Our voices are our identities. Our personalities shine through the way we speak, write, and sign. But with so many voices vying to be heard on the TV, radio, or Internet, achieving influence is a vicious competition to see whose voice is broadcast the widest.
Though I’m not keen on being famous, I wonder how far my voice could take me. My speaking voice is naturally quiet, so I need to train myself not to mumble. I have a visceral fear of talking on the phone because my voice, floating over airwaves without gestures or body language, feels like it’s falling into a vast void. I’m usually the first to sing myself hoarse at karaoke, despite drinking buckets of water. I envy people who have naturally audible voices.
If you work in the tech industry, you might be familiar with the popular buzzword “usability.” Although designers and engineers use this term to evaluate how easy their tools or processes are to learn and use, the strategy for achieving usability can be an abstract mystery.
Here’s the most vivid way I can describe usability in action: in the movie Temple Grandin, the titular character crawls through a claustrophobic tunnel on a ranch where cows are prodded and dipped in pesticide to eradicate ticks. She experiences firsthand the ways in which the tunnel violates cows’ natural instincts, scaring them with glints of lights and unnatural direction changes. Later, Grandin redesigns a slaughterhouse to account for their natural sense of direction, and the cows are gently guided to their deaths. They get a dignified ending, and people can enjoy high-quality beef from relaxed cows.
I didn’t become a school teacher for a couple reasons: I lose my voice quickly when I talk a lot, and I’m drained by interacting with people all day. I discovered these weaknesses as I did peer tutoring throughout elementary, middle, and high school in reading, math, and music. Looking back, it’s remarkable that my school trusted me, a sixth grader, to help third graders with their education. But I was also learning how rewarding it was to share my knowledge with others, with empathy and patience.
I learned that just because you excel at a subject doesn’t mean you can teach it. Teaching is a communication challenge in many ways- I’ve had to yell over the sound of rambunctious children banging on percussion instruments and convince cynical teenagers why they should care about a book. I take the success and failures of other people personally, even though I don’t have total control over how they perform on tests or day-to-day tasks.
Outer space is like a childhood friend I rarely keep in touch with. We were first acquainted when I did a report in elementary school on Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space. My family and I then visited John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida and returned with a space obsession. We watched Apollo 13 and built a model rocket together. I sunk myself into research about space exploration and astronomy.
Years later, I barely read news about NASA or SpaceX beyond a cursory glance. I never dreamed of being an astronaut, so my career path didn’t take me near aerospace engineering or hard science fields. Yet society sends me reminders to stay curious space exploration. My company’s meeting rooms are named after space missions like “Hubble” and “Apollo.” The Tech Museum in San Jose features a fun space exhibit. Movies like Interstellar, The Martian, and Hidden Figures tell superb stories about astronauts and mathematicians.
One of my favorite routes in the Bay Area is the Pacific Highway west of San Francisco. The blinding ocean and wind-swept trees flash by your windows as you wind through rugged cliffs. The drive is the perfect reminder that a journey can be as enjoyable as the destination, and that roads really are the lifeblood of human civilization.
Many famous roads like the Silk Road or Oregon Trail changed the course of history by connecting people and places. Some roads are famous destinations themselves: Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Scottish Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and the curvy, flowery Lombard Street in San Francisco.
Our roads reflect the culture of the time period we live in. A popular running joke in movies and TV shows – from La La Land to SNL skits – makes fun of the way daily traffic jams have reduced urban Californian roads to rage-inducing battlefields. While the shared misfortune gives frustrated commuters something to bond over, it’s a sign that highway infrastructure in many areas hasn’t kept up with increasing population. We also have the uniquely modern problem of dodging fellow drivers who have their eyes glued to their phones.
“I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms,” proclaimed Daenerys Targaryen in season 7 of Game of Thrones, “and I will.” Watching a petite young woman gain power, especially in a fantasy world full of traditional rules about European royalty, is a strange but exhilarating experience. Thankfully, the idea of women in positions of power has been increasingly popular in our modern media and culture.
Although traditional queens have mostly been replaced by presidents and prime ministers, our TV and media still reflect our fascination with old-fashioned royalty. The long-lived British queens Victoria and Elizabeth II have their stories told through shows like The Crown and Victoria. We also see stories about women scheming their way to power by winning the favor of the king, like The Other Boleyn Girl.
I started my music career by learning to play the piano like a perfect Asian child. Alas, my parents soon discovered that my first grade self didn’t have the patience to practice alone every day. They signed me up instead for U Music, a percussion ensemble program that promised to teach children life skills along with music skills.
I naturally gravitated towards mallet instruments like marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone that featured piano-like keyboards. I also learned how to play snare drum, bass drum, and concert toms, as well as small instruments like tambourine, shaker, and triangle. I learned how to be precise with my rhythms and musical with my melodies.