My upstairs neighbors and landlords, who are part of the local shapenote community, almost always put up a bunch of convention visitors. They have more rooms than I do. As of yesterday there were three folks planning to stay with them. But then they were contacted by two folks from Chicago about staying with them as well, which would be one too many individuals than they have beds for so Stephen called me to see if I could put somebody up. Mind you, I'm ungracious and resentful about being asked this only three days in advance (although Stephen took the brunt of that resentment -- I absolutely would never ever want any guests to sense this), but it will be fine. Stephen's call, however, brought up the fact that in some ways I'm just not a nice person.
You see there are two people who need last minute housing: one a stranger to me and one I've known for many years. Stephen knew perfectly well that I would not want to host the one I've known for years. And the reasons are just petty, or at least should have faded by now. I keep waiting for them to fade, but they don't. That's what I'm writing about here. It's all because in some areas I'm just too sensitive.
One of the areas in which I'm just too sensitive is the area of my singing voice. My voice is one of those voices that you would describe as having idiosyncratic vocal texture. This has at least as much to do with my own sense of esthetics as with the voice itself -- I just don't buy into the pretty-voice bel canto thing that we have all been brainwashed to believe is the definition of a "good voice", in other people or in myself. I have this big odd voice with a buzz which I can use to lead songs or to carry my part or even to force people into tune. Some people get what I'm doing and some people don't. And believe me, I know exactly what my voice is and is not. But I have had literally a lifetime of people occasionally responding to my voice as if somebody passed some smelly cheese under their nose. I can see this response a mile away in the slightest facial tic.
So this guy from Chicago, starting many years ago, would come up to me and say things like, "You could never sing in a real choir with that voice" - which, by the way, is completely untrue but that's not really the point. The point is, why would you say that to somebody? In a way it could be a sort of compliment, as in "wow, what a powerful piercing sound you make". The problem is that this person said this (or something similar) to me every single friggin' time he saw me. For years and years. And then, for some reason, he stopped.
But you know what? I never stopped feeling angry and uncomfortable around him, even though we've certainly spent a lot of time together over the subsequent years. As I told Stephen last night, "If you tell me three or four hundred times how bad my singing voice is, even if you stop telling me that for a period of many years I will not feel comfortable offering you a bed in my house for the rest of eternity." The bit flipped. The curtain fell.
This is not good, but what can I do? It's not about reason. Of course, if there were no choice here I would certainly put this guy up and use every bit of social energy I have to be as hospitable as I possibly can be (that's really the problem with putting him up -- it would take all that energy to behave in a way that is completely easy and natural with most others). And my gosh, this is something that is teeny-weeny tiny-winy small and trivial compared to any number of ways in which somebody might offend. And that's really what I'm trying to say here: Sometimes, in odd ways, I lose my sense of proportion.
There is a funny coda here. For the most part, these bizarre possibly-insulting comments were never made in the presence of others, which meant I could always worry that I was mishearing or misinterpreting. Then last year, on Sunday after the convention, a group of us who do the keying at the convention were talking over the weekend's pitches, in the presence of this guy. We were commiserating over what was easy and what was hard and other tales from the front bench. This guy said to me, "Steven, since your voice is pitched so high you have trouble keying low enough." The other three keyers -- who know me and my voice and my pitching far more intimately than perhaps anybody should -- stared at him stunned and stupefied. For one thing, my voice is not pitched high -- it has a tenor timbre, but the way I key is to find where I'm most comfortable and then raise the pitch about a tone and people still complain that it's too low. But for another thing, I actually had done a really good job of keying during my stints that weekend (this is by no means a guarantee -- I rely tremendously on the other keyers, and look to them for their nods of approval on a regular basis), so this maybe-an-insult maybe-not comment (or so I would have thought had there been no witnesses) came across to these folks as an outrageous statement. I didn't have to say a word in response (the others responded quite well in my behalf), and this guy's comment became a running joke for a small time.
But at least I got some reassurance that I wasn't basing all of this on nothing.
And you know, it's really mostly about this guy's social awkwardness, which is hardly an unforgiveable sin. Writing this up has helped me see that a little bit. But I'm going to post this anyway.