Speak Up! Unless You…Can’t. Pt. 1

Oh, boy. There is a lot of noise happening in the world right now. It needs to, in my opinion. We need to make noise about equality. About human rights. About Earth care. Our voices should be used for justice.

Not only that, there are the other, wonderful things that our voices do. They tell the ones we cherish: “I love you.” They sing lullabies to cranky babies. They shout encouragement to our Little Leaguers. They pray. They counsel. They order cocktails.

TRF 2_42I had always been a singer, an actress, a teacher.

What happens when you can’t make noise? What happens when you can’t talk? I don’t mean just that you’re uncomfortable talking, that you’re shy…I mean: what happens when you physically can’t talk because your vocal cords have been injured?

That happened to me. One day I was rolled on a gurney into a surgical suite to have my cervical vertebrae fused, the next day I was wheeled in a chair to my car, assisted upstairs to my bed, and didn’t talk again for a year.

In that time, I learned what it meant to be silenced.

Silence isn’t a concept we westerners are terribly familiar with. America and Canada are “speaking cultures,” but Nordic and Asian countries are “listening cultures.” In the US, we fill silences with chatter, we are uncomfortable with conversational lulls and jump in to fill them, we may even interrupt each other to be assured that our points can be made (we’re not as prone to interrupt and talk over each other as Italians though, they speak over each other as an accepted mode of conversation).

And it’s not just talking that fills our ears. We inhabit a noisy world. There are televisions, radios, and video games blasting media racket. Birds and dogs and bubbling water and trees branches in the breeze create a nature melody. Dishwashers and plumbing gurgle and swish. Children scream. Adults bicker. And for the “normal” person, the one who can both hear and speak, it’s pretty easy to chime in. Even if you’re a bit timid, you can probably make your voice work. You likely are able to open your mouth, expel air across your vocal cords with the use of your diaphragm, send signals from brain to tongue and teeth to manipulate sound, and get your message out. You really don’t have to give a thought to the mechanics of it.

Unless there is a physical impairment, this skill develops naturally in us. I have been watching my granddaughter as she learns to vocalize, she’s added the hard *g* and *d* to her repertoire of pre-speech sounds this week, and my response, as her Lolly, has been as rapturous as if she had just trilled a perfect Mozart aria.

The realization that my voice was gone was a slow process. When I first awoke in the hospital, I couldn’t make any sound at all, my throat was magnificently swollen. The neurosurgeon and his team had intubated, of course. That’s standard for any surgery. Once I was intubated, though, they moved my esophagus out of the way to get to my spine. It was to be expected that my throat would be swollen, my voice nonexistent when I came to. No alarms raised at all. When I began recovery at home, I lay in my bed for several days, pretty much alone while I rested. When a family member checked on me, I tried to speak, no sound but a rasp emitted from my throat. When I got out of bed, I found myself breathless and gasping like a goldfish who’s been dropped on the kitchen counter while its bowl is being cleaned. We kept assuming it would get better. A couple of weeks later, it hadn’t.

I made an appointment with an ear, nose, throat specialist.

VocalcordparalysesThe doc ran a camera up through my nostril and down my throat, encouraging me all the while to relax. I tried, I really did. As I attempted to vocalize, the doc watched a monitor. Finally, after several minutes of awkward grunts and whispers, he shook his head, “The right cord isn’t moving at all.”

I left the medical building with a referral to a voice specialist in Houston and what felt like an iron cloud floating above my head.

I had no voice.

Over the next few posts, I will be exploring the story of losing my literal voice, what it took to get it back, and what I learned about myself, my relationships, and my mission in that time.

For now, I will share a thought from Brene’ Brown, a personal hero. It rings true because the only thing that sustained me for the grief that would be a constant companion in the year to come was the deep well of joy that my husband and kids had been filling for all our life together: “Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience – ensuring we’ll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.”

dandelion 2

 

 

Curses!

Yes loves those kinda hoesJust a couple of days ago, freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib lit up the internet and news outlets with her statement, saying she wants to “impeach the mother f*@&er.”

Without any desire to further any political agenda, I posit this:

It was her choice of language, rather than her intention to impeach, that has folks up in arms.

We like our women demure, after all.

Recently, while teaching my film appreciation class at the local college, I showed my students a great scene from 2017’s Oscar nominee, I, Tonya. Allison Janney is ripping into her daughter Tonya, played by Margot Robbie, and Janney drops some spectacularly foul and cutting language. Janney is a classy lady, though character LaVona Harding most assuredly is not. The cussing was glorious.

Unlike LaVona Harding, or even Rashida Tlaib, I don’t talk a whole lot. Not really. I move pretty quietly through the world. I do not change the social temperature of a room by walking in. I listen and observe more than I speak. I wait for invitations to be included.

It’s not that I am afraid of speaking. One of the common misconceptions about introverts is that we are quiet little mice hiding in a corner. Not at all. If I feel something is crucial, I am saying it. If one is in need of a vocal advocate, I am the person for that job. If I think injustice is happening and I can do something about it, I cannot be hushed.

Once, in my freshman year of high school, I got thrown out of my English class by my favorite teacher. We were studying poetry, and he was reading Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” to the class as an example of poetic lyrics. I seethed until my hand shot up in the air, interrupting his recitation. “Yes, Kim?” he called, eyebrow raised nearly to his hairline. “I cannot listen to this poem. It is full of Satanic backward masking.” Yeah, I did that. Every head turned to me as I argued what I had heard my youth ministers teaching us about the entire summer before, a summer whose sunshine I wasted, spending hours in my room searching for subliminal Devil messages in magazine ads. I stuck to my guns, even as my beloved teacher was at first courteously incredulous, then irritated, then angry enough to ask me to leave the class. I had never been thrown out of a class before. In fact, it was the only time I ever was.

I am still that way. If I see injustice or rudeness, I want to say something. It’s gotten me in trouble more than once. Instead of multiple photos of my adorable yet exasperating dachshund, I tend to use social media to proclaim causes, even political ones. I have been taken to task by a couple of family members for it, folks who just want me to be vanilla. Passive. Like any introvert, I don’t enjoy small, meaningless talk about weather or traffic, though I can fake it just fine. I enjoy getting to the heart of things.

When I speak, I want it to resonate. I want it to land, to impact, to preach. And I want to be articulate, with colorful vocabulary. Cussing is one of my favorite ways to accomplish that.

Now, I know what you might be tempted to say: it’s not Godly. It’s not ladylike. It shows a lack of vocabulary development. Only less intelligent people resort to cussing. I say, “Bullshit.”

I did not grow up hearing cussing. My mom may have been strung out much of the time, but she was a strung out Lady. I only remember one “bad word” coming out of her mouth when I was about seven and didn’t like any of the shoe choices on a shopping trip; she told me she was “tired of my crap.” That was the only time. The. Only. Time. Oh- and I remember my dad telling her to “stop bitching” at him just once. Not a lot of colorful language in my house.

We were not allowed to say fart (I still really hate that word) or pee or anything even more risque’. Darn? Nope, that’s just a substitute for damn. Gosh? Nope, that’s just a substitute for using the Lord’s name in vain; though my Pop used awesome substitutes, my favorites were: “For crying in the beer” and “Foot.” These were used a lot when playing cards or dominoes.

Sometimes, when I was feeling dangerous, I would sneak a look at the back of Tiger Beat magazine at the Safeway (when I wasn’t perusing home decorating mags), and there were ads that showed really gorgeous rear ends in those little terry cloth shorts that had the stripe down the side, and the captions might read: “Do you want a great butt?” And I would think…”I guess so. But what I really want is to say the word ‘butt.'” It’s a great word. So one day, while sitting in line on the blacktop, waiting to go back inside from fifth grade recess, I put my head down and whispered into my own lap, “Butt.” I cannot tell you what a thrill it was- I think the hair stood up on my arms as I looked around to see if anyone had heard. No one had, so I repeated it once for good measure. The freedom! I didn’t instantly become a sailor, though, I was still a church girl, after all.

It would not be until my junior year in high school that I would start to really get going with the cussing. I sat with Richie in Theatre class, and he was an artist in profanity. Like the dad in A Christmas Story. A real artist. He loved the band Rush and he was very cynical and a really great friend. He committed suicide within a year of graduation; he had developed a drug habit and one night walked out of the grocery store where he was working, carrying the store’s entire cash deposit for the night. He called me in despair to tell me, and took his own life soon after. I loved him like a brother. From Richie, I learned them all, the myriad great combinations of cussing that only come to those with bright, agile minds.

I had to shut them away in my brain when I went to Christian college, and when we were in youth ministry, of course I watched my mouth diligently. It was appropriate and right for me to do so in those settings. Even though I cuss now, I don’t do it in the wrong settings, even I know that wearing a shirt with “F*&k the Patriarchy” to the mall might be off-putting, and when I am around all family except my cousin Rebecca, I keep it clean (I love you, Rebecca!)

Once, when we were still in ministry, I said a bad word at home, to my husband. His eyes got big, and he gently reminded me that Christian ladies probably shouldn’t say such things. He had fallen in line. I snapped him right back out. Now he knows better.

Travis knows that he’s married to a quiet but fierce woman. He doesn’t get to hush me. He lets me say what I need to say; though there have probably been a few times when I should have let him hush me. But a strong-willed woman’s going to make some foolish comments some times.

Studies from places like Yale and Keele Universities have actually shown that cursing or using strong language helps with eliciting emotional response and catharsis. People who cuss have been shown to be both more honest and more intelligent. People who cuss have integrity. Hell yes.

Some words jolt the listener. Every so often you want to give a little verbal shake to make your point. Not always, of course. There are times and situations when a gentle word is what is needed. Cussing that is too frequent or plentiful can deafen people to your message.

On the whole religious aspect of cussing, I guess I get it. The apostle Paul warns against “unwholesome talk.” Jesus warned his followers not to use words of contempt for people, to speak kindness instead. These are good things. Worthy concepts. Let’s get real, though, we have all known people who, without a single “D@^^it” or “F*&k off” manage to wound, maybe with gossip, sarcasm or neglect, manipulation or oppression. Unwholesome talk is a lot broader than cussing.

So…

Who gets to decide what those forbidden words are? Societal norms? Church ladies? Teachers? Bosses? Yes. For me, yes. So, when I am in my home or hanging out with certain friends, I may spice up my speech with a well-placed “S&!t.” When I am watching certain politicians on the news, I promise there is liberal use of the word “a$$h@!e.” When I am in a church for a wedding or funeral, or with my sweet aunties, I am careful and courteous- I am not so used to cussing that it can’t be curtailed. Loads of cussing is really not my default setting.

I guess some of my mom’s lessons stuck after all. Crap.

 

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