Over the weekend I was lucky enough to play four shows with my band, Great Reversals. Two shows in Indiana, two in Illinois. All four were accompanied by our friends in Hollow Earth, who play crushing, sci-fi-centered heavy music, and Greg Bennick, who did spoken word sets. After the first two shows I found my voice to be quite blown out. I sing for the band, but it's hardly singing, I'm actually doing mean things to my vocal chords. While I've never had the opportunity to test them for longevity like a longer tour would give me, over the nearly eight years we've been a band I've learned I don't have the kind of vocal chords that can be punished for long periods of time or with regularity. Thus, after two shows I had to do some serious digging to figure out how I could make it through the next two. Luckily, Greg does similarly terrible things to his vocal chords when he yells, and has a backlog of voice complications and has subsequently learned therapeutic methods for healing and preserving his voice for performances. He became my Sensei. Silence, extreme hydration, and as he put it "suckin' down" steam were his keys to preservation. So for the second half of our run I was 'silent man,' all communications were through text notes, with a couple hand scribbles for good measure.
With time I've become more acutely aware of how closely linked my sense of identity is to my physical capabilities.
The entirety of my youth was centered around physical activities: Dad's Club Softball, Karate for a decade, high school and college Swimming, non-stop pick-up Basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, Ping-Pong, bike rides between cities and across the state, Triathlons, basically, if it was a physical game I was going to be a solid contender. But it wasn't always this way. As first grader it became apparent I was having some balance and coordination issues when I lagged far behind my peers in learning how to ride a bicycle. My parents took me to a pair of Occupational Therapists for assessment. They determined my brain needed some coaching to better command my body. So for a year I went to their offices once a week and played in shaving cream, manually pulled myself around on a wheeled platform, traversed obstacle courses, dug through dried beans to find pennies I could keep, and generally had my body stimulated in strategic ways to help my brain make better connections. It was weird, but fun...but weird. I remember making it to the top of a ramp after severely struggling to pull myself up on the wheelie-thing and feeling overjoyed that I was able to do it. Shortly after completing the program I jumped on a bike and never looked back.
About five years ago I started experiencing severe pain in both of my heels. Being what I thought was a still spry new dad, not far off the tails of a pre-parenthood Triathlon, I didn't deal with it as quickly as maybe I should have. It got to the point where I could hardly finish a day of work. Eventually I saw a Podiatrist who diagnosed heel spurs. After some wraps, injections, and pricey custom orthotics I've been able to work since without pain. But the entire life I built being the 'sure I can play that' guy had to be entirely reconsidered. Running and jumping were no longer an option. Triathlons were out, and Duathlons that subtract the running instead of swimming don't exist as far as I know. I don't do anything that could awaken the pain I felt in that year where I was naively convinced I just needed a new pair of shoes. I fear that pain. That pain made me feel incapable. That pain makes me want to disown the physical confidences I used to have. That pain has forced me to reconsider what my future looks like. And yet I know I could be doing more. My friend informed me of an old adage that says 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' Why are we so comfortable being comfortable? Knowing the specter of what could come I should be perpetually fighting off the impending pain, but I don't. I deal with it as it comes.
The first words I uttered when we started our set on day three came shrieking and cackling out of my throat in the worst possible way. By the second song things were settling in, I realized I sounded like myself, a weaker version, but myself none the less. After the set Greg gave me a hug and showed me a picture he took and said: "this is a man with a voice." He could tell those opening moments sent doubtful shudders through me, but watched as I found my footing and a bit more comfort as the songs went on. The fourth night really solidified that the methods employed were paying off. Though I could hardly muster enough voice to greet our hosts, my set felt strong. I wasn't only a man with a voice, but felt like a man with voice and purpose.
It's nearly impossible not to gauge our own success or failure by the success or failure of others. Especially when so much of our culture teaches us that competition is healthy and natural; teaches us our value comes in how we can be better than those around us. At the same time the notion that each of us is completely unique in all the world is true, but never feels good enough. My identity does not lie in what I can do, I know this, but watching those around me do things I wish I could do slings me back into some primordial competitive brain function that defies logic and maturity. My identity does not lie in being able to yell nights on end and still have a functioning voice, some people can do that and I cannot.
How can I let go of that cannot? How can I help myself see the bigger picture when pain or inability wants to narrow my scope? How can I turn this desirous magnifying glass around and see more of who I am and champion that?
I implied in my last post that feelings are what inspire change. Is there a more motivating feeling than pain? Does anything inspire us to gain more than loss? By this logic I should be in training, training my voice, training my body in what it can do, actively healing my heels, but for whatever reason I seem to have a short memory once pain is removed. Tomorrow or the next day when my voice is full, the strain of today will try to be forgotten; and it won't be until I accidentally step on an acorn barefoot in the backyard for the meager comfort I've attained to come howling out of me.
("natural steam" image stolen from here.)