Friday, September 30, 2011

Silence Day One

I am sitting in imposed silence. I wish I were sitting in imposing silence. Perhaps following some quietly but ferociously delivered command to my daughter who weeps and wails but nevertheless does as she is told, not because of the ferocity of my delivery but because of the bottomless depths implied by my silence. No, my silence is imposed by a surgeon who today removed a cyst from my vocal chords. The saga of the temporary dying of my voice is not the point of this exercise but suffice to say that an actor losing his voice is a deeply disturbing experience, particularly when said actor has no other skills in the world than those that allow him to stride a stage, interrupt light between sun and camera and talk into a microphone. More particularly so when this individual has had, for some considerable time, the great blessing to have earned his living acting rather than doing the awful things which once put food on the table and coffee in the cup. Some consider office temp work the very lowest rung and I have done a lot of temping and it is a sucker of the soul but I have worked the night shift in a razor blade factory, changed light bulbs forty hours a week and cleaned Greek toilets, the last of which gained me the grand sum of a bed for the night in a youth hostel. If you think the Greeks’ inability to pay their debts is their biggest problem you might want to test (or avoid) the quality of their plumbing. This surgical silence will last for ten days and I have decided to make a daily record of what it is like, firstly, to be someone who speaks both for a living and at great length in his normal life and, secondly, to negotiate life in one of the world’s largest and busiest cities without a voice. I should also mention navigating the ins and outs of spouse and ten year old child. My wife has already commented that I must be terrible at charades. This is a deeply humiliating opinion to offer to an actor. It does not help that my handwriting is not the most legible. Somewhere in all of this I have to go and have dental work done and I suppose I should be grateful at not having to respond to the dentist’s chit chat with the usual incoherent grunting while she has a suction pump and a tooth prong in my mouth. I imagine dentists do not call any of their tools tooth prongs but I am only an ill informed former temp worker and bog cleaner.

Today has been a half day of silence since I did not emerge from surgery and anesthesia until the early afternoon. I awoke with a very sore neck, more specifically a sore cervical spine. In order to get a scalpel – apparently a very tiny scalpel – down my throat my head had to be kept at an extreme backward angle in order to make my trachea into something resembling a straight line. Unfortunately, many years ago, I had a bone graft in two dislocated cervical vertebrae and my head really doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore. However, necessity and all that. The tip of my tongue was numb apparently from a topical anesthetic. Presumably used to ameliorate the pressure from some sort of clamp that held my tongue as far out from my mouth as possible. Or does someone just hold it for an hour? When the painkillers wear off my throat is very sore and I find it hard to swallow. When I take the painkillers, though, the pain is minimal and I am amazed at how well all this seems to have gone so far. I won’t mention the book narration I was offered last night that was both a fascinating subject and worth several thousand dollars and which I had to turn down. I hope no one from my mortgage holder is reading this. I would have said “my bank” but the notion of a bank actually holding your mortgage for longer than the time it takes for the ink to dry on the documents or the length of time it takes to say “mortgage backed security” is laughably old fashioned. And now, silence. My high school (actually a secondary school since it was in England, let’s not let enforced silence muddy our accuracy) was odd in so very many ways and each Easter Week we entered upon a Retreat. Three days of silence which were dedicated to contemplation, prayer and reflection and even more church services than usual. I loved the Retreats. I observed the silence, I prayed fervently and at the end of it I felt renewed and full of spiritual and mental energy. Truly. I sat through meals during which the only sounds were cutlery scraping and one of the students reading from Scripture. It was the oddest experience I’d ever had and, at the same time, seemed uniquely inspiring and uplifting. I admit three days was plenty but I grew to understand the monastic impulse and it returns very strongly when life becomes fraught, the noise level within and without my house grows intolerable and I desperately need some time to write (I was not sufficiently underemployed or impoverished as an actor and decided writing would drive me into the poorhouse). Unlike those Retreats this silence is mine alone and not shared with other adolescent boys and I will report how it goes. I am hoping it will teach me to listen, a skill I failed to pick up early enough for it to make an impression. I imagine the script on which I am currently working will be a polished masterpiece ten days from now. I don’t know what will replace prayer, something I gave up long ago. I’m not really given to meditation, something of which I had my fill while lying immobilized in a hospital for two months with the aforementioned dislocated spine. Perhaps the hefty tome on European history I am reading will finally be finished. Such possibilities.

1 comment:

rj said...

John, glad to see you are hanging in there. Hope you are relaxing. Until I see you again, here is a link I thought you'd appreciate, the great modernist David Tudor playing one of the works that he helped put on the map, and that put him on the map, John Cage's 4'33":