This wasn’t the column I planned to post here (if you’re interested it’s available on my website) but the day I finished it something happened that falls quite nicely into this month’s theme. It’s not the usual #BroTalk piece but, hey, we could all us a little change here and there. Enjoy…
About two weeks before Easter 2016, I got sick. Like, on-your-ass-out-cold sick. It sucked. I hated it the way Tinkerbell hated Wendy and if I could’ve tricked the Lost Boys into killing it I so would have. Luckily, after the Weekend of Hell was over, I was no longer feeling like Death’s excrement and was able to resume a mostly normal existence… except for one lingering and devastating issue: my voice was all but gone.
It took a whole month before I could have a two-way conversation that didn’t involve purely non-verbal responses. And when it did return, it wasn’t what it had been. It was gravelly and tinny and a strain on my poor vocal cords. It was also far lower than the voice I’d been using for so long that I didn’t recognize myself. As much as it blew, I figured it’d just take time to get it all back so I wasn’t too concerned.
But maybe I should’ve been.
One month. Two months. Three months. There was improvement but only of the slight variety. What had come back slowly strengthened and the strain lessened but the voice coming out of me still wasn’t mine. It wouldn’t have been such a crushing moment if not for the other thing my lost speaking voice cost me: singing.
Singing. For me, it’s akin to breathing. It’s at the core of who and what I am. While other titles have come and gone, singer was always there, defining my very existence. It’s woven into my bloody DNA.
Last time I checked I had a seven-octave range. For reference, Mariah Carey has six. I could sail up and down the scales with ease even if I couldn’t tell an A minor from C flat. I had a natural vibrato that more than one person claimed a professional singer would kill for. I could bounce from R&B to pop to alternative music with ease. Even as I didn’t do it to make money, I was a singer. I went to sleep each night with music on my brain and woke up every morning with it as my first thought. Music – singing – was my therapy; there were few problems songs couldn’t make better.
I wasn’t what I did, I did what I was. And just like that, it and I were gone.
Do you know what it’s like to have the center of your identity ripped away? Suddenly you’re someone you don’t recognize and struggle to rebuild who you are. And it’s not like there’s some magic word or button that’ll make it all okay; you start from the ground up without knowing if you’ll ever find your way back.
But I tried. I tried so hard it hurt. I couldn’t give up on singing, not when it’d always been so good to me. I had re-learn everything I’d ever been taught or discovered about it. In the beginning, I sounded like shit and would want to give up… but the draw was too great. I’d eventually go back and try again and again and again. And after about six months, I’d got something back. The lowest register had strengthened while the highest had finally opened up. Control was still a bitch and vibrato unsure of itself and switching notes was like blind Rubik’s cubing but I could finally see the finish line. Until I tried a tougher song and found something in the middle still gone.
There was a gap in my range. If you’ve got one, some songs become impossible to sing. Going up or down should be fluid, smooth. Part of my range was neither; it was non-existent. I stopped trying.
Eventually, I accepted the fact that I could only use half my voice and decided to concentrate on the lower portions; they’d become the stronger ones (something that hadn’t been true pre-sick) so I’d work on making them even stronger.
Even with that, some songs were off the table. I’d never before considered Go the Distance or I Don’t Know You Anymore difficult. In fact, they were once warm up songs.
Anything that went from low to high in a single note was ignored. Any within that range was cast aside. I wasn’t thrilled with my progress but didn’t see any way to improve my damaged vocals.
I wasn’t happy. In fact, I was downright miserable. Yeah, I could belt out Your Song or Could It Be Any Harder better than ever but If You Asked Me To and Where Are You Christmas? were sounding more like death knolls. I tried to find that happy medium that would allow me to move in but, damn it, I am a damn singer and always have been. I knew I was talented and had something so many others didn’t. I wasn’t ready to give up, not really, even as I told myself I was and imagined never grabbing a mic again as long as I live. I kept trying, kept fighting. I didn’t have faith it would work; I just refused to admit defeat when that would mean I’d never be me again. S-T-U-B-B-O-R-N.
Then, about two weeks before Easter 2017, I put on some unsingable music. And sang it. Not perfectly but I hit the notes (mostly) and felt, for the first time in a bloody year, like me. This heaviness I hadn’t even realized I’d carried was gone. And the next night when I tried again was even better. Not my voice – I have a lot of work ahead of me to clear out the pipes after a year of not using ’em – but I’ve no doubt it will happen, even if it doesn’t include the highest notes. Those are gone – I think – but I’m okay with that. Really okay. Accepting those are gone isn’t the soul-crushing experience it was only a month ago. Most of the songs I sing are back in rotation and I’m slowly adding more as time marches on. Soon, I’ll even be singing in public and finally using my YouTube channel for something other than a single book trailer and liking videos.
It very easily could’ve turned out that all my fighting to regain my voice had been for nothing but if I’d allowed that fear to control my decision to at least try, I wouldn’t have come as far as I have. Nothing should ever stand in the way of you achieving your goals.
Keep fighting, even when it seems impossible, even if you never make it. A lost battle is better than the regret that comes when you never take a stand in the first place. The indomitable human spirit can overcome anything. So don’t let anything keep you down.
Hey, y’all! A little update: I’m looking for questions to answer here and on my own site for all thing #BroTalk. Think of it like Dear Abby especially for issues boys and men face. For anonymity sake, your name will never be shown to the adoring public. Not even the other editors will know who you are – I’m the ONLY one who’ll see your messages. So hit me with your best (or scariest) questions! Contact me via email, Facebook or Twitter.