My voice is gone. Somewhere, during my weekend jaunt to DC, I did a combination of things that, like a magic spell, made my voice disappear. The challenge, for the last three days (and counting) has been to figure out how to communicate without talking.
Now, as you probably know, yesterday was May the Fourth, better known as Star Wars Day (if you don’t know what Star Wars is — yes, I’ve met people who live under that very special rock — here’s a guide for you
). To know me is to know this day, respect it, and not put anything on my calendar if it doesn’t involve a full-sized R2-D2. Star Wars Day is one of the few things that will send me on a live-tweeting, Facebook-sharing, Insta-frenzy like none other. This year, however, I couldn’t speak. I’d squeak out a few things in a meeting here or there. Otherwise, I spent my nerdiest of nerd holidays “psst!”-ing, gesticulating like a drunk mime and smiling maniacally (to try and show people I wasn’t crazy or stupid … not sure that worked too well).
Oh, and did I mention I was wearing an oversized Jedi robe … all … day?
Please bear with me as I take us on a brief detour.
It turns out that, if you want a really good quality Jedi robe — you know, one made of something thicker than a polyester sheet — you need to be a man over 5’10”, because that’s the only size I could find. News flash, Jedi robe makers here on planet Earth: not all women want to wear Rey costumes. Some of us want to wear a dope Obi-wan robe to go with our Atari/Star Wars crossover shirts. If you’re not going to make robes in our size, well, we’re going to coast down the hallways of our office on Star Wars Day wearing a dude-sized robe and looking fly because, succumbing to gender stereotypes we will not.
Back to Star Wars Day. Squeak-miming aside, it was a wonderful day, and it helps when you work somewhere full of people who love science fiction as much as you do. There’s that feeling you get when you’re around science-fiction fans. There’s a sense of shared experience, sure, but there’s also a shared belief that a better, brighter, more equitable future is well within reach if we’d all just work together. That was the best thing about Star Wars Day this year, I didn’t have to speak for folks to know what was in my heart. I was simply happy to be wrapped up in my snuggie-sized Jedi robe and sharing space with people who loved what I loved.
That’s one way to speak without a voice, but speaking without a voice in spaces where you don’t necessarily share a passion with folks calls for a few other adjustments.
A voice is a means of control. You can control a room with your voice. You can affect how people feel. Your voice is a very powerful tool. When you lose it, it’s important to let go of your old notions about how to communicate and gain control of a situation. It’s amazing what happens when you whisper or say nothing when people expect you to speak. Because they have their voice, they’ll fill in the silence or they’ll drop their volume to meet you. Never underestimate the power of mirror neurons.
If the other person is rushed, they’ll slow down and lean in to try and understand you. Ultimately, not having a voice forces you to sit with your power as an individual, recognize it, and use it. If you don’t, then you’re going to give yourself a tension headache to end all tension headaches (trust me on this one), and you may even do real harm to your voice trying to out-squeak someone with a full voice.
When you don’t have a voice, and you need time to heal, it’s also important to put yourself first. This sounds incredibly selfish (because it is), but hear me out. The saying goes, you can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself. Well, you only prolong your inability to speak if you try to accommodate every phone call, meeting and social gathering. In short, you’ll need to spend a lot of time alone or with people who will need to be super chill with you being silent. To that end, I’ve declined social engagements this weekend, and I won’t take myself out to eat so I don’t have to risk squeaking at store clerks and waiters.
That means it’s me, a cup of Throat Coat tea, and a marathon of Marvel and DC action films. ‘Gotta catch up before Infinity Wars. Also, Thor: Ragnarok is actually not that bad. Justice League though … yowch.
This self-induced exile is difficult. I want little more than to talk to my family right now. As much as I am resigned to the fact I am in California for the foreseeable future, speaking to loved ones makes it so much easier to be at peace with my decision to be here. Without that, being here is much more difficult. That being said, it’s just another challenge. Getting through it helps me build new tools … and make my kitchen spotless.
Speaking without a voice, requires sitting with yourself, smiling often at people, and owning your silence (or paying a painful price for losing your cool and scream-squeaking at the lady who nearly ran you over in the crosswalk). Ultimately, it’s an opportunity for empathy, because it forces you to consider life in a new way with different challenges as well as new opportunities.