This Year I Rewrite My Novel–Part XVII, On Losing It to Simon Le Bon.

Nancy Jooyoun Kim
August 14, 2010
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Walking through Cal Anderson–an almost-utopianish, urban park with a sports field and grassy open areas with winding gravel paths cutting unobtrusively through the green–I realized something.

As my friends, Talia and Elizabeth, and I passed the long texture pool with a clean conical feature that spills water and juts into the sky, a kind of minimalist shout-out to Mt. Rainier in the distance, I said, “Oh…I forgot to tell you, guys. I lost my karaoke virginity last Saturday.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’ve never sang in front of anybody in my life.”

They nodded.

“I’m the girl who spends the entire night at the Chinese restaurant watching other people do painful versions of The Carpenters, painful Filipino versions, and wanting to do Chrissie Hynde (who in my mind is the ultimate badass!). But I never touch the mic and I always go home with my tail between my legs.”

They agreed.

“But last Saturday, I did it. On Saturday, I lost my karaoke virginity!”

“Well, what was it like?”

“It hurt a little at first…but then it was smooth sailing.”

I went on to describe that evening–the night of the deflowering–which happened to just be a work party with a karaoke machine.

It started off with coworkers singing pop songs–some I had known, most I had not. Even though many of the singers belonged to the same generation as me, it seemed that either 1) I had not been paying attention at all for the past ten years or 2) I was too busy reading so I had no idea what it meant to wear “Apple Bottom jeans…boots with the fur (with the fur).

It was like one-hit wonders from 2003 with splashes of Bette Midler and Cyndi Lauper (which included an appearance of “True Colors,” a song that never fails to launch hot tears from my eyes).

After a couple hours (and a couple drinks), our friend who was DJing had to leave and since I didn’t plan on singing I took over. At first, I got a bunch of requests but as the requests dwindled down I had to pick my own songs.

Looking for crowd pleasers, “Hungry Like the Wolf” popped out of the selection and I slid it in, but looked up to meet a group of five or six expressionless faces.

“Anyone want to sing, ???Hungry Like the Wolf?’ Yeah? C’mon, guys!” (I am a terrible DJ.)

“Uh, we don’t really know that song.”

“You don’t know ???Hungry Like the Wolf?”

“No, not really.”

I thought they were joking. But as they proceeded to nibble out of the bottom of the pretzel bowl, I realized these freaks were not joking!

So, I picked up the mic and began singing, “Do do do do do do do do do do do do.

My set went on to include a giggly “Big Spender” and a somber “The Sound of Silence.”

Oh, Paul Simon!

A couple days after that I shared the news (losing it to Simon Le Bon) with my massage therapist. (She herself is a sweetheart and a karaoke lover.)

I had my face down in the face donut of the massage table (I didn’t have to look her in the eyes!), and I told her that I lost my karaoke virginity and that I was so scared but so fascinated by the sound of my voice on the microphone.

“That’s because you’re hearing your voice the way it actually sounds,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I was already slobbering a little through face donut.

“Well, when you sing alone, you hear the voice that comes out of you, so it sounds different from when your voice goes through the microphone and out of the speakers. You hear your voice the way it actually sounds. The way everyone else hears your voice.”

By then she had her elbows in the deep tissues between my shoulder blades so I couldn’t respond.

As I felt her destroy the knots in my back, something else unknotted, unfurled within my head but all I could think about consciously was how much I love Tiger Balm and how much I love my massage therapist.

A couple days later, my employer, an agency for people who are blind or have low vision, sent the majority of employees to a two-day training in “Motivational Interviewing,” or “MI”–a form of interviewing taught to us in the context of client counseling.

From what I can glean from two days (BTW, I am not a counselor but work on the administrative side of things), MI emphasizes high empathy, open-ended questions and reflective statements that allow individuals to articulate their own desires, problems, etc. and come up with solutions for getting to where they want to be on their own.

We listened to a couple hours of lecture, forming the conceptual basis for the discussion and the training. We then participated in exercises amongst our peers to enact some of the theories.

My favorite part of this training had to be two highly-weirdo ???80s video recordings of MI in action, performed by the superstars of MI including Professor William R. Miller.

In one brief interview which takes on the guise of a racist tableaux of white male, neatly-bearded clinician vs. Native American, wild-haired alcoholic patient, we begin to see the power of allowing the person who wants change to speak, to articulate the change and strategies for making the change happen.

The interviewee begins to find a voice through this articulation. And some of the most fascinating moments in the video occur when the interviewee gives cues that he is letting down his guard, or letting down his hair, which is already down, literally:

  1. He makes eye contact with the interviewer for the first time.
  2. His eyes light up when the interviewer mentions “beer.”
  3. He brushes the hair away from his face.
  4. He pushes the hair behind the ears.

We begin to see his face. And we begin to hear him.

I wonder if that is when, whether in writing or on a karaoke stage, the magic of voice happens. When we see the face and the nuance transmitted through the sound, the rhythm and all the cues in which the face loses its guard and we see the soul within it.

At the park, Elizabeth, Talia and I decided that instead of following our plan to visit art galleries, we’d stand by the wayside of the basketball courts and sheepishly watch the other works of art (ahem, shirtless men).

“Yeah, I couldn’t believe I did it. I mean, super-easy song, but, you know?”

“This is what you’ll blog about,” Elizabeth said.

We laughed.

We watched the men dribble, the transaction of the ball on the court. The expression of arms and limbs, the bliss that comes from the sweat of self-defined exhaustion. Beauty. The body and its voice.

Talia looked at me and asked: “Does this mean I won’t be in your blog this week?”

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