Sound Advice for the Voiceless

watercolor birds x 2

Singing our little hearts out . . .

I have spoken about having Spasmodic Dysphonia. That in itself, when in the aural forum and not (as in yesterday’s blog post) just the printed format of the internet, is a fine thing in my estimation. It means that having SD hasn’t rendered me either mute or unwilling to let my sometimes goofy sounding voice be heard. It could conceivably be argued that it would be good if I would actually shut up occasionally, or at least not be quite so outlandishly talkative as I can get. I consider that other people’s problem. Egotistical, I know, and I’m not really exaggerating when I say that. What you hear is what you get.

Being fortunate enough to retain the power of speech, I prefer not to stop using it. SD has meant getting over any vanity I may have had about the sound or quality of my voice. Having been flattered by many in my younger years as a strong and clear and pleasant speaker and encouraged to take singing lessons, to consider radio work, to be a lector and to speak at public events, I now have a different sense of my voice and what I do and don’t trust it to do than I did then.

So I find it less comfortable both physically and psychologically to sing, and certainly have no desire to show off my resulting lack of confidence and practice publicly. I was always a nervous Nellie when it came to singing in any group smaller than a chamber choir (Yikes! Someone might hear me!), but even singing along with a crowd is not the same fun it once was. It has in no way diminished my delight in hearing others sing, however; quite the contrary, it transformed my understanding of what it means to be able to sing, and to do so with skill and fluidity and grace. Working on proper vocal technique will help me continue being able to speak, but my own sense of music has been shifted rather firmly into listening to and appreciating and being moved by others’ mastery of their instruments. My own musical endeavor now sits much more comfortably in the realm of written and spoken language and of trying to capture the marvels of rhythm and pattern and color and sound in the confined refinements of print and speech. The potential is perhaps equally profound and potent, but simply takes an entirely different route through the senses in some significant ways.

Just to be crystal clear on this, I say this without any sense of loss or privation. I’m not suffering! Indeed, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I’m neither summarized by nor limited to a description of my anomalies any more than I am defined by the ways in which I conform to any norms. SD is something I have or experience, not who I am or what I’m capable of doing. I could go through the list of potentially problematic quirks that help to shape my daily experience and my present self and sound like either a professional victim or a hypochondriac, or I can find–as I most decidedly do–that while each of those oddities has enough effect on my health and capabilities to be worthy of treatment or accommodation of some sort, each brings awareness of deeper gifts and the drive to overcome not only the irksome ills themselves but anything else I might be letting hold me back.

Yes, I am a lily-livered scaredy-pants of the first order as well as a lollygagging and procrastinating and self-sabotaging ignoramus, able to match pretty much any other arguably normal person around in those foolish and unhealthy arts. But at the same time I am so gifted as to understand that my true limitations are all self-imposed and even self-created, and that not only do people with far greater difficulties and far fewer resources live far more impressive and productive lives than I, I can grow up and into a better version of myself by taking notes on how they do it. Being a somewhat lazy and under-motivated student, I have to actively counter the urge to hide behind the couch until all inspirations and moments of willing effort pass, but on certain miraculous occasions I find that, well, I actually get up and do something.

When I do manage to pull myself up by my nearly invisible bootstraps, I find that despite having familial tremor (mainly in my hands) since who-knows-when, I can draw a straight line or a pretty fine freehand circle when I’m focused enough to make art. When I’m not, I have learned to hold my drinking glass with both hands if need be, or to keep kettle and bowl nearly overlapping when ladling soup. When all else fails, spill cloths and laundry detergent are mighty handy things. I may chill easily, thanks to my slightly off-kilter thyroid, but I’ve got layered-clothing styles down to a -40 Edmontonian nine-layer art form that I can still pack in my carry-on baggage. Wanna learn how to do nearly any basic survival task without an inner compass? I have virtually every dyslexic and perceptually dysfunctional talent I’ve ever heard tell of, from the ever popular reading-related visual chaos to spatial, directional, numerical and probably even temporal displacement. So without even knowing or trying to do it, I learned most of the affected skills upside down, backwards and sideways, doing everything with my own inevitably inimitable flair. Once I started treatment for them, my clinical depression and anxiety stopped holding me back and instead informed more of my interaction with other people as well as with my art. My lack of physical stamina and athleticism may have prevented my becoming a famous basketball player or dancer or a three-meter platform diving star, but I figured out early that leverage and a little logical logistical ingenuity could make up for a largish quantity of strength and skill in things physically challenging. Blazing alternative trails isn’t glamorous work but it’s done useful things in my life, and gives me an appreciative slant on those whose achievements outshine mine.

And when it comes right down to it, my ‘substitute’ versions of reality have served me quite nicely. I don’t sing in the way of the magnificent-voiced soloists and choral artists whose offerings have so richly embellished my existence, but there’s nothing stopping me from using the alternate voice I have in words and images to sing in my own way, and mainly for sheer happiness.

spring green flora + text

There are so many ways — and so many reasons — to sing . . .

7 thoughts on “Sound Advice for the Voiceless

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