Contained in the Voice

“Sound has a direct influence on our human biology and thus influences our health. This is because every cell in our body has its own vibrational frequency. Human cells are composed of atoms and molecules that resonate according to their mutual harmonies. Many cells together form tissues and organs that are part of a biological system. This system then vibrates according to new harmonies …Sound is the creative principle, and must be regarded as primordial.”
                                                                                                                                   Dr. Hans Jenny

The soul is contained in the human voice.
                                                                                                                                  Borges

We are a culture that privileges seeing above its other senses. In many ways, technology has turned us into both objects and subjects of the gaze. Most of us move through reality heavily reliant on our visual sense as an interpretive guide of our relationship to the world. I am in no way saying this is a negative. For those of us fortunate enough to have a keen sense of sight, reality is a veritable feast for the eyes. The natural world, people’s faces, written text, photographs, skyscrapers, endless beauty.

However, the danger in this over-privileging of sight over the other senses can cause an internal deprivation of experience. Even as I write for this blog, I am already stripping the experience of food to its visual appeal only, because what makes food viscerally desirable and alluring is found more in smell, in texture, even in sound. One of my favorite things is the crunch a fresh carrot, a potato chip, or an apple makes in that first bite. Consider the murmurs of frothing milk, the drip of coffee, the sigh of a fresh artichoke as it becomes unwrapped petal by petal to get to its mysterious tantalizing heart. 

Listening is a lost art. I sat this past week through student presentations, all on heavy and important issues, from domestic violence, to racism, to immigration. I realized after a couple of presentations that I was only half listening. This was not because my students didn’t have my full attention, but because in seeing them, in noticing their micro expressions, the clenching of their hands, their shuffling through index cards, the vulnerability etched on their faces, I would forget to fully engage aurally. In this case, my sense of sight commandeered my ability to fully listen to their stories, to hear the modulations of their voices, to enter their words as one might enter a room. 

I began to close my eyes as they spoke. It was rather amazing to listen in the dark, to hear the honesty in each voice, the secret aches that emerge only in the tremulousness, the chords that they strike when they expressed excitement, fear, longing. 

It takes a great deal of practice to fully control and modulate the tonalities of daily conversation, which means that the deepest authenticity of a person is in their voice. In the ways that we have infinite registers of thought and emotion, our voices too span crescendos and decrescendos to match. What a gift it is to be given the space to speak, to give word and sound to our internal paradigms, to have a witness to our story. How beautiful to create those sacred spaces for others, to offer meaning and immediacy in each encounter. To discover the both essential and marginal poetry of every human life. 

I notice the hunger in every person to be heard. I notice that very few still know to ask questions, to express a genuine interest in another, to listen without calculating their follow up response, or drifting into their own life and plans. Very few know how to redirect their senses outward. 

I want to become a reader of voices, to engage all of senses in every encounter with the world aground me, to bring the totality of my being in the present moment. I want to develop a further sensitivity to the voices of others, to give wide spaces to the people I love to unfold themselves out of their chrysalises of grief and desire, and to weave narrative meaning into the empty spaces of this world. 

Because my work as a professor entails so much verbal engagement with others, both on the speaking and the listening side, most days by the time I arrive home, I crave as much quiet and personal space as possible. Unlike most extroverts, I recharge in silence and aloneness, through meditation, prayer, and reading. Darren who is a designer spends most of his days creating and strategizing in front of a computer. I arrive home depleted of words, he arrives home with many words to share and spend in conversation. He is also wired as a counselor, so he finds a great deal of meaning in asking questions and listening. After being married for a while we have found a way to mitigate the potential perils of our situation. If I can cook for about an hour or so in silence, or perhaps with some Van Morrison in the background, by the time dinner arrives, I am recharged to listen and engage. 

This past Thursday it was tacos and sour beers in our apartment’s Zen garden, which is really a courtyard with fountains and strategically placed patio furniture. It is one of our favorite places to sit in the evenings. There are rarely other people there, so we feel like it belongs to us. We sat in silence for a while, which is one of the best things about being friends, the freedom to speak only what is important to us, and we never feel the compulsion to fill spaces with words. We ate far too many tacos, stained our clothes, laughed. It was that kind of a summer day when only street food and cold beer will suit the mood. 

The recipe for fish tacos is below; you can use any kind of white fish you fancy, or  salmon is also brilliant with this spice combination. While cooking, I ate slices of toast with Le Delice de Bourgogne, because cheese makes all things better.

Chili-Orange Sole Tacos with Avocado Coleslaw 

Makes about 8 tacos
Ingredients:
For the sole
•    1 teaspoon orange zest
•    2 tablespoons orange juice
•    1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking
•    1 teaspoon chili powder
•    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
•    1/2 teaspoon cumin
•    1/2 teaspoon coriander
•    1/2 teaspoon paprika
•    2 large garlic cloves, minced
•    1 tablespoon brown sugar
•    1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
•    1 pound sole fillets 
•    Corn tortillas
For the coleslaw
•    2 cups shredded green cabbage
•    2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
•    1/3 cup sliced red onion
•    2 tablespoons sour cream
•    2 tablespoons orange juice
•    1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
•    1/2 teaspoon cumin
•    Salt
•    1 avocado, diced
Directions:
For the sole
1.    In a small bowl, combine orange zest, juice, olive oil, spices, garlic, sugar and cilantro.
2.    Place sole in a zip-closed bag and pour mixture over, coating all sides. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.
3.    When ready to cook, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat in a nonstick pan. Place sole in hot pan and cook for about 2-3 minutes per side, depending on thickness and desired doneness. Flake apart.
For the coleslaw
1.    Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the cabbage, cilantro and red onion.
2.    In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, orange juice, vinegar and cumin. Season with salt, to taste. Pour over cabbage and toss well.
3.    Add the diced avocado to the cabbage mixture and toss lightly. Refrigerate while the sole marinates. Stir well just before serving.
To assemble
1.    Place cooked sole on warm corn tortillas. Top with coleslaw.
2.    Garnish with additional cilantro, jalapeños, and spring or green onions if desired.

One thought on “Contained in the Voice”

  1. "I notice that very few still know to ask questions, to express a genuine interest in another, to listen without calculating their follow up response, or drifting into their own life and plans." Very true, and perfectly stated.

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