Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hear Me Out

When I worked as a health coach, I worked with clients across the country -- entirely by phone and email. Some of them had wonderfully grandmotherly voices, I could just imagine a silver haired school teacherly looking lady sitting at the other end of the receiver. Others spoke in gruff tones and Minnesotan accents, making me think of wild beards and brown hair and twinkling eyes (although I'm not sure why Minnesota = wild beards in my mind); upbeat optimism as they spoke of the shared diet and exercise plan they and their fiancee had embarked upon with my help; a chatty cook who slowly lost 20 pounds over the course of 6 months of working together.

And I'll never forget the man who confessed he had no real health goals in mind, but he liked that I called him once a month making no request of him and that I would listen, no judgments, to whatever he had to say. I always imagined him as a freckled middle aged redhead, and remembered how resistant and uncooperative he had been in our first conversation, although I realized later that it wasn't personal, his medications gave him some horrible side effects. I didn't have the heart to tell them that I was only supposed to make the calls if we were working through health goals together, but I called him monthly and jotted various progress notes into my files when we were through, for the benefit of any supervisor trawling my records in their spare time. I've always loved listening to the stories of others, and if I were to catalog and categorize the compliments I've received in life, being a "good listener" generally tops my list.

When I left that job to start grad school, a couple of my clients wished me well, most didn't say anything but just accepted the transition to a new coach, and a few took it hard. "Noooooooooooo!" shrieked the chef, which was heartwarming but odd at the same time, as she'd made such incredible progress and could be counted as one of my true "success stories." Another one of my "success stories" who used to email me long rambling weekly updates - I probably functioned as a diary to him - wrote back that he was sad but not surprised, since he didn't see how somebody like me could want to spend the rest of my life "telling fat old people not to be fat and old." (You can see why I didn't mind the long rambling weekly updates)

A couple went so far as to send over photos, a bit of a farewell but perhaps out of curiosity as well, wondering about this disembodied voice that floated into their voice message box or telephone once every week or two. One I even reciprocated and sent a photo in return, since she was one of my first clients and had been with me since the start. I think both of us were shocked, since neither of us looked as the other had imagined from our voices alone. I'm sure I looked much younger in the photo than I was, and she didn't have silver hair but chestnut brown, and smiling eyes but smaller than I'd envisioned, and somehow I'd assumed that her years of cycling 60 or 70 miles on weekends would have produced a gaunt frame, but she looked just as my maternal grandmother might have.

On the blogosphere the tables are turned a bit; you all know what I look like, but except for a couple of you out there, not many of you have heard my mellifluous coaching voice -- haha, have heard me speak (it's true though, I pulled out my "customer service" voice whenever I coached).

Until now! I'm pleased to report that I have published a short piece of non-fiction in an online audio literary magazine, and you can hear it for free online! The piece is called Coming Up For Air and can be found on the Drum Literary Magazine website. If you have a chance -- take a gander! As with my former coaching clients, I'm sure I sound different than you'd imagined! My piece is less than 5 minutes long, but they have pieces up to 20 minutes, which is a perfect little snippet if you're searching for something to listen to as you sew. They have fiction and non-fiction, which I love because I can mix it up with This American Life and random TED talks.


Zonnah said...

Oh, I loved it! You have such a sweet voice. I don't normally like listening to audio recordings because the voices will annoy me sometimes but yours did not. Also, I know I said this before but I am going to say it again, I love your writing.

Alessa said...

Fascinating! It's a lovely and interesting essay and I liked listening to your voice. You're right, it's not quite like I imagined. :)

Minnado said...

I love your writing Jessica and enjoyed listening to this, Your voice is lovely and not what I expected though I am not sure what I was expecting!

Ali said...

You are a FABULOUS learner (I always go on and on and on and you let me) -- and you're also a great storyteller, too! :) I particularly love your attention to detail, China is very special, and you do it justice. Well, well done, lady.

Sigrid said...

Just got around to listening, and I too was a bit surprised by your voice at first. By the end of the essay, though, it seemed exactly right: thoughtful, deliberate a bit ageless.
And the essay evoked a China I never hear about. Thanks for that little window into another world.