Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My (involuntary) vow of silence, or "I Am Joe's Larynx"

The tiny demon who apparently lives in my larynx.
Did you hear the one about the nun who joins a very strict convent and is only allowed to utter two words every ten years? Well, our nun survives ten difficult years there and then reports to the Mother Superior's office to say her two precious words. "Food bad," she says before quietly returning to her cell. Ten more miserable years pass, and the nun says, "Bed hard." After ten more grueling years, the nun can take no more. She says to the Mother Superior, "I quit." And the Mother Superior replies, "Well, no wonder! You've been here thirty years, and all you've done is bitch, bitch, bitch."

I can relate to the nun in that story because I, too, have to ration my spoken words sometimes. I'm one of those people who get sore throats very frequently, on average of once a month. I've been to various doctors about it, and there's never been much they can do. My sinuses drain into my throat or something, I've been told. Don't worry. The problem is well under control. I can always feel when these flare-ups are coming, and there are steps I can take to treat the symptoms and shorten their duration. It's not fun, exactly, but I'm managing very nicely.

No talking, please. PLEASE!
This condition has been a part of my life for about 20 years now, and one thing I have learned is that the less I talk, the better. Even when I am healthy and feeling great, my voice gives out very easily. You can see how something like this could have affected my past careers as a teacher and as a customer service rep. One of the great features of my current job is that there is very little talking involved. Oh, sure, there's the usual banter and chit chat, and there are certain occasions when actual conversation is more efficient than e-mail. But there are also long stretches of each day when I don't have to say a solitary word.  These sore throats generally last three to five days. I can always tell when the flare-up is "peaking," and on such days, I try not to talk at all and communicate solely through e-mail and handwritten notes. This is not unusual for our department, since one of my coworkers is a deaf-mute and does most of her communicating this way.

The only problem is that, at heart, I am a know-it-all and smart-aleck who has to resist the urge to chime in with an opinion about any given topic. If you've ever discussed something with me online, you know that I am capable of burying you in paragraphs upon paragraphs of rhetoric. Under the right circumstances, I can be like that in person, too. I have to suppress that part of my personality on "sore throat" days. But sometimes, that's not an option. Today, for instance, was my weekly therapy session. It was the only talking I'm going to do today, but it was an hour of almost nonstop wear and tear on my vocal cords. Right now, my voice is absolutely shredded, but it was still worth it since I need my weekly opportunity to vent.

Random childhood memory: For a few months when I was in junior high, my friends and I became obsessed with a very low-budget commercial for one of those cheesy "golden oldies" compilation albums called Fun Rock. The ad seemed to be in nonstop rotation on local TV until we'd memorized it like members of a cult reciting from some sacred scripture. Almost a quarter of a century later, I can still remember the announcer's hysterical opening spiel: "Remember when rock had no message, no meaning, no nothing but PURE FUN?!?!?" One kid down the street, Andy, went so far as to get his parents to actually order the album for him. It took up, as the ad proclaimed, "three giant cassettes," and I was able to strong-arm Andy into making me copies of two of them on the absolute cheapest, worst-quality blank tapes I could find. Somewhere amid the collected debris of my life, I think I still have one of those tapes. Anyway, YouTube actually has the ad:

In retrospect, this collection of songs probably had a seismic impact on my musical tastes. Here's a song from Fun Rock which I dedicate humbly to myself on this day of self-imposed silence:

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