Identity in the Shadow of Voicelessness
I'd first began writing this article a few months ago; the news talked about in this article isn't AS recent today, but it's just as relevant to the overall theme of what I'm writing about. After all, the Put It on My Bill blog is nothing if not timely and punctual.
I don't know how much you keep up with celebrity news - as lowbrow and meaningless as it tends to be, it seems we genuinely can't escape it. If you live in America, and you use any kind of technology to connect with people or inform yourself, you've had some bullshit information about some bullshit people shoved into your bullshit face. You don't even have to have any real opinions about these people. By the power invested in inanity, you WILL be told about Amber Heard throwing stuff at Johnny Depp and shitting in his bed. You MUST hear about Will Smith smacking Chris Rock. You have NO CHOICE but to be notified that Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly partake in edgy blood rituals in their private life.
You don't even want to FUCKING know that, but now you do. Because powers above your own want you to know. Delusional Facebook narcissists who have main-character syndrome will go on about how "the media" wants to distract you from real problems by forcing this supposed news upon you. Me, I'm not so imaginative. I like to think it's easier and simpler to accept that people are unable to stay in their lane and out of other people's business. I know this because I'm attracted to people's private lives and personal drama like a moth to a flame. People enjoy observing, judging, and being entertained or envious of other people. It's nature, or at least it feels like the natural evolution of an integrated society. Is this an article about celebrity news? About how Britney Spears was legally barred from having children for decades due to her pop star status, and what a simple allegory that is for the concept of men in power having government-sanctioned ownership over a woman's reproductive organs? About Elon Musk purchasing Twitter under the guise of being for freedom of speech, while simultaneously recalling a user's paid-for Tesla order for speaking out against the same acquisition?
Fuck no. I can't talk with any kind of appropriate education, knowledge or context about real world problems facing everyday people, you know that by now. You're on putitonmybill.org! We do willful ignorance here, and we do it better than anyone. It's what keeps things bearable, digestible and maybe not so insurmountable. So why, Bill, you diatribe-spewing troglodyte, are we spending the first few paragraphs setting the stage and laying contextual foundation for a dialogue about celebrity news?
Because Bruce Willis being diagnosed with Aphasia was the basis for what I wanted to write about today, and I'm physiologically unable to even mention celebrity news and the modern American pop culture discourse without giving it a healthy lampooning! It's worthless, phony, stupid garbage. Not to say I'm anything other than a worthless, phony, stupid writer and that this won't be a worthless, phony, stupid article. But hey, you're already this far into it, you're probably gonna read the rest of this anyway, aren't you? Hey, where are you going?
I have had a speech impediment since I was very young. So young I can't remember when it began, or if any particular events triggered it. Maybe some stress involving childhood bullying, or a repressed trauma I'll be grappling with when I'm 34, I genuinely couldn't pinpoint anything with confidence. I have a form of stuttering referred to as a "speech block." While most people might hear the word "stutter" and imagine s-s-s-someone t-t-talking like th-th-th-this, what happens to me is I will know what word or phrase I want to say, but I can't get the word out. My vocal chords act on their own against my own command, and will constrict in such a way to where I very simply cannot speak the word or phrase.
All this to say that if you are up-to-date with your celebrity gossip, if you've allowed yourself to remain strapped to the Clockwork Orange-style apparatus and fed a constant stream of headlines and statements regarding the personal lives of people who aren't even people, you've heard about the news about Bruce Willis, considered a veteran film actor responsible for key roles in like three real movies and about three-hundred low-budget dogshit action flicks. Yeah, I know - Bill, he was in Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, Armageddon, Unbreakable, Sin City, Fifth Element, Sixth Sense, Seventh-Something AND he was the dog from Rugrats. Not to mention Neversoft's PlayStation 1 smash hit Apocalypse. I know.
The news is that Bruce has retired from acting - a 37 year career, or something like that - because he's been diagnosed with Aphasia, a condition that affects the human ability to perceive, comprehend and communicate language. It's usually brought on by head trauma or suffering a stroke. In cases where it's not brought on by such things, it's usually indicative of the early stages of a degenerative disease, usually dementia. This said, I hope the best for Bruce and his family - that's a rough card to have been dealt, and I can't imagine having to come to grips with something like that. I've seen first-hand people suffering from that kind of degeneration and it's scary, sad, and worse, hopeless.
Thinking about that reality, trying to imagine what that would feel like, led me to thinking about my own experiences in having a neurological condition forcefully take from you your abilities to properly and functionally communicate with other human beings in a day-to-day context. I went to speech therapy when I was young, I've staved off anxiety attacks over ordering food, phone calls are still terrifying for me. It's a genuine thing that I live with, and that is a part of my identity. As an able-bodied white man who passes for cishetero, the stuttering community may be the closest thing to being a direct member of a marginalized group of people for me. The moments I have when I'll meet someone else with a speech impediment in a circle of people who speak without difficulty, it's how I imagine it feels to have a community like that. Finding the opportunity to relate the little experiences with someone else, the difficulties and struggles, it's empowering and validating.
What I got to thinking about when I found myself reflecting on my speech impediment was the fact that I haven't ever addressed it's existence in the 8 years I've creating content on the internet, despite it being incredibly relevant to my life and my content being, in one way or another, very transparent and personal.
They always say, don't let these things define you. Your stutter isn't who you are. Your amputated leg, your deafness, your life as a minority in a xenophobic part of the world, they don't rule your existence. Fuckin' sure they do! Tell the guy who can't pursue his creative passions anymore because he developed crippling arthritis in his hand that it doesn't define him, see how fast he punches your pretentious lights out with his arthritic meat paws. Try saying "you can do anything you set your mind to, and overcome anything!" to a woman who just had her labia forcibly removed because it's a regular practice in her culture.
We're absolutely defined by these obstacles, these dark spots in our timelines. Not being able to speak clearly, confidently and concisely AND being someone who wants to create content on the internet and project my own personality, has been a fuckin' rough combination. You lurk my YouTube channel, find any video wherein I'm narrating from a script - a script I WROTE - and you can hear what sounds like unpreparedness and downright confusion. It affects my self-esteem, my willingness and enthusiasm to want to make videos, and inevitably the quality of the video I'd want to make. Maybe not to the extent I find myself fearing, but there's a difference. This thing is a part of me.
And yet, I've struggled with consciously acknowledging it to people. And it led to me thinking about how the things that truly define people, I mean define people at their core, in their marrow, are the things we try to cover up and hide from new people in our lives. Sure, I have an enthusiasm for old VHS aesthetics and vintage monster movies and doom metal. And if you asked me about who I was, about my identity, that's the kind of stuff I'd tell you. What I wouldn't tell you about is the close family members I've lost. The friends whom I later discovered to be narcissists or liars and have had to cut out of my life in very ugly and traumatic situations. The constant existential fear and death anxiety I experience through paranoia brought on by my dependency on and addiction to smoking weed.
The things that truly, authentically mold who we truly are, are things we actively attempt to conceal from others. It's because they're things that are very personal and usually things we have tied up in trauma and other negative emotions. Childhood abuse, sexual assault, traumatic events that go on without asking permission to occur. They're formative experiences, things that we aren't given a choice about carrying with for the rest of our lives. Jesus didn't get to pick out which cross would look the best or feel the lightest on his back. He just had to drag the fuckin' thing up the hill.
Always carrying shit up the hill.
Finding out about Bruce Willis, I found myself not only sympathizing but empathizing with him. And that struck me because I hardly empathize with anyone. Sympathy is easy, it's something built into us as humans, by nature. Empathy is only attainable through true hardship, something we actively attempt to avoid going through.
I find myself constantly feeling as if I'm only borrowing my words. I'll have a word right there in my head, burning, screaming to be spoken but my mouth doesn't relinquish control over to me. It protests Bill's voice. Self-immolates. And I want, so desperately, to have my own voice, make it heard, that I imagine that's what got me into creative writing at a young age. And so when I'd heard about Bruce's aphasia, one of the first thoughts I had was that this successful and confident, accomplished person was going to find himself borrowing words. And I felt a very deep and personal sadness over it.
Try and think, what are the things that define you? The REAL you, the you that you don't want to bring to social events, and are afraid to show to people. The vulnerable you. I think sometimes that this journey, this mission accomplished screen we're fighting to reach, is about merging that version of yourself, the one that was mistreated and wronged and traumatized, with the incarnation of yourself that you want to be - the happy, thriving, confident and comfortable human who overcame their disadvantages and roadblocks and did justice to themselves where injustice was once done. What we hope to remove ourselves from is more than just trauma and anguish from past events - it's the bitterness and cynicism that is born from that pit of despair.