Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Silence Day Five

I know people who have had far more serious conditions than my loss of voice and once in a while I have had a taste of what truly changes a life unbidden. I have lost a piece of me to a machine, fortunately it was a piece of the little finger of my left hand and I am right handed. For a few moments now and then, though, such a thing gives a glimpse of what true damage would mean to someone who lost several fingers or a hand. I was paralyzed temporarily down my left side by a spinal dislocation and was not certain for a while whether the damage was permanent. Now I see people in wheelchairs after accidents, unable to move below a certain point and that helpless feeling returns viscerally. An undiagnosed exploded appendix brought to mind a friend who went in for exploratory surgery and did not come back. When darker thoughts overtake me, usually in those minutes before the day has really begun, lying awake trying to keep the clock from moving forward to the struggle to get the child out the door and the even greater struggle to find things to do that will keep me from writing or reading or something equally significant, like paying the credit card bill, I fear for my ability to deal with a less than perfect outcome. I see my neighbor barreling along in his wheelchair after a motorcycle accident, his garden planted with trees since the accident, the child he and his partner have had and I cannot imagine I could ever recover my spirit to such a degree. Most of us are defined by two things: our relationships and our work. I remember the times my dad was out of work, that creature of the workplace always slightly ill at ease in the house, a man who took joy in looking at blueprints, who to this day stops at building sites to watch others work, still talks of how much he wishes he were still out there hammering and sawing. Those days of unemployment were a torture to him, leaping to the telephone each time it rang, hoping it was a contractor who needed him and his immense skill. Though I inherited almost nothing of my dad’s aptitude I do share his view of work. It isn’t simply a way of putting food on the table, as important as that is. It defines us. He was only ever two things, a blacksmith and a carpenter. He did other things to get by, he picked potatoes, did a few pick up jobs in factories, but he almost exclusively became a carpenter after he moved from Ireland to England. I worked with him several times and it was as important to him that a concrete pour be perfect as it is for me now to get a phrase right, to write or speak a sentence with such clarity and force that it will say something about who I am and what I am. Having a mellifluous speaking voice is pure happenstance. I got it from my family whose voices are deep and resonant, it’s pure genetics. Using it well is work. I can write good prose and dialogue on occasion partly because I spent my youth listening to Irish people tell stories that changed the hardship of impoverished rural childhoods and the difficulties of immigrant life into the magic of Story. I find myself now, in the waking minutes, wondering what I would do if my voice does not come back fully, remote as that possibility is. I like to think of myself as someone who is not ruled by fear, but neither am I immune to it. While I have the imagination to create a world and people it, to interpret the worlds of others and convey those worlds to listeners and watchers, I cannot imagine what I would do other than this strange thing called acting or this even stranger thing called writing. Of course I would find something, there is food to be bought and a house to maintain. I think of my father and what might have happened to him if he had ended up in a factory, as many of his contemporaries and several of his family members did. There would have been food on the table and the house would have been paid for but that man, prowling the house waiting for a call that would take him out into the rain and the wind, would have been less, a shadow, Sunday night a dread of Monday morning rather than a day off that got him back up to speed. Over at UCLA some of the best physicians in the country tell me with absolute confidence that all will be well and I believe them but now and again I find myself in a dark place, remembering all those things I have done for a living that sucked the life out of me. If anyone thinks I am a dyspeptic curmudgeon now they should see me when I am temping.

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