Behind The Lozenge.

Wake Up And Sing.

That’s what I usually do, anyway. I wave my hand at folks flapping their lips about proper technique and the importance of warming up the old vocal folds before belting out tunes at top volume. I prefer a method I call the “scratch and wail”, wherein you go ahead and belt out those tunes first thing in the morning with no vocal exercises and embrace the nails-on-a-chalkboard-that’s-been-chain-smoking-for-thirty-years sound that mangles its way up your phlegmy throat and violates the airwaves. Eventually, after ahem-ing and growling and maybe burping a little, that voice that was hiding underneath your sleep-encrusted vocal chords rings out clear as a bell and you’re good to go.

Friends, this is an idiot’s method.

My tried-and-true way of “warming up” has given me the wonderful gift of having no fucking voice to speak of (or with) for the last week. The iron will for which my people are known led me to keep singing when sickness reared its snotty face and I fell ill two weeks ago. Hell, I’ve got songs to write and my so-called muse is prone to up and leave me in the middle of a song and not return for months at a time, so I have to strike while the creative iron is piping hot, if you know what I mean.

So I made things worse. Not warming up PLUS singing while sick is a recipe for disaster.

Phlegmy With A Chance Of Silence.

No rest for the wicked, right? After my fabulous vacation of sickness, I got to go back to work on Friday sounding like a broken radio with a fading signal. My larynx is forcing me to speak in some kind of weird Morse code, with half words coming out in full volume while other portions of the same word barely register as a whisper. It’s fun trying to communicate with confused coffee shop patrons when they can’t hear me over the corporate-approved music and whirr and grind of the espresso machines and coffee grinders.

And the songs I’m working on? They’re better than anything I’ve ever written. I’m no modern-day folk-pop Mozart or anything, but these are songs I can truly be proud of. Eight million years ago, when I performed a couple of original compositions in Beaverton Idol (go ahead and laugh now), I was told by the emcee that my songs carried a message and could probably help people also going through rough shit. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing because most of the competitors were children and the emcee certainly didn’t have a potty mouth like me.) The point was, I’m not that good at writing upbeat, happy love songs. One of the tunes I performed, “Empty” was about being molested as a child and written from the perspective of my abuser — pretty heavy stuff for a 16-year-old. In fact, one of the judges gently told me that while my song was obviously “important”, maybe a small-town Idol knockoff wasn’t the best place to showcase that kind of writing prowess.

Teenage me wasn’t having that shit, let me tell you. I stood on that music hall stage with the lights blinding me and told him point-blank, “If we don’t talk about things like this, things that make us uncomfortable, then nothing will ever change. It’s important to be open so we can stop these things from happening to other people.” For a moment, you could’ve heard a pin drop, and then the good folks in the stands let me know they had my back by applauding.

Mouthy Jen didn’t win the competition, by the way, but I did get a nice bouquet of flowers for my efforts to change the pop world.

Death By Lozenge.

Two of my coworkers, Cori and Erin, brought me packages of throat lozenges. Honey flavored Halls from Cori, cherry flavored Ricola from Erin. I suppose I sounded pathetic enough to warrant them spending their own money to help me speak again. (Just kidding, it’s actually because they’re awesome and lovely and I’m lucky to have such wonderful friends looking out for my well-being. <3) I’m fairly certain that I’ve developed a crippling addiction to the sweet, sweet taste and instant relief of eating them. I’m considering nominating throat lozenges for inclusion in Canada’s Food Guide as a major food group. Although technically we’re not supposed to be eating or drinking anything on the floor at work, tucking a lozenge into my cheek and suckling it like a newborn kitten keeps me from erupting phlegm all over a customer’s carefully selected scone and coffee, so really everyone wins. Oh, and the tea I’ve hidden underneath my till? I’m just doing that because I’m a dick, not because I’m ill. One bag of chamomile, one bag of mint, and a touch of honey actually goes a long way when it comes to me not coughing in your face.

I fucking love tea.

Light In The Tunnel.

So what happens when the virus I probably caught from using public transit finally departs and leaves my wretched airways ravaged and raw from constant hacking? Well, let me tell you.

I’ll start warming up properly.

Few things frighten me as much as the concept of losing my singing voice. Christina Aguilera I am not, but that doesn’t make my voice any less special to me. I need it, to communicate my musical ideas and translate my feelings into songs, to take orders at work and yell them across the cafe, and most importantly, to be a smart-ass. I can’t quip if I can’t speak, since I don’t know Sign Language (shout out to the hearing-impaired folks who speak, sign, use a device, or read lips, and are probably also smart-asses!).

The idea of not taking care of my vocal instrument now strikes me as ridiculous. Those warm-ups were created for a reason, and that reason is NOT LOSING YOUR VOICE. Singing for long periods of time stresses the shit out of those chords, and the only way to strengthen them is by stretching them and doing the right exercises to make sure you don’t fuck them up. Ever notice how your voice tends to change somewhat as you age? That’s because your vocal chords are aging with the rest of your body. So my previous cavalier attitude was most definitely misguided. It’s like if I just decided NOT to tune my guitar and continued playing it no matter how discordant the chords became or how awful every song sounded. If I want it to sound good, I need to take care of that shit. Like changing the strings as they go through wear and tear. Just makes sense.

And I’m also going to stock up on lozenges.

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Sorting out my life by writing about it.

8 thoughts on “Behind The Lozenge.

  1. Reason number one I’m never trying cocaine: Halls. Fuck those things, man. I will down a whole pack in an hour or two, and that’s me trying my best to not indulge. Then, terrified I’ll overdose on those little shits, I’ll just stop eating them for the rest of the day. Rinse and repeat until my throat feels better, then I go through Halls withdrawal for a few days. Fuck those, beautiful, horrendous, lozenges.

    I’m glad to hear you’ll be taking care of your voice more. Eighty-year-old Jenn will sing you a sweet, perfectly warmed-up voice to present Jenn, thanking you for taking care of one of your joys.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s addicted to the lozenge! I bought these organic ones one time and the package warned that if too many were consumed, it would lead to diarrhea. I didn’t listen. The package didn’t lie.

      I don’t have illusions of being famous, or of world tours and millions of dollars (frankly, I am too damn old for shenanigans), but I would very much like to record and release my own albums and perform around the city and I need to quit dicking around with my voice if I intend to do that. πŸ™‚

  2. “Stop these things from happening to other people.”

    Those words stopped me dead, because that is so very, very important. I know whereof you speak, and as a Christian, I’m supposed to extend love and compassion to abusers.

    I think not. People say the words “summary justice” like it’s a bad thing. Sure can solve a lot, though, and can turn the end of some people’s evil lives into a cautionary tale, “pour l’encouragement les autres”.

    Sorry. I digress. But that stuff nearly ruined my life before it started.

    I can’t sing, but I used to run, and never warmed up. Until a very cold day when my knee made a nice musical ‘pop!’ and suddenly I was running like a penguin with corns.

    It never fully recovered. What had been a joy became trial by ordeal, every bloody mile. A lesson learned, too late.

    1. Aw, I’m sorry to hear that your knee decided not to cooperate with your love of running. It’s amazing how we never really think about warming up, we just jump right in and do the things we love.

      When it comes to extending love and compassion to abusers, I think everyone is different. The person who hurt me is dead, but even before he passed on, I forgave him. Not to his face, but inside my mind. And I did it for selfish reasons. I had to let go otherwise I would have been consumed by my anger and pain. I certainly wouldn’t have been in contact with him even if he were alive, but I also understand that in some cases, letting go like that is just not possible. There’s a lot of grey area for people who have been abused.

      My issue is when I talk about it and people inform me that the subject makes them uncomfortable and so it shouldn’t be spoken about. Sure, maybe not around the dinner table, but if I have a stage, a public forum, and an audience, I should have every right to work through my pain using music. Out of everything I’ve done over the course of my life, that one moment stands out as something to be proud of — I spoke my mind in spite of my shyness.

      On a happier note, I burst out laughing at “running like a penguin with corns” — that’s a funny thing to picture!

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