Saturday, 3 March 2012

Sounds of silence

I spent today's choir rehearsal in silence. I've been nursing a sore throat over the last couple of days and woke up this morning with hardly any voice.  My voice is my main tool for my work (except my writing) so I really can't afford to lose it.  Literally.

My vocal group has a gig coming up and I decided that even though I couldn't sing, it was still important to be at the rehearsal.  I'm so glad I went.  I sat out the front and was able to hear things and gain perspectives that just aren't possible when you're singing a part in the middle of the group.  It was so exciting!

Being in the world in silence is an interesting thing to do every now and then.  Especially when you're an extrovert like me.  It's still possible for dialogue to occur and connections with others can be made.  Exchanges become about conveying everything physically.  And people are also amazingly good lip readers.   (This makes me think about the film "The Artist" which I wrote about here and how easy it was to "hear" the conversation in a silent film.)

Losing my voice is not new to me.    It used to happen all the time and was usually not related to a physical cause.  When I was at university I lost my voice for three whole weeks!  I was living on campus in a residential college too, so it was pretty challenging.  This was the first instance of being unable to speak and not having an underlying physical cause.  Apparently it is quite common.

I tried everything.  I tried to unblock my chakras.  I breathed the colour blue.  I saw a speech pathologist.  I even just tried to speak, but it just didn't work.  So I decided that I just had to ride it out.

I carried a little notebook and fellow college residents and friends became well-practised in this new style of conversation. They would wait patiently for me to write my side of the dialogue in the notebook. A few years ago I found the notebook when I was cleaning some stuff out.  I remember being struck by how mundane my bits of direct speech were.  It was all a bit "pass the salt".  Surely I had something profound to say!  I was studying journalism and literature and history and drama and music! What a shame I didn't think to write myself some really fabulous dialogue!

One morning I woke up and my voice was back. Just like that.  No announcement or precursor.  It was an anti-climax in many ways.  Suddenly I was normal again and all the attention and solicitation I had enjoyed as friends eased my way in the world, was gone.  I was just another voice in the crowd.

As I had become so practised at being silent, my friends and I decided to go out one night with me pretending to be mute.  In a crowded pub or nightclub it hardly makes any difference and in many ways it is easier to just not talk.  Men would ask my friends about my history and how it was that I came to be mute.  All kinds of things were made up and for the most part they seemed to be believed.  Or perhaps it was wishful thinking on the part of these young men (imagine that!  a woman who can't speak!).

Apart from my voice being my living, it's also a big part of who I am in the world.  I verbally joust and usually have a witty comment at the ready and enjoy making people laugh.  Today, I noticed people taking the opportunity to poke me a little bit (in fun) because they knew they would be safe from my comeback.

At the supermarket buying food after rehearsal the girl at the checkout said hello and asked me how I was.  I indicated that I had no voice.  She was sympathetic and then gave me the following prescription: drink hot water with honey and lemon.

I nodded and mouthed, "And brandy!"

So here I am, silent and sipping the spirits left over from Christmas cooking.  The brandy burns on the way down, but it sure feels good.

Have you ever lost your voice?  How did you cope?


  1. Oh no! Hope you get it back soon! I do the hot water with lemon and honey thing too, but I make sure it's the juice of at least one quarter of a lemon, and include ginger. Ginger is very soothing for any sort of pain, it has a warming effect. Lots of drinks of water too - room temperature to luke warm. It's more soothing that way. xo

    1. Thanks for the tips Rose. I have ginger in everything. My throat is feeling better after a day of no talking and surrounded by singing. Fingers crossed.