, you know how the costume design was executed. That feedback is almost always unhelpful to an artist.
There are all of these different ways to gauge how we are doing. I find it very important that the most tenuous come from opinions, and opinions vary greatly from person to person. I know I have wasted a lot of time with the belief that there is any ultimate truth in this. I used to (and often still) have a great insecurity that everyone else ‘gets it’ and that I’m just playing catch-up. But the reality for me is that we all create our own reality and feeling good in the choices I make for myself is both the hardest task to achieve but the most important way to move forward.