Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reconnected with the World

For the last two weeks, I've struggled along with one hearing aid while the other one was getting fixed.  And not very successfully - I had a hard time even with one-to-one conversations in a quiet room. Sometimes I needed 4-5 repetitions to understand, and by that time the whole communication interaction was ruined.  After awhile, I stopped asking and found myself more and more disengaged from conversation.  I was also emotionally and mentally exhausted from the effort of listening.  At one difficult meeting at work, I found myself circling the table so I could stand immediately across from whomever was talking.

Today I picked up my repaired hearing aid and immediately felt reconnected with the world - I could hear small background noises, bits of passing conversation, and the sound of birds and leaves rustling in the wind.  I thought back to when I was in 2nd grade and wore glasses for the first time - I could see leaves on the trees!  Frankly, I was surprised that I could hear so much more wearing the second aid- twice what I could hear before - even though both ears are bad and amplification is far from perfect.

I am so grateful to my very patient Kaiser audiology folks - Leslie Hojem, my audiologist for at least the last 10 years who is always there for me, and to Mary, the scheduler, who will always try to fit me in, and to Terri, the audiologist who will see me when Leslie can't.  I could not function without their combined support.  Thank you!

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Monday, February 6, 2012

The Noise of Another Place

Tom and I recently spent a week in Bucerias, Nayarit, Mexico, just north of Puerto Vallerta.  Endless beach, blue skies, flowering bougainvillaea - I slept in late, went to bed early, walked every day and enjoyed the sun on my face.  I had time to read (Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, and Welcome to the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan), to paint and draw - it was the most relaxing week I've ever spent.

But Tom and I were both astonished at the "soundtrack" of daily life there: the shrieking steam whistle of a peanut roaster on the sidewalk, the competing loud speakers on trucks filled with strawberries or watermelons, the music in every restaurant - sometimes recorded and sometimes strolling musicians with guitars (or, in one case, a trumpet player with a young son playing the drums).  One day we saw a parade with musicians walking down the street.  And at the end of the week commemorating the local patron saint, the carnival had several competing bands, all playing at once.  I loved being there, but by the end of the week I was ready to go back to my quiet world.


Friday, August 26, 2011


It's been awhile since I've posted on this blog.  I've been immersed in a new job and other life events.  But tonight I had one of those embarrassing moments.  As we were coming to the end of our after-dinner dog walk, a new neighbor approached and told us that something had happened to a young woman.  I heard him mention an injury from motorcycle exhaust and I heard Tom say "not mine" (they both have motorcycles) and I heard the neighbor ask if we had an antiseptic ointment and an ice pack.  Oh, but just the ice pack.  So I ran inside and grabbed two ice packs but it turned out he said she had ice packs and all he needed was the antiseptic ointment.  I had heard the exact opposite of what was said, missing one of those little words like "not" or "only".  I felt completely inept and embarrassed. And back to being about six years old again.  

Probably we all make these kinds of communication mistakes and I should be used to it.  Today a coworker told me about a book she was reading called The Art of Possibility.  She said we need to give ourselves more "A's".  I need to read this book - would it tell me to give myself an A for being responsive, for having ice packs in the freezer, for knowing my neighbors and being the kind of neighbor that a new person would approach in an urgent moment?  Would it give me an A for persevering despite missing so much everyday language?  Would it give me an A for being so connected to my feelings that the hot tears are there at the ready, not buried by layers of tension and stress?  Okay, that gives me straight A's for the night.  I'll take it.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Creative Listening

I took a writing workshop from Kim Stafford last November and just got around to reading his book. The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's Craft (U. Georgia Press). Why did I wait so long? This book is just what I needed to give my gravitational pull to writing a context.

Listening is central to Kim's approach to writing. He uses the soundtrack of life as his inspiration, recording fragments that interest him. He then goes through these fragments and finds bits that interest him more than others, and then he writes a bit more about that, and then pulls out a nugget and writes a letter...this whole process resonated with me. Even though I don't often overhear conversations, I still sometimes notice things and this pull to looking outside feels healthy and invigorating.

About five years ago, when I was planning a big change in my life, a close friend encouraged me to carry a little notebook with me so I could jot down ideas as I went about my life. (I have to admit I like the moleskin type because it is just the right size and inconspicuous). In the last couple of years I've still carried the notebook but have gotten out of the habit of writing things down. Reading Kim's book was just the impetus I needed to get me going again. For me, since I can't rely just on listening to take in the world, it will have to be eloquent awareness - using all my senses together to take in the unusual and interesting bits of life that enriches and informs experience.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On the Wagon

February is a funny little month - a bridge between January and March, a month with lovely holidays. And it reminds me of my dad who, when he was a drinking man, always went "on the wagon" (a saying that goes back to prohibition days) during February because it was the shortest month.

February is a quiet and complacent month. My hearing aides are working well, and my amplifier on my work phone is installed and doing its job. I have made some decisions that have released me from the anxiety of indecision and I am enjoying the challenges of my work.

I read that Brian Jacques, the author of the Redwall series, died on February 5 this year. I loved reading those books outloud with my son and was interested to learn more about his life. Of his many different jobs, it was his work as a milk man that led him to writing. His route included the Royal School for the Blind where he would often stop for tea (like Postman Pat) and read to the children. He found the children's books lacking and decided to write his own stories for them, which became Redwall. It is a satisfying story about being open to the possibilities and living a nonlinear life.

I have been mostly "on the wagon" for over a year so I don't look to February for that. I do appreciate the stepping stone to spring and the pink camellias and our mostly mild weather. Even with the gray skies and rain, I am grateful not to be buried in snow. And although I tend to be a linear person, I am playing with being open to possibilities.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

My Father's Voice

Tonight we had dinner with friends and I found myself saying negative things about the teacher's union, supporting smaller government, questioning the state-owned liquor stores here, and so on. After awhile Tom just looked at me, shook his head in wonder, and said I was repeating my father's old tapes. And he was right. My father considered himself an independent though he was really more a libertarian. And he had very persistent tapes about the teacher's union and smaller government.

At the time I said those things I thought they were my opinions, at least my opinions of the moment. But when Tom pointed out that I was repeating my father's words, I wondered if perhaps I was just trying on those opinions like trying on new clothes. How do these words sound to me? What kind of reaction do I get from others? Do I really think this?

Why now at 57 would I be saying things that only a few years ago I would argue against? I know Churchill's saying: Anyone who is not a liberal when young has no heart and anyone who is not a conservative when old has no brain - or something like that. And I have watched myself become more conservative with time - not just with politics but also with personal choices and preferences.

I just read about a 92 year old woman who still runs marathons. She said she relished the challenge -- and she looked at least 20 years younger than her age. Perhaps I can use her image as a prompt to curb my conservative tendencies. The challenge for me over the next ten years is to balance my cautiousness with some risk, and to listen carefully - if my father is speaking through me, I need to head the message and change the subject.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011


I spent the afternoon playing with art supplies at a journaling workshop with Cynthia Mooney. There is nothing that brings me closer to my "inner child" or makes me feel closer to my mother. She was an artist and a writer. Although I don't remember ever painting with her, she did encourage us in creative pursuits, particularly writing. One of the last exercises of the day was a writing prompt - what is your word for the year? The word came to me quickly - "clarity".

This year I hope to be more grounded in my speech, if that makes sense. I want what I say to more clearly reflect what I mean. Strange that this should still be an issue at this stage of my life, but it is. With communication as challenging as it is, clarity can only help with understanding.

I'm not exactly sure how to go about working on this. Having just seen The King's Speech, I'm wishing for my own language coach. I've never really thought about this before. Since I only discovered my hearing loss as an adult, I never had the benefit of a speech therapist. In second grade, I failed the hearing screening and brought home a note telling my mother to take me to a doctor. She took me to our dear family friend and pediatrician, Dr. Kahn, who put his watch up to my ear. "Can you hear this?" Of course I said yes. "Oh Carla, there's nothing wrong with her hearing. Look how well she speaks." And that was that.

So now my inner child is asking for a language coach. And maybe I will try to find one.

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