So, while the rest of America has been ramping up their holiday schedules, I have been laid low by my cold. It's been an interesting time for me. In past years, by the first days of December, I'm usually done decorating the house, and I've started singing carols and I've often made a batch or two of Christmas cookies, a loaf or two of bread.
Not this year. I've taken sick days because it didn't seem fair to go to work and cough and spread my germs to everyone--but that makes me sound like an altruist, doesn't it? No, I've taken sick days because I could hardly hold myself upright. And I haven't been able to speak without collapsing into a coughing fit. It made sense to stay at home, especially since I have sick leave that will vanish if I don't use it by Dec. 30.
I wish I could say that I've used this down time to work on manuscripts, to write new poems, to launch new projects, but I have not. I had about enough mental capacity to watch old holiday episodes of T.V. shows while sipping soup.
Along the way, I've had some time to think about my voice, during a week where I didn't use it very much, and what remains unsaid. All week I've contemplated carefully before speaking; I've asked myself, "Is this sentence that I'm about to utter worth the two minutes of coughing that will follow?" Most of the time, the answer has been no.
So, until I decided to use my sick days, before I admitted that I really have been sick, I spent a lot of time at work not talking. It's been kind of refreshing. It's an interesting experiment, to measure each and every word.
I know, I know--you're thinking that I'm a poet, and so of course, I must measure each and every word each day, right? That's what poets do, right?
Well, I like to think I do that when I write a poem--but that still leaves many hours in the day when I'm engaged in non-essential talk. I realize that not all of that talk is as useless as it might seem. There are social nicenesses that make work more tolerable, after all. Small talk can lead to deeper talk.
What would happen, though, if I kept my mouth shut when I'm tempted to engage in damaging talk (like gossip) or in discussions that really aren't ever going to go anywhere? I have colleagues who seem to delight in expressing outrage over political situations, and they can go on at great length, but it's not really useful conversation, and it's not likely to lead to social change or anything positive. I'd like less of that talk in my life. I'd like to be struck mute when I'm tempted to gossip or to speculate about the fortunes of others.
I'd like my words to be measured and vital. That's my lesson from this most recent illness.
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