What’s that, you say? Well soon after commencing my silent quest, I picked out Taco Tuesday as my grand prize. I joked that ordering Calypso Beef tacos should be the thing to break my silence. Hence I thirsted for tacos whenever I was down. It’s all good Brad, you’ll be eating two dollar tacos soon enough! I was mad for these tacos. I would bite my lips to stifle the salivating, thus shutting myself up as well. I dreamt about these tacos and I wanted them so damn badly, more than anything I’ve ever wanted before (score one for hyperbole – ten points to Slytherin)! Tacos became the symbol of my freedom, the gateway to my voice, my mockingjay if you please. The meeting of tongue to taco would thus inspire a vomitus concoction of sunrays and moonbeams from the depths of my diaphragm, and I would bellow and howl a sustained high note in a glorious display of triumph. My friends would continue to casually eat tortilla chips as I stood there atop the table with a bull’s head crushed beneath my pirate boots. I’d bask in my victory to a chorus of applause audible only to me.
But that wasn’t how it happened. Not at all. Most significantly, the words “Calypso Beef” were not the words to terminate my vocal rest. Sad pandas.
Incidentally, I don’t remember what my first words were. Not exactly. I gave myself a pass in the morning because I had an appointment at the Health Center for something completely unrelated to my voice. So my first words might have been along the lines of “I was told to finish my check-in at the front desk here?” complete with upward inflection at the end of it. Apparently I was posing questions without grammatically asking them now. That, or I forgot how to English very quickly during my week on vocal rest.
How strange it was to say all that at the front desk, and what a mouthful! Did I really need to speak oh so many words, just to confirm I was completing my check-in? Or was it a lot of wasted energy? From then on, I tried to keep my speaking to an absolute minimum for the duration of the doctor’s visit. This was complicated by people insistent on asking more of me than was necessary to know in their delightfully charming Southern ways. I mean, is it imperative that you know where all the people in your waiting room grew up? As if I needed another reason to detest small talk, my time on vocal rest had me feeling like I was sitting in my car with the engine on and I was just wasting precious amounts of fuel. I started to wonder if my time on vocal rest had transformed me into a total introvert, or worse, a boorish person. Maybe I’d never effort to make conservation again. I was proven wrong shortly after the doctor entered the room. She was efficient and kind and I very much appreciated her friendly gestures, which included a penchant for banter. The doctor asked “aside from being busy with your assistantship, how is everything else going? Doing well?”
“It’s great. And I’m doing very well,” I responded. I wanted to save my breath, even then. But I also told the truth. I really was doing very well. I felt equal again! I was wandering the world of the talkies! I was walking among then living! But I left that doctor’s office still set in my competitive and stubborn ways, reaffirming that I would not speak again until I got to Taco Tuesday that night. I left the doctor’s office a mute once again.
It occurred to me that anytime we speak is a decision to do so. It felt like a switch to me, simple as turning it on or off. Once I turned the switch back off, I was good to go in a silence for mostly the rest of the day. I have to admit, I didn’t quite make it all the way to Taco Tuesday without chatter.
I had informed my friend I was going to do a quick grocery run before rehearsal via my trusty phone memo method. But once we were alone in my car, little mosquito jabs pricked me up and down. It was this chill clamoring for release. Is it time? Do I even remember how? Once again, I don’t remember the actual words I spoke, but it could not have been more than a few. In this instance, the words were a gentle exhalation. My speaking voice was initially sheepish. I tread carefully using it at all. It felt like I was learning to walk again, and similarly, my friend reacted as if she had just witnessed me pick myself up off my tiny little knees for the very first time. “Your voice!” She was elated to hear it. Throughout the day, my voice would elicit similar reactions from many of my friends. An affirmative “yes” was enough cause for celebration, after all, they had grown accustomed to my impassioned head nodding. I would be sick of it too. So I was reminded, along with them, that speaking is pretty miraculous.
Speaking didn’t stop feeling foreign to me for the rest of the day. Though I tried to trickle in speech, careful not to get overzealous, each time I did took me quite by surprise. At times I was unintentionally "bilingual;" I would start mixing speech in with my the signing I developed over the past week in the way someone who is fluent in both English and Spanish might blend the two languages together. It was all just so darn weird. Eventually an overwhelming relief supplanted the tension in my body. My jaw loosened up considerably, liberated from the burden of being sewn shut. My body was gradually returning to a state of normalcy, yet I was acutely cognizant of all the on-goings of my vocal apparatus. It’s a blessing in disguise that this happened to me. Sure, parts of vocal rest really really sucked, but I emerge with far more awareness than before.
I asked my friend (with the aid of my voice this time) if she could hear me. Was I speaking loud enough? Did I need to speak any louder than I was currently speaking to her? “You're not someone who needs to talk louder than you already do,” she half-joked. She went on to say that she understood me perfectly at my gentler volume, and then started to wonder if she should consider lowering the volume of her speaking voice to match.
Perceptions of loud and softness are relative. Funnily enough, that’s music 101. So when you are constantly surrounded by loud people (like singers), you are unconsciously inclined to compete with that sound. I believe that is something we are less aware of as singers. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked by family to consider speaking a little softer in a restaurant. My response? “I am speaking softly!” In all likelihood I wasn’t speaking softly, just by somebody else’s standards not my own.
That being said, I am not suggesting that soft conversation is always best. I certainly would never advise whispering everything, for one. But your “good opera singer” speaking voice need not be so deafening everywhere you go. In a loud bar, your loudest voice still might not carry anyway. Save it. Or just text, you disengaged vegetable of a millennial!
My first day off vocal rest wasn’t a totally emotional one. As I’ve written, it was percolated with little moments of clarity instead. Nevertheless, vocal rest was a gauntlet, chock full of hurdles and perils. A week is a long time to be silenced. But then imagine a lifetime. Vocal rest is an invaluable tool, a preventative to a lifetime of muted misery. It’s good to have it in your back pocket. It’s an extended fire drill for your voice. It’s a life jacket for your career. Now that I’ve done it, I’m so much happier for having it. And now that I’ve sung just a little bit, I’m pleased to report it was the best decision I could have made when my voice crashed last Monday. I of course hope vocal rest isn’t something I have to rely on too heavily in the future. I perhaps suspect now that I’ve gone through it once, my body wouldn’t allow it to happen in the future. Yet, who knows when I’ll need it again. In the meantime, I’ll do my best not to worry so much about it. I’d like not be one of those farcically neurotic singers, you know?
Speaking of neurotic, I came home to a package from my mom (jk lol forgive me mother for I have sinned). She had been bugging me about this package all week. When she texted me today to tell me “her package was quickly losing relevance,” I had an idea of what it was. I finally got around to picking it up from my apartment's leasing office, and sure enough, there was my white board with markers and eraser inside. I chuckled, audibly this time. I guess I’ll be prepared for the next apocalypse. And I did order tacos later that night, Calypso Beef among them. My trials ceased, I sat there joyfully at the Taco Tuesday banquet with my friends, grateful to each and every one of them – a decent portion of my local support system helping me to stay sane throughout this past week.
When the tacos arrived, they were fucking delicious.
I’ll end this series with a miniature anecdote as epilogue. I may have fibbed when I said breaking my silence didn’t move me to tears. I did eventually have my moment. But it was the following day. I had a lesson with my voice teacher to pick up the pieces, if you will. Welcome back to the world of the singing. I have rarely sung so cerebrally. Together, we decided to approach “My Friends” cautiously (it goes without saying that we were cautious). And in an effort to sing the song as effortlessly as possible, I succeeded, and I cried. I really always have been able to sing it, and if I play my cards right, I always will be able to sing it. I’d have been so heartbroken if it was the music that was my demise. It was just nice to be reminded that it wasn’t the music that did it.