Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Speech That Got Away

I used to tell stories with a local storytelling collective called, "The Flame." Obviously, I haven't spoken at it for a long time, but last night I "performed" the piece below singing most of it, using my speech app for some of it, and speaking as Rand, my Aussie character voice taught to me in therapy. I  did it for Dwight who's my performance mentor. It was he who first got me on stage, and he thought this worked.  I've sent in a proposal to do it to Flame curators. If I'm green-lit  I will refine it.

(Singing.) Why would someone with no voice kinda sing a song?
After this, will The Flame, be looking for a gong — or a hook?
Why would someone meant to give inspiring oration,
Make this noise that’s certain to destroy his reputation?
It’s so perverse, to speak in verse
A fella screeching acapella.
Well…. here’s the thing,
I have to “sing” to earn my bread and butter.
‘Cause if I talk, I stutter.

If I tried and tell my story in the normal way,
I’m certain every one of you would want to run away
To heal your ears and drown your tears in a vat of Beaujolais.
So if you feel hysteria,
there’s staff her to take care-a-ya.
As I “sing” to you this aria
about why I speak in song.
What could possibly go wrong?

On April ninth 2-0-1-6, the day that dawned was grey.
This retiree was full of glee — another day to play.
Then, when I saw my pussycat, he made me want to say:
(I try to speak.) “Leon…?
Holy fuck; speech amok
Dear God, is this some kind of joke?
I wonder if I’ve had a stroke.  
 (I try to speak.) It felt like doomsday
My voice had gone away.
I start to cry and then I bawl.
I can hardly breath at all.
Snot descending, pounding heart;
Trembling hands; is this the start
Of something worse?
Will I need an ambulance
Or a hearse?

Call 911. (I try to speak.) Can you please…?
(Singing.) No, that’s no good …
My talking can’t be understood.
Out the door and down the hall,
Stoned on rushing cortisol.
Across the street to see St. Paul;
Arms not working; constant jerking
Muscles tense; hands like claws
Grinding teeth; locked jaws.
(Speaking as myself.) Doc: It’s like I’ve got CP
What the hell is happening to me?

(Singing.) Calmed by a nurse; CT of my brain,
No tumor or aneurism. They can’t explain
Why my lips don’t work, and tongue’s askew —
No speech no matter what I do.
Hearing weak cognition blurry
The doctor says, “Relax, don’t worry!”
That soon they’ll have me back to being Chris.
(Speaking as me.) But will I have a voice like this?

(Singing.) In spite of, essentially, oral castration
I can achieve communication.
I’ve character voices – more on that later
I’m an innovator, a demonstrator
Using notes, and apps and improvised sign language.
Because I adhere to the adage
That to live without expression
Can lead to a depression
And a life absurd.
Everybody must be heard.

Once I had a best friend who suddenly went blind.
And in defiance of his malady Pete found himself inclined
To do the things that sighted people do; to live his life unbarred.
And prove that he was living life; I was his bodyguard.
He bought paintings sold at auction, and taught himself to ski,
So when I awoke without a voice, I thought of him and the degree
To which he’d risen ‘or his losses, and so I resolved to do
Something brave to honour Pete…
That’s why I’m here in front of you.

Not long ago I earned myself a taste of minor fame
By signing up to tell a story here, proudly at The Flame
And back I came, and then again; in all, I spoke six times
But never once, while standing here, was I inclined to rhymes.
Now where was I? Oh yea…

Mustering my wherewithal
On a gurney in the hospital.

After a little indecision
St. Paul announces a decision
On a VGH admission
Where they have a good clinician,
Can lead the inquisition
As to why there’s been attrition
In my voice.

He isn’t gentle;
I’m temperamental
Because the title and position
Of the consulting new physician
Makes me blink
‘Cause she’s a shrink.
Who understands psychosis
And she’s got a diagnosis.
The amygdala inside my head
Is stuck on fight  — or flight instead.
I’ve a complex malady,
I’ve been felled by high anxiety
She says I have P-T-S-D

So what’s she saying? That I’m nuts?
I’ve got this awful feeling in my gut.
But at least it isn’t cancer.
At least I’ve got an answer.
She says that pills and psychotherapy
Will bring me back to being me.

Dr. Shoja says the reason
My amygdala is treason
Is the past I tried to hide
And the anger deep inside.
She says the way for me to fix it’s
To talk and not resist it.
I’m to see her every week
Talk therapy for someone who can’t speak.

The first way I communicate
Is a bit inadequate.
I’ve an encyclopedia
On technical media.

(Speech generated from my speech app.) Hi. Wanna come to my place and have wild sex with a guy who has PTSD and consequential seizures, erectile dysfunction and a stutter?

The app is handy for situations
Of anticipated communications
But for real life,
It causes strife.
Shoja’s colleague’s a solution
To help me with my elocution
Dr. Ramage says the thing
To do’s not talk, but sing.

It’s too bizarre to think of singing
Of my Dickensian upbringing
And so I’ll simply say
That my mom gave me away
To mother number two
Who did things no one should ever do.
And then one day
She was taken away
And Dad took a lover
And voila, a new mother.
But I was done
My soul was numb
For me at home
Was being alone
I found sanctuary
In life solitary.

(Stuttering SLOWLY as me.) It’s very plain the strain is in my brain.
(From my app.) What was that?
(Stuttering quicker as me.) It’s plain the strain won’t let me talk again
(From my app.) Again.
(Singing slowly.) It’s very plain the strain is in my brain
(From my app.) I think you’ve got it. You can unlock it.
(Singing with enthusiasm.) It’s plain the strain won’t let me talk again.
(From my app.) Now try to stop it. Now agitprop it.
Now once again, where is the strain?
(Singing.) I’ve explained. In my brain.
(From my app.) And how can you ease that strain?
(Singing.) I must retrain; then maintain
I must contain the strain that’s in my brain.
(From my app.) Bravo!
(Singing.) Reclaim again control of my domain.

(Singing.) Okay. I’m sorry.
Now on with the story.

I was a child prodigy
With honours on my pedigree
So it’s been really hard for me
To hear what others think of me
‘Cause part of having PSTD
Is having seizures too you see
That trigger onset syncope.
I thrash and moan but cannot speak
I fall because my legs go weak
And that’s when people say of me
He’s drunk, don’t worry, let him be.
Or worse they think I’m drug debris.
Then someone dials 911
And back I go to see St. Paul,
Back on a gurney in the hall.
But this time, I’ve an assistant
And he can be quite insistent.

(Speech generated from my speech app.) Hi. Wanna come to my place and have wild sex with a guy who … (Speaking as me.) 

Whoops. Wrong one.
(Speech generated from my speech app.) I have PTSD and it causes me to have psychogenic non-epileptic seizures and a severe stutter. I do not require hospitalization; you can confirm this with Dr. Shoja at VGH or on my medical records. My condition and these seizures are understood and I am in treatment but symptoms remain problematic at times. Today was just a bad day. I can go home. Thank you.

(Singing.)  While Dr. Shoja treats my brain
Dr. Ramage helped regain
My speech. Use a voice, she said to me,
Of someone I see on TV.
By using my imagination
I can achieve liberation.

(Speaking in an Australian/South African accent.)
Fore example: This is a voice I call Rand. I took the name from South Africa’s currency. I know my accent is crap. I watch an Aussie series on Netflix and for my last vacation, I spent a month in South Africa, so Rand is an embarrassing mixture of two accents.
And as you’ve already heard, I have a beautiful singing voice I call, Razor. As in death by…
My doctors explained to me that we use neural pathways to do many of the things we do including speech. They explained that the pathway I use to produce my authentic voice, my Chris voice, to employ the clinical term, is fucked. But singing and speaking in accents uses different neural pathways.
If I use my real voice, I stutter. It’s odd, and embarrassing to say that it’s only when I am not myself that can I speak. Needless to day, this mystifies my friends and me but we’re all getting used to it.
Once Dr. Ramage told me about character voices, Rand was an instant hit with my friends and I was thrilled to be able to speak again. But I had two concerns. One: That people would ask, “Where are you from?” And two — and this was far worse — that some Australian or South African would ask me the same question.
I hate being asked where I am from when I am Randing, because the answer is here, so I have to explain that I have PTSD and that makes people ask how I got it and talking about that part of my life is anathema to me. But I had no idea about what was coming that was far worse.
After a couple of weeks of speaking exclusively as Rand, I went to a cooking course at the Dirty Apron Cooking School, and when I arrived, a gorgeous young woman greeted me in a thick Australian accent. I froze; I wanted to die right there.
The next day, I had an appointment with Dr. Shoja and I told her what happened — speaking as Rand. I told her I felt I was living as a fraud with the phony accent and that, in spite of its practicality, I loathed using it. “It isn’t me,” I said. And so she suggested we continue with me speaking using my real voice but when I went to use it, I couldn’t find it.
Honestly, that was the worst moment of my entire life. Yes, I’d almost died of AIDS; yes, I’d had a heart attack but I’d never lost myself. It felt like I was missing. It was only a few seconds long, that awful moment, but it was the most frightening level of felt panic I’d ever experienced.
Luckily, Dr. Ramage had recordings of our sessions. While I cried and wished someone had invented Vodka pills, she called up one of the recordings on her laptop and played it and soon I found my voice. I was stuttering, but I was back.
Your voice is a fragile thing. And for some of us more than others it’s a critical part of our identity. Lose it and you’re lost.

(Singing.) And that’s the best part, and this is the end,
There’s just one voice on which I can depend.
So from know on, should you see me in the street
This is the voice I’ll use to greet you when we meet.
This is the only voice that brings me bliss.
Say hi to me, and I’ll reply:
(Speaking as me.) Hi. My name is Chris.

Then I’ll curtsy.

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