Isn’t It Ironic?

So I have almost no voice now. I don’t mean that in some political or existential sense, I mean it literally. I have a polyp on my vocal cords. Yes, the same vocal cords that became inexplicably paralyzed twenty something years ago, a condition which didn’t just change and compromise my voice, but left me with a dangerously narrowed airway. That’s why they can’t simply surgically remove it. So instead I’m being sent for vocal training, to not only reduce the strain but perhaps heal the polyp. There have been so many interlocking ironies.

Up until the laryngeal paralysis I had had two great passions (besides sex, of course), writing and playing softball. I had been writing since childhood, and had been giving readings of my poetry in my early twenties. But writing hardly seemed the basis for a money-making career. (As it turns out, it’s quite the money-killer for a post-retirement second career as well.) So instead I ultimately chose teaching. This in part stemmed from a fantasy I had during the Vietnam era of fleeing the country to avoid the draft and teaching at McGill University in Montreal. What I was at all qualified to teach at the time was beside the point. But I ended up avoiding the draft by having to remain in college an extra semester because my anti-war activities took away from class time. I, a socialist, then found myself working in a financial company down by Wall Street. I also found myself coping with anxiety. It was because of my anxiety that I got into teaching, thanks to a referral by my psychiatrist.

I expected to be teaching kids somewhere in the elementary to pre-secondary grades. But I landed instead in preschool, in part, I’m sure, due to whatever psycho-therapeutic benefits it may have had for me. Years later I would make the transition, almost accidentally, to college teaching, circling back to my initial vision, in order to train new preschool teachers. But whereas I was and am a natural writer, I may have become pretty good at teaching through hard, sometimes self-flagellating work, but I was never a natural. And standing in front of a room of adults would cause consistent performance anxiety and periodic panic attacks. So, ultimately, teaching, which resulted from my efforts to deal with my anxiety, would prove to be the greatest source of my anxiety.

Oh, and then there’s my voice. Every new year of college teaching would bring a temporarily hoarseness in readjusting to lecturing five classes. One year it wasn’t temporary. Doctors at the time didn’t really know much about laryngeal paralysis, and, so, I was sent for some vocal training, which at the time wasn’t the issue, albeit that it now is. I learned to teach with a microphone, which, as I managed to compensate for my loss of projection, became unnecessary in smaller classrooms. There’s no way I could do any of that now. But I don’t have to, since I’m now retired from teaching and focused on writing. So I don’t need much voice, except for the telephone. It would have been a disaster had this come earlier than my retirement date.

However, I do miss being able to sing in the car. I was a really good singer, especially before my voice changed, and, then, before it was damaged. I did learn to compensate for that a bit too, reclaiming some vibrato if not the air to sustain it, until now. I could have pursued singing, too. I even had had a band, for a couple of weeks at least, of which I was lead singer. I could still sing, though my voice had suffered a little from the coming of adolescence, as did many things. We did have a cool name, though: “Topaz and the Chocolate Albatross.” I was Topaz. A psychic later told me to stay away from crystals, but I won’t even get started with the many ironies involved with him. The band disbanded because we weren’t just untalented, we were way too white. Two years later I’d be working with the Black Panther Party, but fortunately not as a singer, although that might have been safer.

And as I had said, I had loved playing softball. I was a horrible athlete as a child, in part because I was quite overweight. It would be a massive crash diet and some resultant anorexia when I had just turned sixteen and was entering college that would bring my anxiety to the surface, leading to the psychiatrist, leading to the teaching, etc. And of course the medication led to self-medication led back to medication. But I was lucky enough to have grown up in a neighborhood of kids my age who played ball every day. So I became competent, and, eventually, a good softball pitcher. It didn’t just keep me in shape, it didn’t just make me a central star without having to stand in front of a room, but the stress of pitching competitive games was actually a perfect outlet for my anxiety… as writing is presently. I’m not sure if I would have stopped playing softball by now, but I had to stop way prematurely. And the rapid weight loss, as damaging as it was to my health, repercussions of which I continue to deal with, did benefit me greatly with that sex thing I parenthetically mentioned. It was also the psychiatrist who inadvertently led me to the singles bar scene. And I got pretty competent at that, too, as I have apparently always been at compensating. But of course then there was that performance anxiety thing that I mentioned, so there you go.

I don’t know if I’ll be getting my voice back. Ironically, it’s not that big of a deal. After all, I’ve got this. I’m probably too old for the softball and maybe even the teaching, and, for that matter, the sexual exploits. But after book number four is published in a matter of weeks, I have a fifth already begun, another short story starting to take shape, and the preschool education book waiting in the wings. And I do have one more thing that I didn’t have before. Not that I’m dismissing what I’ve accomplished as a writer or even teacher, but the one thing that brought the most meaning and value to my life was being responsible for and taking care of my son. He’s now grown. And he’s grown from an autistic child who struggled academically to an incredibly sociable and brilliant young man. But now I have someone in my life whom I am responsible to and take care of and who does the same for me. So as I, in this chapter of my life, deal with my greatest source of anxiety and panic, I know that I’m very lucky. And, you know, I probably always have been.

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