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Monday, January 24, 2011

day 21: absence makes the heart grow fonder; a lover's quarrel

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It is kind of strange how some times losing something is the only way to learn how precious it was in the first place. Maybe not strange, humans being prewired for adaptability, just unfortunate. In a way we're built to face challenges, and if something isn't presenting a challenge it's easy to move it to the periphery. It was in this way I forgot how much of a gift it is to be able to sing. To use your voice to so viscerally connect with yourself, with your emotions. To feel grounded, a part of everything and everyone. And I don't mean to sing "well" (that just means you might make money doing it), I literally mean just the act of singing.

   During my last year in college, and for a few years following, I was plagued with chronic viral infections in my throat. They're awful and there's no real treatment (strep throat at least you can pound back some anti-biotics). They were, however, predictable. When I was going non-stop for too long my body would give me a heads up, and I would know what was coming. It was my body's way of getting me to slow down with the only way it knows I would. Attacking my voice. A week of a very rough throat and body aches followed by a week of cold (as long as I listened and took some time off). It was never fun, but I learned to listen when it called.

   Almost a year ago it happened and so I took the time off. I took it off but the cold never came and the raspy voice never retreated. A month went by, 2 months, 3 months. I was starting to get seriously panicked. I hadn't heard my own voice in what felt like forever, and here I was performing on weddings to the best of my ability with a rasp I couldn't turn off (which for Ray Lamontagne covers worked surprisingly well). I've never been so scared for my health before. Half way through the summer it was as bad as ever and I (finally) opted to see a specialist who tagged it Muscle Tension Dysphonia. And how did I do it? Well, during the academic calendar I was trying to get some finances figured out and decided to take on a part-time job for a while, working with Apple. That, though, mixed with my teaching, mixed with the Studio, mixed with the after-school program I had started in Oakville turned into a 70 hour work week. My voice, my entire body, couldn't handle it. I ran myself into the ground and for the first time, missed all the warning signs.

   I tried explaining to my coworkers that I couldn't talk anymore. They said it was a sore throat, how long would it take to get better? I said, I don't know. They didn't understand. They didn't understand that it was a serious condition, but more importantly, they didn't understand what it meant to me. By August I had been in that condition for nearly 5 months. I didn't remember what I sounded like, talking or singing. I listened to old recordings of myself and it sounded like a stranger. I was getting really depressed and anxious. I didn't want to talk about it because I didn't want to think about it. I missed my voice. And I mean truly and deeply missed my voice, like it was a lover who had left me. I didn't know if it would ever come back. I tried to explain it by saying, it would be like a painter starting to lose their sight and not knowing if they would ever be able to paint again. I was so scared, I would some times just shake if I thought about it too much. I'm actually near tears thinking of it now.

   In late September I finally managed to make it in to therapy sessions for my voice, with reassurances that my voice would in fact come back. By mid-October I was myself again. I couldn't be happier and I couldn't be more in love with singing, like I was when I first started. The lover analogy is no joke. I started to take her for granted, and she left me. I quit apple, I quit everything. I cancelled gigs and did everything the doctor asked, trying to make it right. Trying to win her back, and I did. It's a bit corny, but I was reminded last night at a rehearsal that your passion, the things you love in your life are always a privilege that you earn. If you, like me, get to make that passion a way to sustain yourself in this life, then you my friend, have to treat it like that. Remember, your passion is a lover and she has needs. She needs your attention (not necessarily your obsession), she needs to be nurtured, and above all, she needs to be appreciated. You're lucky to have her. Some people can go through their entire life without finding something they truly love. Don't lose what you love just to learn how much you'd miss it.

   Last night's rehearsal was so much fun. It wasn't even my own music, just practicing covers with a wedding band. I've never felt so privileged.

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