Act normal or act natural, Pt. 3 – interaction, voice, and movement

I want to mention the latest thing I’m working on to come into contact with my body’s natural state, even though it’s still in its fetal stages. I’m doing sessions with a voice coach / therapist whose main focus is finding and releasing your natural voice.

At my first session with her, I was as nervous as I always am upon meeting someone new in a binding situation – that is, terrified to the point of near-shutdown. I told her this as we sat across from each other talking. I explained briefly that being autistic is kind of like being a giraffe raised by wolves (the giraffe speak vs. wolf speak reference, if you’re familiar with that method, was completely coincidental and doesn’t really apply), that I felt very inhibited and trained-to-not-be-a-freak, and that I wanted to learn to get back in touch with who I am without the constant nagging voice of ‘that’s not normal’ in my head. I felt like whenever I tried to perform, I was imitating what I had seen and what I thought performance should look like – instead of making use of the opportunity to come up with my very own concept of performance. She made the very astute comment that the whole idea of, and the great thing about, performance art is that it’s a completely free space. When you’re doing a performance, if you break social convention or act weird, that’s simply the act – so it’s the one place where you can be whoever and whatever you are without it being socially ‘dangerous’. Sweet music to my ears.

She asked me what I would like to do right now if I didn’t have social convention to worry about. How would I sit, would I want to look at her, at the wall, out the window – would I like her to look away, sit somewhere else, leave the room? I got into some kind of epileptic fetal position on the chair, started moving my head around achingly, trying to stretch the muscles into relaxation, and told her eye contact actually took a lot of energy out of me, so if I wasn’t obliged to that, it would relieve some stress. She turned her chair around so she was facing the wall behind me, and we got into an almost freudian arrangement of me, feet in the windowsill and ass in the chair, looking out the window, and her leaning back in her chair looking the other way. She was more relaxed about it than even I was, something I don’t remember ever experiencing before. I instantly relaxed so much more. From then on, the conversation was intuitive and incoherent; And for no reason I could rationalize, I told her about an interview with Tom Waits that I had just seen.

I wouldn’t presume to know what Tom Waits is thinking in that situation (I’m not exactly an understanding-social-situations savant), but I loved the interview because to me, it seemed like he was nervous and translating it into constant moving around and taking his time to think of good answers to the questions to the point of the interviewer thinking he just wasn’t answering and asking the next one before the answer came. I really liked the idea of acting like that – fiddling, stimming (I don’t smoke, but it’s a nice example of a stim), and taking my time. And letting the interaction, the connection with the other person, be quietly, but painlessly ruined as a result.

In the interview it wasn’t a problem: The host made the lack of connection funny, and Waits went with it (at least to the point of smiling overbearingly and allowing for the comedy to flow, which was all he really needed to do to keep the audience from getting uncomfortable). I guess the great thing about missed social connections is they translate so nicely into improvised, more-or-less accidental performance pieces. Also a reason my all-time favorite interview is this one from ’74:

I’m sure there’s a whole performance art form hidden in there. I want to be able to miscommunicate so beautifully with people as a result of just being me (or just not giving a shit – or just embracing the fact that we don’t want to ask and answer in the same way – call it what you will, I guess the causes and motivations are as constantly changing as in any other category of social interaction).

Anyway, the first whole session with this voice coach / therapist revolved around just feeling inwards and doing what my impulses told me to. It was just what I was looking for, it gave me a massive release of energy somehow, and I was so blissfully bouncy-happy afterwards that I seemed to create smiles on every face around me all the way down the street.

After several sessions, something very annoying has happened: I’ve become comfortable and therefore able to slip instinctively into my civilized-person role. I no longer have a need to look away or to fiddle constantly, and that annoys me, because then what’s left is sitting with my hands in my lap listening politely, and though I feel no impulses to do anything else, I can just feel that that’s not my natural state. I just can’t feel what would be healthier for me to do instead – what would set me free from the role. You know those braces that Forrest Gump wears on his legs as a child? I feel like I have those all over my body, to keep me from moving around when it’s not strictly necessary. And they’ve become such a part of me that I can’t get them off. That’s why that tension keeps coming back the moment my mind turns to something other than relaxing my body.

I’ve just started doing voice meditations, which is basically a meditation where you just let your voice do whatever the hell it wants. Some very strange noises come out when my voice does what it wants, and it’s quite wonderful to hear something that’s so clearly not derived from anything I’ve heard and wanted to be (which is otherwise how I live my life – I feel such resonance with Christian Lemmerz’ cartoony mirror ghost – I forget its name).

We’ve also been working on learning to let the poem move me instead of me moving the poem. The thing that has worked best so far is to follow the impulses for movement the same way you do with the voice in voice meditations, and then only say the words to the poem if they feel like a natural part of the movement. So far this kind of meditation is very silent, but it’ll get gradually infused with sound the more I do it.

I think these two kinds of meditation are what I need to really dive into now.

Too bad I’ve lost my voice from a throat infection right now. :/ I’m generally getting throataches a lot since I started working on my voice. Every little step forward is accompanied by some soreness or even infection, it seems. Luckily I’m used to things working that way, so it doesn’t scare me off – just makes me more careful not to strain too much. And that’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned so far: Not to push myself at 120% constantly, but instead trying to find the 80% mark. 120% or even 100% is simply too risky if you’re trying to undo damage rather than create more.


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