It may surprise you, but being a theatre kid in high school and college can, in certain limited circumstances, have a negative effect on your life. In my case, my experience treading the boards and telling the tale of the Bard made me too good at talking. Specifically, it made me too good at volume. More specifically, it made me very very loud. Because in the theatre, when you are treading the boards, telling the tale of the bard, speaking the speech trippingly upon the tongue (hereafter referred to in layman’s terms as “acting” or “being a self-indulgent dork”), you are taught to project. I was very early on taught that I needed to project my voice and speak at such a volume that I could be heard from the very back seat of the theatre (hereafter referred to in layman’s terms as “the theater”). This is excellent advice when you are performing a play for a group of people who have paid a set admission price in order to sit in seats and watch you perform a play. It is not great when you’re, say, sitting in your living room talking to your wife.
Being the go-getter that I was, though, high school me went at whatever he did 110% percent–120% if there was an inspirational figure there to push me to new heights of greatness. So I didn’t feel a need to turn off the vocal projection when I was not in school doing the theater. But when I was at home, my parents never said anything about my newfound decibels. Maybe they legitimately didn’t notice, or maybe they were just glad that theater was keeping me out of the gangs and off of the marijuana pot that all these kids are into these days.
Regardless, I managed to get all the way out into the real world without noticing, until my then-girlfriend-now-wife Jen asked me, “You know you’re incredibly, loud, right?” To which I responded, “Maybe your ears are just too sensitive, and it’s your problem.” Y’know, standard stuff you say when you’re trying to get a woman to fall in love with you. But alas, I went back to my group of appropriately sensitive male friends and asked if I talked loudly. The verdict was unexpected. “We all assumed you were just a really passionate guy–just really excited about whatever it was you were saying.” While being known as a passionate, passionate man is not a bad thing, that wasn’t necessarily the personal brand I was trying to foster, so I was in Dire Straits. I was truly undergoing the Walk of Life.
I’d found myself in a quandary. How could I simply start to be “not be loud” when I never thought I was loud to begin with? My “pleasant conversation” was apparently everyone else’s “The Hindenburg’s going down, oh the humanity.” So I just started talking quieter. Which was not the solution. On several phone calls, people asked me, “Are you in a library?” or “Have you been kidnapped?” or “Have you been kidnapped by militant librarians? What are their demands? Do they want an expanded budget for microfiche archives? Tell them no deal; the United States doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, except for all the times that we definitely do–I don’t know why that phrase is in every 90s action movie starring Harrison Ford.”
So I had to take a more nuanced approach. In my late 20s, I have essentially had to relearn how to talk. How did it turn out? Luckily, the only person that sees me on a daily basis now is my wife, so as long as she isn’t pissed off, it’s all good. Oh yeah, and people at work, but see my post re: biking to work, and you’ll see I’ve pretty much shot any chance at having a normal relationship with them.