Friday, May 13, 2011

Taking Their Voice But Not Their Spirit

Christopher Hitchens is are we all, of course, but unlike those of us who have no idea when our end will come, Hitchens has suspicions about the timing of his, although he's doing what he can to stave it off. Of the many indignities that his cancer has imposed on him, the the loss of his voice seems to be the one that he minds the most. No big deal, you might think; he's a magnificent writer and he can still express himself that way, but I think I can identify in the tiniest degree with his statement that "Deprivation of the ability to speak is more like an attack of impotence, or the amputation of part of the personality." I can't even interact with my cat properly when I've got a mouthful of food; trying to shoo her off the dining room table with a wave of a hand instead of a stern "Get down!" just doesn't cut it. (Not that ordering her around works very well either, but loud noises at least have more impact on her than angry gestures.) When a sore throat led to a few days of laryngitis last winter, I tried communicating via an iPhone text-to-speech app, thinking it'd be more understandable than notes scribbled in my sloppy handwriting, but I gave up when I learned how much time and effort was required to produce even short phrases. Accomplishing the everyday tasks of life silently—answering the telephone, shopping, communicating with friends—and particularly the chores of trying to stay alive while battling a serious illness—keeping loved ones up-to-date, negotiating with insurance companies, dealing with healthcare providers—must be exhausting.

Film critic Roger Ebert, who has lost his voice permanently due to complications of thyroid cancer, wrote in his journal earlier this year:
When first coming to terms with the fact that I would never speak again, I filled my head with denial and coping strategies. I would use my computer voice, for example. And I do. But that is no way to participate in the flow of a conversation, and I realize so clearly now that conversations are all about the flow, the timing, the music.
I find it interesting that although Hitchens had "never been able to sing" and Ebert said the same thing about himself (back when he could still speak), they both associate speech and conversation with music.

Ebert reports that he uses social media and "writes more than ever," and I imagine that Hitchens writes as much as his condition and schedule allow. I look forward to many more years of blunt opinions and lyrical prose from both men even if I do have to read it rather than hear it. But as I read their words, I'll be hearing their voices in my head.

N.B. I'm trying to get into the habit of posting on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but Blogger didn't consult me about scheduling the maintenance/downtime that occurred Thursday afternoon through this morning, so this post is a day late.

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