Tag Archives: mission

You don’t have to be a King to find your voice

This is a post I’ve literally waited over a year to write. It concerns something only a handful of people have known about me to this point.

king george vi
king george vi

In late 2009, I found myself in a Wikipedia-induced causality loop. You’ve been there. One search leads to another one and then a morning has suddenly passed. I don’t know where this particular one began but it ended with the story of King George VI and the commencement of production on “The King’s Speech.” I immediately put the film on a Google Alert.

Reading the ever-increasing number of stories and blog posts about the stellar film was excruciating since I apparently live in the last place on earth the movie would ultimately run. I’m proud to see the film is as beautiful and brilliant as I’d hoped.

Why the weird obsession? Because it’s my story too — and the story of many others who conditions that affect their hearing and speech. While most of us will never influence the course of history, the struggle is much the same.

The Beat of a Different Drum

From the time I was a child, I knew I heard things differently than other people. I could discern sounds no one else seemed aware of in some situations, but there were others in which I couldn’t make out the words of someone standing talking directly into my ear (particularly when there was background noise). Severe ear infections throughout my pre-teen years led surgery to put tubes in my ears and have my adenoids removed. The pain went away, but the problems with sound and articulation continued. My family moved a lot in those years, and with each new school, I’d eventually end up in a speech counselor’s office.

Several years ago, I got fed up. I’d been to audiologists, speech pathologists, and had my hearing checked countless times. My hearing was perfect–hypersensitive even–so how could I have so much trouble understanding and articulating speech? None of the local doctors could tell me.

Finally, I turned to the ultimate “expert,” Google. I listed every hearing and speech-related symptom that was driving me crazy.

Here were the top two search results I saw:

I was dumbfounded (no pun intended) reading those entries. Literally numb. Having a name for my “defect” didn’t change its reality, but it changed everything about how I viewed it. In that moment, I remembered the nine-year-old boy hiding in the corner at public events because the noise was driving him mad and didn’t feel contempt for his weakness. Instead, I felt respect for someone who never gave up hope that some day he would find a way to make a contribution.

Life with an auditory processing disorder is a Skype conversation with a long time lag, or hearing someone speak a language you don’t know and waiting for the translator. Sound comes in, but has to settle before the can brain process it and forms a response. The kicker is that the response, no matter how perfectly formed in the mind, doesn’t automatically articulate itself the same way vocally. Additionally, the ability to filter sounds is limited, so I can hear conversations going on throughout a wide area.

Me at one week
They say I took the heavyweight crown in the week-old division.

APD is thought to be caused my two things–recurrent ear infections as I mentioned earlier and oxygen deprivation during birth, which also fit my story. In 1970’s small-town Louisiana, your general practitioner was your only doctor and you didn’t question his word even if it killed you. My 4’11” mother had a difficult, prolonged labor with me before her doctor realized her pelvis was too small and performed an emergency c-section. Besides a temporary conehead and scratched-up face (from my fingernails), those hours in the birth canal resulted in flattened cartilage and an unknown period of time without oxygen.

Again, I contacted doctors, audiologists and pathologists throughout Louisiana, certain they could do something with this new information. I got one acknowledgment, which was “this condition can only be treated in children. There’s no point in a diagnosis, because the wiring in your brain is set.” Probably true, but I wasn’t willing to stop there.

My odyssey led to Judy Paton (the second link in my Google Search) in San Mateo, Calif., who specializes in working with adults. She performed the testing, confirmed the diagnosis and provided advice to keep challenging the speech and hearing center of my brain. One of the things she suggested was to work with a vocal coach. The musical element would improve diction, timing, rhythm and tone.

Just Breathe

Another Google search led me two buildings from where I work in rural Louisiana to Terrie Sanders, one of the few McClosky-certified vocal trainers in the country.

As in the film, we did some of the funny exercises (lying on the floor, skipping, swinging arms, stretching the tongue). The emphatic cursing trick depicted in the movie I discovered purely on my own, and it is frighteningly effective. But the biggest revelation was awareness of my breath.

I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no-one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening. That must ring a few bells with you, Bertie.  ~Lionel Logue, The King's Speech
"I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no-one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening. That must ring a few bells with you, Bertie." ~Lionel Logue, The King's Speech

“Inhale from the diaphragm and let the words flow out with the breath,” my teacher would say. “Just breathe.” It seems like the most natural thing, doesn’t it? Biologists say it’s an involuntary function of the body. For sustaining existence, that’s true. But I would discover that deep, life-giving breaths are a matter of intention. If two words can sum up a personal philosophy, “Just Breathe” became fuel for my thoughts, a moment to decide, a prayer — and perhaps most surprisingly, the foundation of a decent tenor singing voice.

So why am I in the communications field? Seems like the ultimate masochism, doesn’t it? Sometimes, absolutely! But we all have “something” to overcome in the quest for a legacy. And meaningful connections can be forged in so many ways that have nothing to do with skills of articulation.

Still, public speaking is no longer just the realm of world leaders and Dale Carnegie types. We all have to do it to be effective in our work. That was one of the reasons I threw my hat in to present at O’Reilly Media’s Gov 2.0 Expo last spring. The presentation was selected to be included in the last round of “lightening” keynotes, which meant the presenters had about five minutes each. My presentation wasn’t going to be one of the philosophical types that frame the future of governments and the world and wow the audience with its profundity. The audience wasn’t going to be blown away by its delivery either, as I’d have to read it to maintain my timing. But it was MY story: a simple and direct explanation of who I am and what I do. This presentation would be my declaration that cultural heritage defines our humanity as much as climate change, national defense or the value of currencies. It was also a powerful testament to the power of the online community, as friends like Lorelle VanFossen and Lisa Louise Cooke, both natural speakers, spent their valuable time helping me to refine it. And other online friends who I’ve never interacted with, like Todd Henry, Chris Guillebeau, and Liz Strauss, whose blogs and podcasts have, over time, empowered me with transformative habits to make a difference by focusing on the “now.”

Ultimately, the experience was a continuing reminder of the power of family. Watching the experiences of the historical Queen Elizabeth portrayed in The King’s Speech, I chuckled to think of how familiar they might seem to my own wife, ElizaBeth, in bolstering a recalcitrant husband to discover his message and believe himself worthy to deliver it.

When my name was announced on May 27, 2010, deep gratitude for so many supportive people had replaced any lingering fear. Emerging into glaring spotlights and a podium in front of several hundred people (including a livestreamed worldwide audience), I didn’t think about the first words I would say or how I would look on the 30-ft HD screens on either side of the stage. I thought only two words again and again:

“Just. Breathe.”

Refocusing for the Future with Voices of the Past

VOTPlogoIt’s not exactly an industry secret that posts here on Voices of the Past have been few and far between. And while this site is one of the initiatives in my life I’m most proud of, I want everything to be just so. Part of it is my training as a journalist. The larger part is my own perfectionistic, self-defeating insanity when it comes to matters of writing and design. The incredibly brilliant Steven Pressfield calls this “Resistance” in the most influential book I have read: The War of Art.

“Resistance is the enemy; Resistance will bury you”

Not that I’ve been a hermit. Some folks know I’ve worked with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training for over nine years, where I developed the National Park Service’s first coordinated new media program with podcasts, a WordPress site and various other multimedia. I also write a weekly newspaper column on “how-to” heritage topics, created one of the first community heritage social networks in the U.S., created a Alltop-like site for heritage bloggers, adjunct in university classes and participate in a variety of local and national organizations. Of course, I place my family above all. Somehow, Voices of the Past — the least demanding, but still cherished “good child” is always left standing when the time runs out.

When WordPress announced its new “Daily/Weekly Post” initiative to encourage bloggers to pledge to post daily or weekly in 2011, I chose to see it as THE sign following a host of other signs, to take Voices of the Past beyond the hobbyist stage. I’m the type the universe has to strip down and beat senseless before I make major changes, even if I know they will make life better. It’s amazing how crisis also adds focus, isn’t it?

So here’s what I’m doing about it

  1. Voices of the Past will be merging with my Hometown Heritage network on the BuddyPress platform. This will allow other people/organizations to create their own blog through the site and interact more powerfully about their heritage projects.
  2. My newspaper column, which was formerly for a local audience, is in the process of launching into syndication under the Voices of the Past brand with original, free, print-only content that will complement content on the site. If you’d like get the column in your local paper, contact me I’ll be happy to send you my media kit.
  3. I’m expanding the Voices of the Past Heritage Media brand to slowly build a network, supporting others in their efforts to create heritage-related media. More guest posts from folks “working in the trenches” with new media, and possible guest podcasts and videos. Please let me know if you’re interested!
  4. The videos, podcasts and blog posts may be a little shorter and rougher around the edges for the sake of consistently giving you content that inspires you in your journey to discover and protect cultural heritage.
  5. I’ll be available for scheduled coaching and production assistance for planning and implementing heritage-related new media campaigns and strategies.

My pledge is to post weekly in a year that will be one of the more interesting in my life. The site may take a more personal turn as a result, but there’s no other group I’d rather share the journey with. As part of the process of “letting go” just a bit, I’m going to use a little of the verbiage from the DailyPost site …

I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.

Signed,

Jeff Guin
jkguin@voicesofthepast.org
318-527-0709

What I’m about, through my daughter’s eyes

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I visited Memory Lawn Cemetery in my hometown of Natchitoches, La., with my daughter this past week. And it brought hope to my world.

I’ll admit, 2010 was a challenging year. It began with the unexpected passing of my father and seemed to roll downhill ever since. Not just for my family, but many others here and throughout the world. Listening to the recent reports about how companies are set to rebound on the strength of their foreign investments while leaving most of the American workforce behind made me feel even more guilty and depressed about the world I’ve brought my child into.

It probably doesn’t help that I write this on the anniversary of my dad’s passing. Grinning through moist eyes, I try to remember how many times he told us “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, kids. People will step all over you without a second thought. You gotta protect yourselves first.”

Yeah, Daddy. There are times I can certainly see the point. But every time I try to use that logic to harden my heart and give my life a little clarity, there’s this little well of hope that keeps springing up through the cracks. Put a rock over it, and it seeps around. Try rolling a boulder over it and turns into a gusher, violently attacking and destroying the foreign object as the body responds to a virus. And no matter what you said, I saw it was the same with you.

We resist pain, both for ourselves and the people we love. But in my own life, it’s always been the necessary launchpad for grace I could never imagine and ever greater clarity about why I’m here.

Which leads me back to Memory Lawn.

We stood at the grave of my Great-Aunt Bobbie, still fresh with loose dirt, the flower sprays fading. I was remembering her dead-pan wit that flashed like lightening and sometimes took days to cipher. And her homemade buttered biscuits that were good enough to make grown men cry.

My daughter, who has spent a fair amount of her six years happily cleaning grave markers (or watching her mom repair them), took my hand. “Cemeteries can be sad places, can’t they,” she said. It wasn’t a question.

“Sometimes.” I didn’t want to worry her. “Let’s see if you can find my Mamaw and Papaw’s names.” I watched her skip toward my family’s little collection of memorial plaques, hot pink toy butterfly wings flouncing from the back of her red Christmas dress. “Remember that cemeteries are places where we can remember people too. When we share our stories with other people, they can live on for a very long time.”

She stopped in front of a double-marker embossed with the surname “THOMPSON” and looked up at me. “That’s what you do, isn’t it Daddy … share stories so we remember about people?”

That small statement was the biggest and most unexpected gift I could have received this year. I don’t recall ever telling my child about my work, or why I chose it. But then again, she lives it too.

A lot about the larger issues of the world doesn’t make sense right now and I’m clueless about the specifics of how my own life will look over the course of the new year. But I do know why I exist, and so does my family. And that’s something I will treasure until I return to the place of that memory for the last time.


Note: this was originally published in my Hometown Heritage newspaper column