Meet Pamela

This probably isn’t going to be the usual bio you read on people’s websites. In fact, it’s not the kind of bio I used to write, myself.

In those bios, I talked about what I did.

I would mention my degree in the field of communication (English Literature, and I studied some French, too). I would talk about my diploma and practice in Holistic Health, and how much I loved teaching in that program at Grant MacEwan College. I would probably segue into how as I was doing that work my heart yearned for something that would embody even more of my gifts, and I began again to explore music and my own singing voice, a part of my life that had been left behind in my early twenties.

Then I would go on to talk about my training in listening and voice and sound, how I gained skills through voice facilitator training with Chloë Goodchild of The Naked Voice (UK), actor voice training with Canada’s Voice Intensive, poetry and spoken word with Kim Rosen and ongoing study of improvised intentional sound with Gary Diggins. And I’d probably wind it all up with a laundry list of experiences I’ve had facilitating for companies, organizations, and other groups, and events I’ve produced and performed in.

That would be the bio about what I did. And perhaps, if you are going to trust me as your voice guide and facilitator—your designated “deep listener,”—you need to know about that stuff, about the practices and tools I’ve gathered and shaped into the voice work I share with you. That being said. . .

What I’d really like to talk to you about is who I am.

That’s a little tougher, and more vulnerable to write about, but also way more fun. And I figure fair is fair: your voice is a place of sensitivity and vulnerability, so if I’m going to ask you to share your voice with me, I need to return the kindness and tell you a story about my voice.

Now, please feel free to stop reading if you got the info you needed, or contact me now if you’d like to ask me a question about how I can help with your voice.

But for the curious, here’s a wee tale about Pamela’s voice.

Finding (uncovering, discovering, re-covering) my voice has been one of the great joys of my life: the wisest teacher, the most engaging experience of bliss, resonance, grace, strength, quirkiness, wildness, deep inner silence and wholeness. But “finding” something implies that you also have to lose it once in a while: forget it, misplace it, stuff it in a corner and hope it stays there.

Once upon a time

Singing and storytelling were cradle gifts, for me. I spoke in sentences before I was one year old (my parents say), and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read stories and sing. I wrote my first short story, “The Dandelion Lovers,” when I was 7, and I started memorizing poetry and sang my first solo around the same time. (BTW, the Dandelion Lovers—Asha and Alphonse—lived happily ever after. They may make their way into a blog, someday).

Singing, spoken word and written word—all were a joy for me personally, and also the channels through which I connected socially. My Dad used to tell us great bedtime stories, like “The Three Little Pigs and the Welcome Wagon Wolf,” or many chapters of “What Me and My 5 Brothers did on the Farm That You Should Never Do” (I get why, as some of those stories featured falling asleep on railroad tracks, falling off horses and wandering home concussed, and flying off a rope swing tied to a windmill at one end and a moving tractor on the other. Yup).

We sang together as a family, and in community—from folk and roots to gospel to classical to rock, and later, jazz. My childhood was rich with the music of piano lessons, recitals, sing-alongs, high school band tours and choir concerts.

Little girls grow up, and meet monsters . . .

But somewhere along the way, I stashed my public singing voice in a corner, only to be brought out in its dusty rusty state for Christmas carols and a few other special occasions. Of course, I still sang in the car or while cleaning the house. But I stopped sharing my voice with others.

The reason why isn’t that mysterious, it’s simply hard to admit: shame.

Every lesson, at-home music practice or concert event, all I heard was my mistakes. Although I am deeply grateful for the technical knowledge of music that I gained, I felt judged by my teachers and ashamed of my sound offerings. I would (and still sometimes do) compare myself to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Nina Simone, Celine Dion, K.D. Lang, Sarah McLachlan, Emmy Lou Harris, The Indigo Girls—and, inevitably, decide my gifts were inadequate.

That shame extended into not just my physical voice, but also my essential voice: my ability to be seen, heard and valued for the gifts I had to offer. At a time when I was spending my days writing about the fascinating voices and characters in great literature, my own voice fell into the deep shadows. I started to disappear from living: literally, physically. I almost disappeared entirely.

I don’t think I’m alone in my experience, quite the opposite. Most people I meet have experienced self-judgment and shame: have felt stifled, disconnected, unheard. Many of us have absorbed messages that it’s not safe to speak up in certain situations, that our singing voices are unattractive, that our innate creativity is not really useful for earning a living, that vulnerability is a liability. . .you get the idea.

Brutal. A subtle and tricky form of violence against Self.

Because, if we believe those messages even a little bit, we can start to disown and dislike our voices, which is the same thing as disowning or disliking parts of ourselves—and voila! A Monster is created. In my case, a Shame Monster.

Finding the Monster’s soft spot

Of course, that’s not the end of the story, and I’m thinking that by now you see where I’m going with this, which is: the possibility I discovered for myself within that deep wounding was that my voice could also be the source or conduit for my deepest healing—a medicine created uniquely for me. I’m not saying that voyage of discovery is a straightforward one, or even that it has a distinct beginning and end. It’s not like I met the monster once, did away with it, and lived happily ever after. It’s more like I keep meeting the monster over and over, tiredly shine some love on it, and am rewarded and encouraged by seeing “it” transform into yet another beautiful, resilient part of me. . . .but I’m getting ahead of myself . . .

Wizards and Magic Tools

Every good quest story has wise helpers and magic tools. For me, some wonderful transformations began when three curious experiences came into my life.

One is the experience of being heard. I have been blessed to meet more than a few exceptional teachers, friends, mentors and allies who listen so deeply that I feel truly heard and seen. This is incredibly healing, for me. It bypasses shame and creates a safe space where vulnerability and creativity can simply BE—or at least that is my experience. Being heard also gave me permission to shine in my natural gift for resonant listening, a quietly empathic ability I’d had all my life but had discounted as somehow “less than” in a world that loves giving its attention to extrovert divas and reality TV stars.

The second is the practice of chanting. Not witches-over-a-cauldron, “Double, bubble, toil and trouble” kind of chant, but a beautiful musical genre of simple, repetitive, positive-message songs from many world traditions. Chanting is not about performing; it’s about sharing sound in community for the purpose creating well being for all. When I discovered a chanting group and started attending regularly, I noticed something weird: my voice was effortlessly moving in the extremes of my range—both high and low—that had been a struggle to reach before. Resonance, power, expressiveness—everything was there because I’d taken the pressure of performance away, and suspended judgment for an hour or two. Very, very interesting.

And thirdly (all good tales have three of something), I discovered improvisational singing, the catalyst that changed my relationship with my voice. If you’ve never done it, a quick description: improvisation is creating vocal sound in the moment, with no predetermined song or score or musical chart, and often not even with words. Good listening is the key.

Improvisation is not something I’d planned on (ha-ha), and I probably wouldn’t have sought it out if it hadn’t reached out to embrace me in its mysteries. In a workshop at Hollyhock where I first encountered one of my beloved teachers, Chloë Goodchild, we were given the exercise to go outside in groups of three, and “sound from source” for 15 minutes. Huh??? I tentatively put up my hand and said, “Do you mean, each of us gets 5 minutes?” and Chloë responded with her deceptively innocent expression and posh English accent, “No, I mean you each will sing for 15 minutes.”

I freaked out: silently, internally, and I’m sure visibly to everyone in the room. I wasn’t afraid to sing an actual song for 15 minutes, but to be asked to express what my own heart and soul wanted to sing—what could I possibly offer?

The Soaring

Maybe it was the magic of Hollyhock, maybe the Muse was with me that day, but somehow, in that supportive little group on beautiful Cortes Island, I surrendered to being wildly vulnerable, and I sang. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen. . .and all of a sudden, it was easy. It was like I’d unlocked my soul.

In very little time, my body’s song came together with the innate ability to hear music and harmonize that I’d developed as a child, and it was pure magic.

And I discovered, then and over years now of improvising, that many, ever-changing sounds flow through me, and each voice that comes through has something particular to express.

Not coincidentally, it was on that same workshop that I realized I had original songs to write, too. Words and music that other musicians might enjoy playing with me, pieces to record on a CD. Sound poems that were waiting for me to midwife them into this world. Stories to share.

I can’t say that I “found” my voice again, because for me that finding—the discovering and uncovering—is a daily practice. Some days, my voice soars gloriously and effortlessly, and some days, it feels like my ribs are stuck to my guts, my jaw is clamping down hard, and I’m never going to make a resonant sound again. Thoughts come: how on earth can I be a decent performer, or voice facilitator, when I suck that badly?

And the Shame Monster shows its face, again.

Enter Trickster, to change the Story

But what I’ve learned to recognize is this: my voice is a Trickster. It plays on the boundaries of the divine and the mundane, between glorious winged Song and earthbound ho-hum croaks. My voice changes day-to-day as my body changes, and my body changes quickly because I experience a mysterious and chronic immune malfunction. Each croak, crack, and wacky vocal gaff invites me to listen to myself, to witness the shame (or pain or anger or grief) and be curious about why it is being called to the surface. It invites me to sing those experiences, and transform them into (com)passionate energy to fuel my life.

Listening and singing with my whole body have literally saved my life, and I can wholeheartedly say that I love my perfectly imperfect voice.

So, I do what I do because I am who I am. The human voice, the process of listening and our human capacity for exquisitely refined communication are my life’s fascination and greatest teachers. Whether I’m leading a community singing circle, speaking a poem to a crowd, or practicing resonant listening to hear what friends, family, clients or complete strangers are really trying to tell me, I just can’t get enough. This is what I’m meant to do—really the only thing that I can do—if I am going to offer all the gifts that flow through me, help others to do the same, and remain engaged and curious for a very long time.

Thanks for listening.

Say “hello,” ask a question, share your voice story.

A song of gratitude goes out to Anne Flanagan for the photo that inspired the artwork on this site.