What makes a voice more attractive or memorable?

 “Voice is a profound difference between men and women, and it colors every human interaction we have.”  David Puts, anthropologist at Michigan State University, as quoted in Why Do Men Have Deeper Voices Than Women, via NPR

Nine months ago, I placed an order for a sofa through Room and Board. When I called to schedule the delivery, I spoke with someone named Andre. Andre’s voice was completely unexpected. It’s not the kind of voice you expect to find answering phones at a furniture retailer. It’s a made-for-radio voice, exceedingly deep and smooth, and yes, undeniably sexy.

Today, I called Room and Board to schedule a technician to come to my home to repair the upholstery on the same sofa. Like anyone, I made dozens of impersonal calls throughout the year, and speak with dozens of people about the boring details that one must attend to–airlines, the electrical company, the garbage company, the cable company, etc. I never expect to talk to the same person twice, and, unless it’s a very small company, to my knowledge I rarely do.

But a strange thing happened today when I called Room and Board. Andre answered. And the second he said, “Hello, you’ve reached Room and Board,” before he identified himself, I knew that it was Andre. And it was. My heart did a little flip. I mean, it’s that kind of voice, utterly distinct and uncannily memorable.

Which got me to wondering: what makes one voice more memorable than another?

I found some interesting information about the way we react to other people’s voices on PsyBlog, in the post, 10 Ways Your Voice Influences Other Minds. This post focuses more on attractiveness of a person’s voice than memorability, but one item that jumped out at me was number 3: Women are attracted to deeper voices. I get it. This makes sense. My husband has a deep voice, and when I think back, in my dating years, I only had serious relationships with deep-voiced men. Actors with high or thin voices always make me uncomfortable–Ben Affleck comes to mind.

The why of women’s attraction to deeper voices is surprising, however, not to mention fascinating: deeper voices are indicative not of good looks or above-average height, but of increased weight. That’s right:

In other words, men with deeper voices can just as easily be short, fat and totally lacking in muscles or a hairy chest.

For women, it’s the opposite, according to the PsyBlog article. Men are attracted to higher voices–which might be why, ladies, no matter your age, during certain points in your monthly cycle you’ll notice that men are paying more attention to you, even when you don’t feel you’re looking your best. During ovulation, when a woman is ripe to be impregnated, her voice is higher.

The question I began with, when writing this post, was, “What makes a voice memorable?” Surprisingly, while there are numerous articles about what makes a voice attractive or sexy, articles on what makes a voice memorable were exceedingly hard to come by–which is why the title of this post changed to “What makes a voice more attractive or memorable?” Perhaps how memorable a voice is depends upon how attractive or sexy it is.

I realize I’m being a bit lazy here. When you can’t find the answer to a question, it’s preferable to look harder, further, and longer…rather than simply changing the question. But because “What makes a voice attractive?” is an equally fascinating question to me, I’ll stick with it for now.

Related reading:

You Must Remember This: What Makes Something Memorable? by Christoph Koch via Scientific American

Why An Attractive Voice Means a Good Mate: The Science of Sex, by Brie Cadman, via Divine Caroline

What Makes a Voice Attractive? Familiarity Plays a Key Role, Study Says, via Global News

But it’s our social groups that help us determine which voices we like to hear the most. And we especially preferred voices that are specific to the community we’re part of.

Why Do Men Have Deeper Voices Than Women, by Erin Engelhaupt, via NPR

Our voices each have a variety of “formants” — different frequencies that we regularly hit while we speak. Formant dispersion describes whether our usual frequencies are spaced closely together (a shrill or monotone voice) or far apart (an NPR host). The broader the range, the “fuller” the voice.

Women Can Make Their Voice Sexier, But Men Can’t, via The Daily Mail

How to Be the Most Memorable Person it the Room via Huffington Post

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How do you define work?

How do you define work? I have a habit of defining work as that which pays the bills. Part of this comes from necessity, or course, because there must be money each month for the mortgage, the electricity bill, groceries, etc. But what if my definition of work were expanded? What if those things that I do, things that have a value that is not monetary but is meaningful, were classified as work?

For example, I run a small press. I tend to think of every minute I give to the press as minutes taken away from my “real work,” because the press doesn’t break even, and when I am reading submissions, formatting books, and taking care of the distribution, I am not earning an income. (Of course, the fact that I’m not breaking even probably indicates that there’s something wrong with my “business model,” not that I have one. The moment I had a business model, the small press would become work, and then I would likely begin to resent it).

What about blogging? I blog as a kind of distraction, but also to maintain some sense of myself as a person in conversation with others. Despite the fact that there is a value in blogging, the fact that I don’t get paid to do it means that I don’t consider it work. In fact, I consider it play–on par with reading, which is another guilty pleasure.

My two primary forms of work are writing my books–for which I receive advances and royalties–and working with clients through my book doctor business. These activities are clearly work, because they contribute to the household income. If I did not publish my own books or consult with private clients on their own writing projects, I would have to find another kind of work to pay the bills. I have no desire to take on the kind of jobs I had when I was in my twenties–waitressing, advertising, and temping, for example–so I do the work that I know I’m good at, the work that seems to make the biggest return on my investment of time with the smallest amount of pain: writing my own books and helping others write theirs.

But writing books takes me a very long time, so the financial remuneration is often delayed not by weeks or months, but by years. As I write this, I am fulfilling my fourth novel contract with my publisher. It is clear to me, this many years into the life of a “paid novelist,” that the fact that I consider my books work makes them more laborious and time-consuming to write. I am happy to have the contracts, but because of the contracts, each novel looms over me as a thing to be finished, a deadline to be met, a job to be done.

What if I didn’t think of my novels as work? Eight years ago, before I entered my first publishing contract with a major New York publisher, I thought of teaching as my work, because it was teaching that paid the bills. At that time, I taught at an MFA program in creative writing, and had been doing so for years. Teaching seemed to be my career track, and writing was my guilty pleasure. I assumed I would always teach, that I’d work diligently toward the “tenure track,” that creating syllabi and reading grad school applications and serving on thesis committees would be part of my life for a long time. I knew that writing would always be a very strong part of my identity, and I knew that without the books I would not have the teaching jobs; however, because I’d never really been paid to write my books, beyond token advances that wouldn’t even cover a month’s rent, I didn’t consider it work.

Now, I just take a class every few years as a visiting writer. Now, when I teach, it feels as though I’m playing hooky from my real work. Because, when I crunch the numbers, teaching doesn’t pay enough to justify the time spent away from writing. I am deeply grateful to have been spared the life of the full-time academic, because, as it turns out, every time I teach, I resent the fact that I’m not writing as much as I “ought to be,” or as much as I want to.  I think of all those writers who got the “cush” teaching job and then barely managed to put out a book every seven years, or even to put out any more books at all. I can see how it happens, because teaching takes so much out of you.  I never want to be the kind of writer who stops writing because all my time is spent teaching people how to be writers. That kind of work, to me, would not be worth the (inadequate) paycheck.

Why does it matter, though, whether we classify a thing as work or not? Does it matter at all? To me, it does, because calling a thing work frees me up to do it. If it is not work, I feel guilty doing it during the weekday hours, those hours when I son is at school. Work has always been important to me, because I grew up watching my parents struggle desperately to keep the house and the car and the health insurance, and I never wanted to have that kind of life. I see work as a protection against financial ruin, marital destruction, and daily despair. Had I had a different kind of upbringing, I doubt that I would feel so much guilt pursuing passions that don’t pay the bills.

But we are all formed by our upbringing, of course, and despite the fact that I now enjoy a comfortable life, I can’t imagine ever getting past that feeling: “I must work well and hard, and I must do everything I can to make sure that the work pays off financially.” I like being able to give my son a level of comfort and security I never had. I like being able to go out to eat when I want, and to have a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, and to take trips. I like being able to spend time with my husband and my child. All of these things matter to me, because all of these things that money can buy contribute to a feeling of well-being and a lessening of stress.

Work matters on so many levels. The best kind of work fulfills us and allows us to use our talents. The best kind of work pays enough that we do not always feel that our lives are on the brink of collapse. The best kind of work encourages us to make a contribution to the world, while contributing to the mental and financial well-being of ourselves and the ones we love.

What are your feelings about work? Have you found the right work for you, work that is meaningful on multiple levels? What standards does something have to meet in order for you to consider it work? How has your concept of work changed over the years?


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Can rituals make you happier?

I’ve recently been inspired by Robert Arbor’s sweet guide to French living, Joie de Vivre. Arbor, a French restauranteur who divides his time between France and New York, sings the praises of peaceful breakfasts, family gardens, trips to le marche, leeks, love, and homemade jam.

Reading Joie de Vivre reminded me how much contentment we can derive from simple, everyday rituals. Here are five I highly recommend, although, of course, you should choose the rituals that bring you and your family the most pleasure and, equally important, peace.

1. Make the beds every morning.
It’s difficult to maintain order in a house, especially if you have little ones. Even without children, the piles of papers, books, CDs, gadgetry, sports equipment, laundry–you name it–can be overwhelming. Which is why I make the beds every morning. It takes five minutes to make a bed, it gives you a small sense of accomplishment early in the day, and every time you walk into the bedroom, you are met with a small island of calm in the midst of the chaos. I prefer soft white bedding with pillowcases in a bright color or inviting pattern–all the more zen.

2. Read every evening.
I love reading alone, and I try to do it for a few minutes every evening while my husband and son are spending time together. But one of the great things about reading before bed is that it’s an easy ritual that can also be shared with children. After a long day, I love sitting in the bed with my son, the bed piled with books he has chosen. He snuggles up close and we read anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour, depending on how tired he is. By the time we turn the last page on the last book, he is ready to have a glass of milk and go to bed. There are so many things to distract from time spent with family, so many time constraints that can lead to stress and arguments; reading with my son is a way for us to be close to one another in an utterly contented, quiet way. It’s also when some of our best conversations happen, and when he asks some of his most endearing and surprising questions. As parents, most of us always feel that, in some way, we’re coming up short. But I feel happy knowing that my son loves reading, and that this is a pleasure he will likely carry with him through his life.

3. Wear something that makes you feel good.
It can be a pair of shoes, a favorite scarf, a beloved jacket from college–it really doesn’t matter. Just choose something that makes you feel good–better yet if it has some sentimental value. Even if your clothes feel a bit tight today and the lines around your eyes came as something as a shock in the mirror this morning, wearing one beloved item that you know looks good on you can give you confidence. I love to wear a gold chain with an emerald that my husband gave me for our fifth wedding anniversary; every time my fingers absently find the emerald, I remember the choice my husband and I made more than a decade ago to spend our lives together, and it makes me feel calm and happy. What’s your emerald necklace?

4. Say something kind to someone you love.
It’s easy to be polite to strangers. We all know to say please and thank you in public, to smile and open doors for others, to ask, “How are you?” Being nice is ingrained in American life; the balance of friendliness and formal politeness varies, of course, depending on region, upbringing, and personal style. But in the rush of daily activity, it’s easy to forget to extend the same courtesies to the people we love, the people we see each morning when we wake up and each night before we go to bed, the people with whom we share meals and bills and responsibility. My husband and I always take time for a kiss and a hug and a kind word in the morning before he leaves for work (it sounds very 1950s, I know, but as I work from home, and he wears a suit, I do send him off every morning, something like June Cleaver). I feel grateful to him for going to work week after week, year after year; and he feels grateful to me for packing lunches and getting our son dressed and getting him to school (and working); and we both like each other very much. If he looks good in that shirt, I tell him. If he made a particularly amazing batch of chocolate chip cookies (which he does pretty often), I let him know I appreciate it. He does the same for me, numerous times a day, in numerous different ways.

We both do the same for our son. Think of a typical day–how many times do you end up correcting your children, telling them to do this or don’t do that, explaining that if they don’t brush their teeth, the teeth will eventually fall out? It’s not bad parenting–it’s just the way of the world–there are a lot of things we have to tell our children. But how many times do you say, “That’s such a great idea,” or, “I love how imaginative you are,” or, “I had so much fun with you today,” or, my favorite, “You’re a great kid.” They need to hear it, and it’s easy to say. So, each day before you part with your family members in the morning, and again before you go to bed at night, be sure to say something kind. It will make them happy.

5. Go outside and breathe.
I need not wax lengthy or this one. Hot or cold, rain or shine, remember to look at a tree or a bird or some rocks or some wildflowers. The only time I found it hard to go outside and breathe was Beijing, circa 1998, because breathing the city air was like breathing soot. So I would take a cab to the Forbidden City, find a quiet spot, and do my sitting and breathing there. Now that it’s summer in Northern California, we have our meals outside as often as possible–on the deck, or down in the yard in a little tee-pee my sister made for my son. I love to step outside first thing it the morning, when the air is cool. There’s a sense of promise to the morning hours, a sense of the world waking up which we can easily forget if we run from house to car to work, without spending a moment in the outside world. My son likes to go down to the back yard (we live over a canyon, and getting to the back yard is something of a trek) and check to see if Rocky the Fast, his favorite chameleon, is scuttling around on the bottom step. It’s good to be reminded of a world that is bigger than we are, and creatures that are smaller than we are. Perspective breeds happiness.

What are your rituals and secrets to happiness? Please share in the comments section.

postscript: The simple pleasure of a traditional French breakfast: The morning after reading the first chapter of Joie de Vivre, I went out and bought a fresh baguette, local butter (made just down the road in Petaluma), and strawberries for a traditional French breakfast: spread some fresh butter and homemade jam on a baguette and enjoy with freshly ground coffee. The coffee is a ritual I’ve had down for years (even more essential a part of my days ever since researching coffee culture for my novel, No One You Know). I buy the beans once or twice a week, grind just enough for a single use, and make just one cup either with a manual drip (a little ceramic cone that you fit over your coffee cup) or a French press.

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What is the Rapture?

Fear, trembling, & tribulation: notes from a raptured childhood

Before I was a San Franciscan, I was a Southerner, and every reformed Southerner knows a thing or two about the Rapture. As a child in a strict Southern Baptist household in Alabama, fed a steady Sunday diet of Revelations, I lived in fear of the day Jesus would return, the graves would open up, and the skeletons of the saved would start rocketing skyward. I pictured the waking dead like puppets on strings, a grisly group choreography dancing its way toward eternal life. Of course, it wasn’t just the dead who would suddenly be lifted heavenward. The living born-again would also be among the raptured. Rapture was a noun, but it was also a verb. To be raptured was divine, to be left behind was hellish.

One of the ironies of the Rapture is that it’s supposed to be a celebratory moment for Christians, the moment when all of their spiritual dreams come to fruition, the moment when they are rewarded for their belief and their evangelizing. But I didn’t know a single child who looked forward to the Rapture, and I always suspected the adults were just pretending. Because there was always that nagging question: what if I am not among the raptured? What if I’m left behind? Continue reading

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What should I eat?

USDA plate icon

Finally, the US government has released a simple, sensible visual to replace the outdated food pyramid. The basic message is that half of one’s plate each meal should be comprised of fruits and vegetables,while the other half should include a balance of grains and lean protein. If you’ve been avoiding milk in order to skip the calories, you might be happy to know the new guidelines also include three servings of dairy per day.

Go to choosemyplate.org for nutrition tools, such as recommended calorie calculators, menu planners, personal diet analysis, and tips for including more fruits and veggies in your family’s diet.

If you’re interested in the science of balanced, healthy eating, two great resources are Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salad, by Christine Avanti, and Body for Life for Women, by Pamela Peeke, MD. Both books demystify the relationship between carbs and protein, and explain in simple terms why it is important, not only for general health but also for weight loss, to eat a balance of “good carbohydrates” (found in veggies, fruits, and whole grains) and lean protein. Continue reading

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Where are the McStays?

Today, the LA Times published an article about the McStay family, who went missing from their home in Falbrook, CA, in February of 2010. Joseph McStay, 40, and his wife Summer, 43, apparently left home in their Isuzu Trooper on the night of February 4 with their two children–Gianni, 4, and Joseph, Jr., 3. Aside from a call Joseph made to one of his co-workers that night, the family has never been heard from again. There was no sign of forced entry or struggle at the home, which the family had only recently moved into. On February 8, the Trooper was towed from a strip mall parking lot within walking distance of a pedestrian crossing into Mexico. The police scoured video footage from the crossing that night, and concluded that one group of people walking across the border–a man holding the hand of a small boy, followed by a woman holding the hand of another small boy–could very well have been the McStay family. The woman is wearing boots and jackets similar to ones owned by Summer, but family members say the man is too tall and thin to be Jospeh McStay.

While detectives believe the family may have willingly traveled to Mexico–based in part upon an internet search conducted at the home about children visiting Mexico–the fact that they did not return seems to indicate foul play. The family left $40,000 in their personal checking and savings accounts, money which has not been accessed since their disappearance. Joseph also had $65,000 in a business account, and the small withdrawals that have been made from that account are business expense withdrawals conducted by employees. The McStays maintained close relationships with Joseph’s parents, his brother, and Summer’s sister, and Joseph was also very close to his 14-year-old son by a previous marriage. Family members insist they would never abandon their loved ones intentionally. They also left behind two dogs, beloved family pets.

Joseph’s brother Mike maintains a websitewith information and updates. Anyone with information about the case is being urged to call deputies at 858-974-2321 or 858-565-5200 after-hours. Tips can also be called in anonymously to CrimeStoppers at 888-580-TIPS(8477).

Their story was featured in May on Vanished with Beth Holloway. View the episode here. View family photoshere. Joseph’s youtube channel, last updated in January of 2010, includes cute family videos of the kids experimenting in the kitchen while the parents look on encouragingly, among other ordinary family happenings. The impression one gets in the videos is of a loving, ordinary family–certainly not parents who plan to abandon their lives, bank accounts, and home for a new start South-of-the border.


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What makes you cry?

There’s a wonderful scene in Broadcast News in which Jane Craig, played by Holly Hunter, unplugs the phone in her hotel room, sits down on the bed, and starts weeping and wailing. She cries passionately for several minutes before pulling herself together and confidently going about her business. Later, one realizes that crying is part of the character’s daily routine. I love the scene, not only because Hunter makes crying funny, but because it shows crying in all its cathartic and narcissistic glory, crying as ritual and refresher, crying as a near-religious experience.

My son came home from Kindergarten recently talking about a birthday party for a girl named Ruby, to which he hadn’t been invited. “At first I was sad, but now I’m so glad I didn’t get invited,” he said.

“Why are you glad?”

“It was a princess party,” he said. “It made Jack and Joey cry.”

Jack and Joey are twins, and their play dates with my son invariably involve light sabers, wrestling, swords, and other forms of pretend violence. Their own birthday party this year had a pirate theme. They probably had great expectations for Ruby’s birthday party. I imagined Jack and Joey bursting into tears upon realizing that they were surrounded by girls in princess dresses and giant pink balloons. I have to admit I couldn’t stop laughing.

Of course, to the twins, the princess party was no laughing matter. Their tears were real. Disappointment is a powerful thing.  As adults, most of us remember well a few instances in our childhood that made us cry with abandon. Continue reading

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A question of timing

What if you spent 20 years writing your magnum opus, only to pass away the day before its publication? That’s what happened to Columbia professor Manning Marable, remembered here in the New York Times.

“For two decades, the Columbia University professor Manning Marable focused on the task he considered his life’s work: redefining the legacy of Malcolm X. Last fall he completed “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” a 594-page biography described by the few scholars who have seen it as full of new and startling information and insights.”

It is tragic that Marable will never get the chance to go out into the world and talk about the book that was so close to his heart for so long. But there is something to be said for the fact that he spent his life pursuing work about which he was passionate. Now that work is out there in the world, and, udging by the response in the New York Times and elsewhere, the book will surely find a wide audience.

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Question 3: Would you be willing to settle in space?

I couldn’t sleep last night. I tossed and turned until 4:15 a.m., when I finally climbed out of bed, went out onto the deck, and looked up at the sky. Why? I couldn’t stop thinking about space.

I blame my insomnia on a lively conversation with a prominent scientist over dinner at the home of one of my favorite people last night. According to the evening’s honored guest, the most significant rationale for space exploration is so that “we can colonize space.” He believes that settlements on Mars, the lunar poles, or in free space are inevitable, and may come sooner than most of us think. He also says that setting up a colony on Mars could cost as little as one billion dollars. (Visit NASA’s Mars exploration page.) The science to get the colonizers to Mars, or the moon, is there. The problem is in bringing them home. Continue reading

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Question 2: Why is it so hard for Westerners to understand the absence of wide-spread looting in Japan?

After the horrible earthquake and tsunami that wiped out the northeastern seaboard of Japan, making hundreds of thousands homeless, killing at least 18,000 people, and leaving stores empty of basic supplies, Westerners felt a wave of respect for the people of Japan, as one question made the rounds of Western media: Why is there no looting in Japan?

Ed West posed the question in his blog for The Telegraph, noting the “impressive” way in which the Japanese had banded together in a communal effort “to survive.”

And solidarity seems especially strong in Japan itself. Perhaps even more impressive than Japan’s technological power is its social strength, with supermarkets cutting prices and vending machine owners giving out free drinks as people work together to survive. Most noticeably of all, there has been no looting…

West’s blog post sparked an avalanche of comments, as well as commentary from other journalists and bloggers. It was largely understood to be a cultural difference, born of a more communal spirit in the DNA of Japanese culture.

Of course, the kind of questions we ask reveal a lot about the kind of people, or culture, we are. Continue reading

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