I woke up today at 4am. Not because I had to, but because my brain has decided 4am is the perfect time for problem solving. The obnoxiously early wake-up calls these past eight months have netted nothing but apocalyptic fantasies of burning it down or spectacularly dramatic retreats that lose all their power with any bit of daylight shining on them.
But today, my 4am brain was emphatic in its clarity: “You’ve lost your voice.”
Instead of fighting to go back to sleep, I felt compelled to see where this was going.
I have always been a talker. I’m the oldest kid–I grew up with the adults–so words are important tools to get attention. It was uniformly recorded year after year in report cards with checkboxes in front of “Does not disturb others” and “Listens when others talk” an archaic grading system to say you’re an annoying and rude child who talks too much. None of it untrue.
And I’ve sang. I sang in cars until I was hoarse. I sang in choirs and concerts. Not well–but always singing regardless. Singing was nothing but pure joy.
I wrote. I’ve always valued writing and writers over nearly all else. To get to participate–even a little bit–in putting words on a page feels like the highest honor, the greatest accomplishment, my proudest moments. I had a dance show we were readying for audiences in March. All these dance pieces we spent months rehearsing but the part of the show I thought about the most was a monologue I wrote. I was excited for it to be heard.
But it wasn’t. Not the way it was planned. And the eight months since has resulted in my slowly and then rapidly losing my voice. No more writing officially started in July, not even morning pages. No more singing–not even in the car or shower–in August. Inability to reach out to friends in September. No concept of a Facebook post or a response to one or processing others-so the app went off my phone in October. No phone banking for the election. No calling my parents. Not a lack of something to say, but a choking grip on any words that dared to get out.
Sometimes I had so much to say and no way to say it, it came out in panic attacks. Episodes with so many questions–What is wrong with you? How can I help you? What’s going on?–and no words to answer. Now I’m seeing a therapist every two weeks instead of monthly. Mostly she says–it’s hard for everyone–and she’s right. What else is there to say.
I try to give myself a pass. Not just because it’s pandemic time. I’m from a collection of people who have historically struggled to use their words. A generation that felt words had so much meaning it was best left to professionals. Gen X expressed our feelings in mix tapes filled with other people’s words because ours were certainly inadequate. Our generation’s enduring cinematic image of self-expression is holding a boombox playing someone else’s song high enough so it could be heard. And from a movie aptly titled Say Anything.
Recently, Jess and I have been talking about a movie we were obsessed with in high school that is completely forgotten–including by us--Pump Up the Volume. It’s not streaming anywhere. Jess had to dig deep on the internet to get a DVD of it during quarantine.
Since it’s been a while–or mostly likely–it’s new to you, it’s a typical high school romance. The protagonist–Christian Slater–is a rebellious teen (per usual) but his crime is having an underground radio show where he disguises his identity and speaks the truth about the school and the pressures of being a teenager. And he plays music that only cool kids like him would know to his sheltered peers. He is radical. He has an opinion. He has technology. He has taste. He has a voice.
And that’s what I always wanted–a voice. It always felt like it was something that was earned. Only special people got to have one. You had to say things that mattered even if it was just to a small group of people like you. With this blog, I felt like I could write about things that interested me–to other people who may be interested too. It was for friends who told us that they had lost their connection to makeup trends and music and entertainment. Usually it was friends with kids–I could fill a void because I had the time they lost–even though their interest remained. I had permission to write and to share it. My request for a voice was granted under special circumstances.
But even with more time than I could’ve imagined to write, I have less ability than ever to do it. Now I feel disconnected. Losing my voice has been a symptom of something larger. Who am I and who am I becoming? And realizing this change was happening before March 15th. It’s just now I’ve had nothing but space to face it.
We are not the generation who wanted to be defined. As a whole, we actively didn’t want to stand out. Our fashion was flannel. Our generation’s theme song is “oh well, whatever, nevermind.” We were awkward misfits who wallowed in our loneliness never noticing we all felt alone. We were afraid. Unless you could be clever or biting or irreverent, there was nothing for you–at least that’s the excuse we gave ourselves. To care was uncool. It was too painful. So instead we are defined by our silence–we are the generation that took our voice and actively threw it away.
Without the few things we tried to use to give meaning, even transiently, like our fashion and makeup–or lack of, the company we keep, the concerts we go to, our favorite restaurant, who are we? Who am I? Who cares?
But while my voice has been muted, I have been listening. The BLM protests overwhelmed me. It wasn’t the “you should do this” I was accustomed to, it was “this is who we are.” It was a revolution. Not because they choose to speak–because their lives depend on it.
In amplifying their voices, I was faced with how little I know about my own.
And that’s where I am today. Unprepared for these times like a lot of my generation.
I did the one thing I could do this election–I voted. I’m listening and I’m trying to sort out what I value and what I need to let go of. I’m watching this generation and trying to learn from them. Regardless of how the election goes, they are right in telling us the fight is just beginning. And I’d like to join them. I’m learning how not to be afraid, how to speak. If we all do have a voice, what do we say? What do I say?
Right now, I just want to say anything. And hopefully, this is a start.