IVP - Strangely Dim - If I Could Talk I'd Be Whining

January 28, 2005

If I Could Talk I'd Be Whining

by David A. Zimmerman

I finally have an idea of what a vow of silence feels like: it feels like a prison sentence.

I have lost my voice. (If found, please e-mail dzimmerman@ivpress.com.) I was talking to a room full of junior high students about my book, and now my vocal cords are essentially nonvocal. I can still wheeze out a syllable here or there, but for the most part I'm effectively mute.

You'd think that not having a voice would prohibit me from participating in conversations, but you'd be wrong. I sang "Happy Birthday" to my mom (it sounded more like "Abby Earth Day"), I cracked jokes during a break with my colleagues, I directed a sketch for my church's drama team, I talked about a book idea with a woman from Nashville, and I scheduled two meals intended for catching up with some friends. If my publicity agent hadn't exercised some restraint on my behalf, I would have talked on the radio about superheroes for half an hour.

What I've learned is that I, like U2's Bono, "love the sound of my own voice." Right now no one else does, of course, since my voice sounds like gravel scraped across a chalkboard. Still, you can't tell by looking at a person that their voice is dead and can kill, and people continue to engage me in conversation until I respond. Then they apologize and let me go on in silence--which is, ironically, the last thing I want to happen.

I was told once that I should take a retreat of silence to confront my need for attention. I did, and it was good, but while my mouth kept silence, my mind kept chattering away. I took all sorts of notes so I could talk about my experience with all my friends. My experience of voicelessness is quite a bit different from that retreat, however: whereas I could have ended that retreat at any time, I'm currently at the mercy of my throat. I can't talk, and I won't talk well until whatever has taken my voice gives it back.

In the meantime, I'm missing out on a lot. I have tried to acknowledge people in passing and have failed to make a peep; I have tried to make jokes but couldn't articulate the punch line; I've tried to engage my loved ones but have had to simply listen.

You can learn a lot from listening, it turns out. People generally have a lot of stories to tell, and when you're not jockeying for the chance to take the reins of the conversation, they actually have the opportunity to tell them. But we're conditioned to practice dialogue, an equal distribution of talk-time, so when your voice is gone your conversation partners don't know what to do with you. Ironically enough, when you're best suited to listening without interrupting, people stop talking to you.

So here I sit, at least temporarily voiceless and friendless. At least my mind still works, so to speak.


Happy birthday, Chris!

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at January 28, 2005 8:54 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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