She was me, today, in Fides’s singing class! There I was, channeling Calamity Jane from the early episodes of Deadwood. Sloppy, sad, aggressive, foul-mouthed and utterly winsome.
We’d been talking about the challenge of trying to teach a class with an undefended voice. On a rainy Monday morning at 8:00am in March, my students emanate hatred of me and everything I stand for: scheduling, discipline, effort, accountability. My usual defense against Monday-morning resentment is to go on the offensive: to force the students out of their torpor and into discussion, inquiry, engagement. I push and push, my voice become low and authoritative; I model keen intellectual engagement with the material. But there’s a big part of me that feels for them–that feels with them–and wholeheartedly agrees that any sane creature on a morning like this would still be under the covers.
That’s the part of me I need to rally in my voice, to ward off strain and fatigue. The softer, empathetic aspects that carry emotion as well as smarts. The winsome and wayward bits. So, Calamity Jane it is!
CJ is unfettered appetite, unchecked whim. She drinks herself silly, wears skins from animals she’s shot and skinned with her own hands. Jane has broken so far out of the female mold that she belongs nowhere and everywhere on the lawless, calamitous frontier where women are consigned either to the brothel or the laudanum bottle. If she had only found her pack, I think–her tribe–she would have been unstoppable; she would have changed the course of history.
And what does Jane sound like, coming out of my mouth as I sing? Physiologically, she means a loose, open diaphragm puddling onto my pelvic floor. A six-shooter sternum aiming true to target. A soft, slurring tongue and a tremulous, sorrow-filled brow. With this technique my voice is broad and throbbing, warm and easy, packed with stamina and power like never before.
Of course, this is exactly what Fides is after: the sound, the technique. Calling up a TV character is one of her tried-and-true pedagogical methods for helping us make the leap between concept and practice. With the archetype of Calamity Jane fixed firmly behind my eyes, my body can adopt the posture and attitude it needs without my interference or censure.
It felt really good, and I liked what I heard. So much, in fact, that I might just try to keep Jane around for awhile.