Monday, March 7, 2005

Listening to Old Voices

A couple weeks back Thompson, the three-legged cat, was suffering from some type of respiratory ailment that among other symptoms robbed him of his often-frightened yet never timid voice.

I felt sad that he was feeling so bad- but what I truly missed was hearing his voice. He's always been quite the vocal fellow, letting me know whenever he enters a room with an assertive meow, and most of the time grunting when he hops along with the jarring force of all his weight landing on his lone front paw. During his breathing illness he was still opening his mouth trying to speak but no sound came out. It hurt to hear this unwelcome silence and it changed the whole atmosphere of my home.

There was a time, not that long ago, when I thought I lost my voice for good and the very thought made it seem pointless to plunder my way forward. My ailment, however, had nothing to do with being able to make a sound. It had to do with that voice inside that guides and questions and expresses and makes sense where sense doesn't exist. To lose that voice was not only jarring, it was paralyzing. I had lost God.

After a lot of work I got it back- sort of. It never returned to where it had been but that may just be part of what life is about. There have been times throughout my life that I have noticed a analogous change in my actual voice while suffering through a variety of ailments both physical and emotional. I have noticed more and more over the years that when I'm tired and depressed (an increasing reoccurring occurrence) my voice becomes coarse, hoarse, meek and muter. During the week before my Mother died my voice for some reason took on a deeper resonance, like Barry White, so deep and unusual that I changed my home voice mail message to capture this never heard before, or since, sound. After my Mom's funeral a friend called up and she left a message but clearly she wasn't sure she was leaving the message in the right place.

Last fall I was interviewed by a local television station. My niece had the newscast on in the other room and she said that when she heard my voice she immediately knew it was me. I had never realized my voice was that unique. Listening to my fifteen minutes of fame I couldn't accept that I sound so much like Kermit the Frog (not the late Jim Henson version but the one created by whoever followed- nasally and with a plastered on perpetual smile on my face).

That I don't seem to have one voice must mean something but I'm not sure what. Growing up I had a speech impediment that bordered on being so severe that I was tested to see if I should get some type of speech therapy. I remember taking a test where I had to pronounce a lot of words with rolling "R's" and "L's." Listen. Read. Reality. Thoroughly. Rural. I wasn't bad enough to need special instruction yet much to my frustration, my brother often had to serve as my interpreter because no one else could understand a word I was saying.

I think it was then when I discovered my love and need of being a writer. Putting down words on paper meant I didn't have to speak a word. No one had to hear what my voice sounded like and at the same time my voice could be clearly heard. With the freedom of this expression came a split between what my spoken voice sounded like opposed to what my writing voice developed into. People listening to what I had to say (which was as little as possible) had no idea that the same person who wrote what he wrote had an original thought or two or at the very least had some ability to express himself in a different way.

The split between my oral voice and my typed out voice has zig-zagged between a path of convergence and a deep chasm, like trying to hold two strong magnets together or likewise in an opposite direction, trying to pull them apart. I seldom find a situation, a heartfelt moment where I can accurately convey what is going on in the moment not out of a lack of effort. Most of the time that comes from not so much knowing what is percolating inside as being an eyewitness to some life altering moment. But upon further reflection (a self- guided instant replay of sorts) I can sometimes get the words down on paper.

I've come to realize my voice, whatever it is, may not sound like it should and it certainly seldom sounds like what is later transcribed but maybe that is the one thing that makes it unique. It wavers at the times it should be strong, and it can be too forceful in a quiet moment of reflection, and my words' predictability often can be seen coming down Grand and Hennepin Avenues. But with one voice the words are hard and harsh and hard to let go. The other voice sometimes calls out in desperation, other times in joy but at all times is there to help sort through those moments and everything in between. With either voice the thoughts are consistent, it's only the interpretation that sometimes gets lost in the mix.

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