At this very moment I’m sitting at my kitchen table writing and it’s a good thing I can write – not only because I have an enormous number of things to say – but because I had surgery on my right vocal cord to remove a hemorrhagic nodule little more than a week ago. I won’t be speaking even one word for what will, in the end, be a total of nearly five weeks.
I had a suspicion that someone who enjoys talking as much as I do might find his silent time a bit interesting, perhaps with luck, even a bit propitious. Little did I know that it has been, and looks, to remain, a change on the order of life altering. If only because of the strange and intense ideas I’ve been having.
The trouble with ideas that are not usual, that are not subject to being put into any known categories, is that they are damnably hard to explain with any precision. But let me be totally honest; I love explaining these kinds of things. I’m a songwriter after all; it’s my stock and trade. But where to begin?
I’ll start with salt, fat, sugar – and pornography. And what you ask, do these four things have in common? All of them are about the preservation of life. Let’s start with the easy ones.
Salt, fat, and sugar are the foods with the highest caloric content and therefore, the ones that in instances of pure survival, would best ensure that a human being in peril of starvation could survive. We are programmed deep in the brain-stem to desire these kinds of foods. Sure we can work at not desiring them, we can negate and ignore that still, soft, voice that urges us towards the greasy hamburgers and the mint chip ice cream, but at our core, we all want French fries and chocolate more than we want kale – every time.
But pornography? How, you may ask, does it relate to French fries? Pornography is bad. It subjugates women, it degrades the very act of making love, and it suggests in a most sinister way that hard as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we are no more than animals. But strip out all that intellectual stuff and you have another brain-stem desire, hard wired from birth, and set to go off like a time bomb just as we hit adolescence. Call it what you will, but the sex drive is based on the very continuance of our species. That’s a life sustaining act if ever there was one.
So now that I’ve digressed and stolen important moments away from you let me get back to my original point about the life changing revelations I’ve experienced in my monastic moments of late. What I’ve discovered about myself, (and when you’re not talking for five weeks, believe me you discover things) is that the same way I’m drawn toward life preserving food (and if not pornography) than toward sex itself, I’m also drawn towards another hard wired human instinct; negativity.
Open any newspaper, turn on any nightly newscast and see how the world is falling to hell in a hand basket, how many needless deaths there are, and how rampant is man’s inhumanity to man. And check yourself as I’ve had the ability to do lately. Check yourself and see if you’re not drawn toward these horrors the same way you’d be drawn into any of the aforementioned desires.
There’s a life sustaining aspect to this negativity as well. It’s all about the human need and ability to sense danger. If you don’t know where the danger is you won’t be able to avoid it. And if you can’t avoid it you might fall prey to it and die. See the logic? Except there’s one glaring flaw: 99.9 percent of the time there is no danger and so, by your spending say, 20 percent of your time obsessing over pure negativity – as I’m wont to do, you have eradicated, (for no good reason whatsoever) 20 percent of your potential for joy. But who notices this kind of stuff? I surely didn’t until I stopped speaking.
I was describing for a friend what it feels like not to talk for so long. “I’ve become more sensitive,” I told him. “I feel more humble and more effortlessly empathic to the pain of other people. I’ve also become aware of my tendency to be attracted to things that frankly, make me feel like shit”
As I walked down to the beach this morning, past opulent that homes that look out over the Santa Monica bay, I saw dozens of Hispanic workers walking to their jobs. I imagined I could see what they must have seen; this unattainable wealth, this excess of things and inertia, all taking place in a foreign and hostile environment where no one — but no one — ever deigns to clean their own toilet.
Each of them was on their cell phone, making necessary connections to the people they love. Someone with whom they share a language and a common story, and it made me think about my own stories and my need to tell them.
And suddenly, I had these thoughts: Who shares my language? What comprises my language now, and what will comprise my language once I start to speak again?
No doubt it will have changed. My hope is that it will include far fewer words of blame, and of anger and of castigation; and far more simple words like:
I love you. I’m happy you’re here. And how can I help make your life a better one?