A few quick disclaimers. I am not in any real physical pain and I never really was. I didn’t lose my voice per se nor did I contract laryngitis. My voice wasn’t metaphorically ripped from my throat, stomped on, and left to rot on the side of the road. I keep using the word “freaky” to describe it because that’s what it was to me – unprompted, random, and something I was totally unprepared to experience.
I’m going to be fine. I probably already am. So why am I spending all this time writing when I’m not looking for reassurance or pity? For one, I want to be transparent and instructive. Moreover, why not tell a decent story? Above all, when I’m sorely lacking in one creative outlet, I tend to take up another.
I also never meant to suggest any of the establishments I frequent near the School of Music are or ever were insensitive to disabled patrons. I’ve just been gallivanting around the same strip of Chimes Street for over a year now making a scene on more than one occasion, and I am loud. And hard to miss. At my height, I’m pretty recognizable, never mind the sound of my voice. Most people probably recognize me even if they don’t know me personally. So now they’re all wondering what the feck happened to one of my more distinctive features. Or maybe they think I’m having a go at everyone on the entire street, though I must confess I am not. If this were a prank or joke, that dead horse was severely mangled since.
DAY THREE: Letting it Slide
This morning began with class…yeah. Even at my age I’m still attending class on Friday mornings. Welp. There’s always next semester to fix that. Meanwhile, there I was. I wasn’t talking or contributing yet again, so I did my best to stare at people, envious of the shit they spewed. Can I spew shit again too? Ah, me!
As has become my vocal rest morning routine, orange juice from Highland Coffees quickly followed. This time I had an accomplice and she shared a few stories with me about her own experiences with vocal rest in her past. She gave me some basic sign language pointers, shockingly easy to pick up (but I suspect the necessity of what she was teaching me diminished much of the learning curve of the moment). She recommended I make up signs for each of my friends. Then she paid for my orange juice. How lovely it is to have a helper by your side. It’s easy to see why humans grow so close to their caretakers.
My voluntary muteness is turning fewer heads overall. Life is returning to normalcy. It’s like when you contract a cold and a few days in you resign yourself to waking up with the same condition you fell asleep having. I felt normal. So I simply returned to my normal Friday agenda. I did some silent work in the office, organizing and writing emails and such. I contacted an administrative colleague at one point, asking if he could make a phone call on my behalf. That may have been the most interesting thing I did that afternoon, otherwise nondescript.
So I sat there scanning my body. I attempted to tune into the musculature of my head and neck, determining if there was anything I could let go. As I was struggling to relax every apparatus (the ultimate irony of relaxation: the effort it takes to reach that state of “relaxation”), I felt how remarkably tense my jaw was. I would argue it’s been tenser than usual since before my bout of vocal rest. It’s something I haven’t shaken since I began my silent journey. Somehow in forcing myself to “shut up,” my mouth closes more tightly. Then I remembered that I clear my throat a lot too. And I mean, a lot. A ton. I’ve actually always been painfully aware of this nasty habit of mine. I am often recognized by my throat clearing, even around corners or at the bottoms of stairwells. Amending this has been a life mission of mine for the last, oh, seven years or so. It’s a tad flustering to realize that even when I’m not using my voice, I still have this continual impulse to clear something off my vocal folds. Bearing that in mind then, it wouldn’t make sense for my incessant throat clearing to be directly inspired by phonation now would it? If so, that’s a small comfort. Conversely, maybe my reflux is a tiny bit worse than I thought. I’m grasping at straws here, or am I? As is true of voice lessons, you eventually reach a point in your development when big changes refuse to be anything bigger than very small. The trick to better sound could be something as deceptive as a few millimeters of vocal alignment. To add insult to injury, it’s almost always going to be something you can’t see for yourself.
I went to have lunch at Little Saigon with a few friends. Even when I’m with other people, I tend to rinse and repeat my phone memo model when ordering food. In most other instances, I’ve come to prefer letting other people do the talking for me. I’ve become less shy about passing notes from my phone around the table, and my friends have likewise grown accustomed to this behavior. We humans can be very adaptable when willing. Collectively, we noticed wandering eyes around the restaurant. We were being analyzed by people trying to figure out what our “deal” was – my “deal” more than likely. It must look like we’re always engaged in some kind of crazy game of charades. That, or I lost a dare.
On the way back from lunch, one of my friends mentioned in passing that she was going to a barre class. Now, I only caught wind of this barre fitness craze last summer. A few of my cast mates at Ohio Light Opera went and most lasted no more than a single class. WEAK. Naively, I thought how tough could it be? It slightly deviated from my original plan to hit the campus U Rec, but I thought what the hell I’ll do it anyway.
A couple hours later I stood outside the doors of Pure Barre in Baton Rouge, just down the street from Zippy’s Burritos. (You know in Pitch Perfect when Fat Amy gets gunned down by a burrito? Yeah, that was from Zippy’s.) The little building looked more like a lululemon judging by the manikins in each of the windows. Oh, and there was an abundance of novelty mugs, perhaps catering to the early morning crowd? I walked in thinking my fitness cohorts were already there, maybe somewhere deep inside the shoebox of a building. I opened the door and these two young and exceptionally fit women greeted me and I didn’t see my friends anywhere. My eyes widened and I must have jerked my head from side to side, trying to find my friends somewhere between the mugs on the shelves, but certainly not anywhere behind the welcome desk. “Are you looking for someone?” I nodded my head nervously, then backpedaled my way out the door into the blistering Louisiana air without saying a word.
In my life, I dislike appearing out of sorts or out of mind. I don’t like when it looks like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. New experiences, though I seek them out, are precarious for me. My first time taking the train in New Jersey at 17 was a fraught hour in my life, if only because I feared the possibility of having to ask somebody for help along the way. I flashback to moments like that even when unable to answer the Pure Barre instructor’s simple question. All I could think was RETREAT RETREAT RETREAT. I paced around outside a little while longer until I finally spotted someone I knew walking into the building. Once I followed her inside, she picked up the slack for me. Most importantly, she made sure I got the first timer’s price of five dollars.
The three of us strolled into the class with our friend (already a member nearing her 100th class milestone) affectively acting as our tour guide and chaperone. The three of us looked very out of place. Most of the other women were dressed in their Pure Barre best, sporting relatively lean physiques, all of very average height. And then there’s the three of us, two men and a woman, all towering by comparison. We loafed around on the carpeted floor, exchanging glances that betrayed shared anxiety. A few light dumbbells, a rubber ball, and a band were placed beside each of our places. I stared at them wondering what ridiculousness I was about to put my body through, when I heard “OKAY IT’S 6 O’CLOCK WELCOME TO PURE BARRE GET UP OFF THE FLOOR” and just like that everyone was on their feet doing high knees.
The next hour was an absolute whirlwind of full body intensity. The instructor maybe told us to “tuck” a thousand separate times over the course of the class’ duration and given the pace of everything, I doubt I could tell you how to “tuck” properly by Pure Barre standards.
I focused on four major elements. For one, I was constantly checking in with my friends to see where they were at. As expected, we would glance each other’s way as soon as any sort of major flexibility was involved. More than a few breaks were required in that regard. We made eyes at each other in the mirrors, a bit of friendly taunting. Secondly, I zeroed in on the instructor’s face mic. The music was in fact pumping for the entire class. If it weren’t for that source of amplification, she’d have to scream at us like a drill sergeant. I thought, damn, what a good idea, and oh my god I want one of those things for life. Still bemoaning the loss of my voice while holding my right leg high in the air behind my misshapen white ass, I wondered why face mics aren’t used more often? Think of the voices you could save in all sorts of professions! Thirdly, I focused on myself. Obvious enough. Just focus on yourself and not everybody else and push through, Brad, push through, even though you can’t fit yourself underneath the bar on the wall because you are in fact too long in the torso, just screw it, make it work, and for shit’s sake flex your left foot for the 81st time this minute and PUSH! …but not vocally, of course (hardy har har).
Lastly, I honed in on my breathing mechanisms. I am not normally so aware of my breath, and it had little to do with putting my body through Pure Barre hell. As I admitted in previous entries, I’ve been apprehensive to work out with the new awareness that the human voice is more fragile than I once thought. Generally, when I go to the gym, I gently bring my tongue to the roof of my mouth when I breathe through repetitions. I find it helps relieve tension in the muscles of my neck. My few simple workout rules include doing clean reps, and as soon as I feel my head or neck become unnecessarily involved, back off. It’s when I want to push myself in a workout that I take these particular rules a bit more liberally, and when that happens, sometimes the result is grunting. For my purposes, I’m regarding grunting as cheating. Thankfully, I found a way to keep breathing silently throughout the class. But the mental energy required to ensure you are always on your breath should not be underestimated. It is far too easy to let breathing become sluggish, especially in a workout (and isn’t singing in itself a workout?)
So that class kinda killed my core. Basically. Now I know why none of my cast mates went back. Nevertheless, I left thinking it was a great (and exceedingly difficult) workout overall. That price point though…
I met up with a whole crew of fellow master’s students at Walk-Ons for dinner. Like, why not follow up an intense workout with fried food? Once again, I put myself at the head of the table in the noisy backroom, sacrificing myself for the greater conversational good. I’m getting better at holding a one-on-one conversation that trades my typed responses off with another person’s words. I bantered silently with my friends about how ridiculous I think the outfits the waitresses have to wear there are. Is this a family establishment or Hooter’s and why does no one else seem to be bothered by these marginalizing uniforms? I couldn’t wait to get home by now.
And here I am on my bed typing away in my closet of a bedroom behind a locked door when I hear some people walk into the living room. Presumably, they must know one of my roommates. I almost never run into my roommates though, so I couldn’t even make an educated guess who they might have arrived with. And then I hear a baby. A BABY. What is a baby doing in my apartment? I already had it out with the management of this apartment complex over a no pet policy (among many other things). And I understand a no baby clause might come off as a bit less humane, but boy, how I wish that was something I had the option of signing. I think I just need to come clean with myself, finally admitting I’m not meant live with roommates ever again. I’ll just need to sing a wedding or a funeral every other weekend to make the extra chunk of change that permits me the financial freedom to live on my lonesome.
This baby is still screaming. Like, what the hell? This might be my biggest predicament with vocal rest to date. If I had permission to speak, I’d at least go out to the kitchen sink to rinse something, anything out – maybe my protein shaker – then my presence would at least be made known. But then what if they speak to me? What if they ask a question I’m expected to respond? Would I abort my mission, just like I did when I arrived at Pure Barre? Up to this point, I’ve only had to interact with waiters and waitresses who require a simple set of instructions. But how does a mute go about asking “um, I was just wondering, but whose baby is this crying in my living room?” Maybe I’m just chicken and don’t want to seem like a weirdo, or worse, come off as totally rude. I mean, what would I do? Walk out there not even saying hello? I’d know it’s only because I am incapable of it, but wouldn’t you interpret that as coldness without knowing any better?
It’s crazy how I keep retreating into myself. I may have proven I could still be a leader earlier this week when I ran a rehearsal, but that was with a group of actors all aware of my condition of silence. But with real world people who don’t know a thing about me, I feel ostracized and insignificant. I understand now just how much my voice demanded authority. I miss being able to command attention and respect in that manner. Not just as a singer, but as a human being, I miss my ability to earn the attention and respect of people who are strangers to me with my voice. I crave it again. It made me feel so present and alive.