Here's what happens when a writer who hates the sound of her own voice makes a podcast
It's called "Crushed," and it's out now
When I signed a contract to report, write and host a podcast about baseball’s steroid era, it didn’t occur to me that I’d have to spend a lot of time listening to my own voice. After getting laid off, I was thrilled that this company, Religion of Sports, wanted to pay me to do a project on a subject that fascinates me. I just forgot for a moment that I hate the sound of my voice.
And now, for the past month, that voice has been talking out of strangers’ phones.
“Crushed,” the podcast I’ve spent the past year and a half working on (the podcast that made me the least consistent newsletter writer on this platform) has been released. In fact, it’s almost finished being released. The sixth of seven episodes comes out Thursday, May 6, and the final one drops May 13. That means I’m about to have more time to spend on this newsletter, and it also means I’d be eternally grateful if anyone reading this chose to listen. Despite the fact that it’s a story stitched together with hours of my dreaded voice, it has (thanks to a super-talented production team) turned out better than I could have ever imagined.
And I’ve been thinking lately, as I’ve gotten a few angry messages about vocal fry and many more kind notes: Why is it that I can’t really enjoy listening to something I’m extremely proud of, something I know has off-the-charts production value, with music and sound effects and tons of thoughtful decision making to prop up my squawking? I wish I could tune in without roiling anxiety, wish I could be the real-life podcaster my resume says I am. But underneath it all, I’m still just a writer who frantically fast-forwards through her own questions while listening back to interviews, who banned her boyfriend from playing her podcast out loud at home.
Part of my inability to listen, I think, comes from the fact that I’m a millennial woman, which means for years I’ve been told that I speak wrong, offensively even, with too much fry and occasional upspeak. But my voice insecurity has been around longer than my generation has had a name, definitely since the last millennium. If you’ve met me—and especially if you knew me as a kid or teenager—you know I’m in the 99th percentile of fast talkers. In second grade, when my class learned multiplication, our teachers held contests to see who could rattle off the times table we’d just learned fastest. From the twos to the 12s, I won each time without even trying. It was the only time it ever paid off to be the class motormouth.
So speaking has always been a fraught proposition for me. I’m much better on paper, in writing. The voice I’ve developed there, the voice people have read on the Internet for a decade—well, I like that voice. I like that everyone can hear it however they’d like, with whatever intonations or pitch they want to imagine. They probably make me sound more interesting than I am, more polished. Because the voice that comes out of my mouth is starkly Midwestern, devoid of an accent in a way that screams that I’m from flyover country. And yes, I’ve slowed down over the years, but not enough. Never enough. Until now.
Refining my voice was the hardest thing about making “Crushed.” At the beginning, I had to say every sentence three or four (or five or six) times before I got it right, before it was not too fast and not to slow and not to ridden with gravely fry. I was overcorrecting half the time, speaking in slow motion, at a squeaky pitch, in a voice that wasn’t mine. But eventually, thanks to hours of work with my producer, I got it right. (Or so she tells me.)
Still, I’ve realized aesthetics are only part of the reason I struggle to listen to this thing I poured my heart into for 16 months. The rest is about the substance, the weight of lending my voice—rather than just my brain and my keyboard—to a story I care so much about. Podcasts are personal and permanent, and this thing has grafted itself onto my identity over the past year. I reported it as diligently as anything I wrote at Sports Illustrated, but here’s the difference: I was never a character in any big magazine feature I put my byline to. Here, I very much am. Listeners need to trust me in a way they don’t, necessarily, when they’re reading words I’ve typed. I’m asking them—you—to spend time not just with those words, but with me. To come along for a little bit of my story. And that makes me unspeakably nervous, especially because “Crushed” is about a lot more than just baseball. It’s about myths and cheating and serious public health concerns, about how we find empathy and why it’s easier to resort to blame. Some of the things I learned while reporting and believe very strongly to be true don’t at all line up with the story of the steroid era that’s been told for the past two decades. And in my addled writer brain, it feels even more serious when I say those things out loud, rather than put them in print.
But I’m proud of every word I wrote (and spoke), every decision my team and I made along the way. And I’d be honored if you’d give my voice a chance even when I struggle to. This might be the strangest argument ever crafted to convince someone to listen to something, but it’s just the way my mind works. A little differently. And “Crushed” is different. I hope that makes it special.