Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Sometimes changing the question can prompt an answer to a conundrum. When my hearing test showed a decline I wondered if it meant that I should start learning ASL. Of course, there really is no answer to that question. Today I asked myself a different question: Why not learn ASL? I don't think I'm very good at languages, and I don't think I have a good memory, but perhaps ASL will draw on those hidden visual and kinesthetic abilities. I will be able to understand my sister when she signs to me across a noisy room. Learning a new language will be good for my brain - like learning ballroom dancing or watercolor painting.

At a landscape watercolor painting workshop last weekend I met a woman in her 80's who said that she wanted to take every class she could. She was intrepid, walking over the sand to sit and paint Proposal Rock, and walking down to paint the Salmon River estuary. When I sign up for an ASL class this fall, I'm going to invoke her spirit and let her be my muse.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Listening II

Growing up in a household with a father who for 30 years ran a women's clothing business with his partner, I find myself drawn to articles about retailing leadership. My father was of the old school - work before family, no wasted time in meetings, top-down decision-making, and martini-handshake deals.

With that frame of reference, last week I read a short interview with Linda Heasley, the CEO of The Limited, about the guidance she gives to new department managers. Just listen for the first 90 days, she says. “Take 90 days. The relationships you build in your first few months here are critical to your success. Try not to talk in meetings. I know you’re going to want to demonstrate that you’re really capable and you deserve to be here by showing your smarts. But if you listen and let the void fill with what’s around you, you’ll learn a ton.”

When I started a new job last summer, I tried to practice "talk less, listen more". I observed that there were several younger women who had so much to say and I found it rewarding to be a listener, a supporter, and not a "jump in and solve the problem" person. There is another advantage to more listening, less talking. I understand more of the context, which is invaluable to hearing.

But I can hear my father vehemently disagreeing. Don't waste time in meetings, he would say. The workplace is not a democracy. There is only one thing that is important, he would say: to have the right goods in the right place at the right time, and the customer is always right. He was not, by nature, a listener. But he was a keen observer, and right or wrong, he had the power of his convictions. Now sometimes I have the feeling that he is, after all. listening in, and sometimes even surprised by what he hears.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010


As I was walking through Laurelhurst Park on the way home from a yoga class, I passed a family also walking through the park. Several adult children were taking their father for a walk in a reclined wheelchair, a cross between a wheelchair and a hospital bed. They had stopped for a moment to ask him if he wanted to keep walking or go back to his room. He was not responding, as far as I could tell.

I thought of my mother who, in her last years of advanced Alzheimer's, also did not walk and did not talk very much. Ten years earlier, just before her diagnosis, I went with her for a visit to an audiologist in Florida, where my mother and father spent their winter. I had convinced my parents to get their hearing tested, and this was the follow up visit for my mother. The audiologist explained to my mother that her hearing was not good and hearing aids would help. Although my mother had worn contact lenses almost her whole adult life, she was resistant to putting something in her ear. She thought her hearing was "good enough". Maybe, she explained, if she had a job where people depended on her, hearing aids would be a good idea. But in her current life, she didn't really see the point. Perhaps she had gotten used to a quiet world by then, and perhaps she liked not hearing my dad so well.

My mother also lost most, if not all. of her vision to glaucoma. As her world became quieter, it also became unfocused. She was in denial about losing her vision as much as losing her hearing, but I watched her cut vegetables staring off into space, and I could tell that she did not rely on her eyesight for much of anything. As her Alzheimer's progressed, she sometimes sat for hours "reading" the newspaper. Honestly, I cannot imagine losing all of one's faculties. And yet, she was gracious and gentle to the end. As my dad would say, it was not her nature to complain about her ailments.

And so today I count my blessings. I am in good health, I live in an era where contact lenses and hearing aides help me function in a world that would otherwise be inaccessible to me, I can walk through the park and appreciate the light filtering through the trees, making the leaves sparkle and dance in a slight breeze. My mother used to say that when she was too old to do anything else, to put her on the train at the state fair and let her ride around and around. I would say: take me for a walk through the park, and if I don't answer you, the answer is "yes", just keep walking.

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Monday, July 5, 2010


At my mother's memorial service back in January, Dr. Kantor, her eye doctor, stood to speak about her. He said that while my mother had lost her eyesight to glaucoma, she never lost her vision.

Today that thought came back to me. When hearing is a challenge, what does that mean about listening? How can I let someone know that I am listening when I miss so much of what is said? The act of listening is so much more than hearing - it is bringing one's focus to bear on someone else, fully, without distraction, and taking in not just the words and the context, but the fuller meaning behind the words. Perhaps if I am more intentional about my listening, screening out distractions inside and out, I will not only be a better listener but hear better as well.

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Sunday, July 4, 2010


Today is the Fourth of July, one of the noisiest holidays around. An article in the New York Times this morning profiled a young veteran who lost both arms and legs in Iraq and his persistence and optimism in recovery. I wanted to tell him about a high school student in Portland who lost both arms and legs to infection at an early age - she is a dancer and shares his optimism and persistence. These are the kinds of stories that put life in perspective. Humans are amazingly resilient and the impulse toward life is strong. We are survivors together and as individuals, and our journeys are worth telling.

Yesterday I had a conversation with my daughter Elizabeth, who is developing her interest in early childhood education, about the importance of storytelling in early literacy. Yes, but storytelling is also important to each new challenge we face - we tell our stories of survival and we learn from each other. We learn compassion, persistence, and we learn the power of storytelling to hold back the darkness, to embrace life.

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Friday, July 2, 2010


Perhaps it is the new hearing aids I bought in January or maybe too much rain, but as I was walking home from the bus yesterday I landed on this idea for a blog. My new hearing aids are called Epoq, made by Oticon and I also bought a gadget called a Streamer. With the streamer, my hearing aids function as headphones for my cell phone. When the technology works it is great. And I am learning more about how to use this equipment every day. But right now the rain is a problem and I live in Portland OR where rain has been constant. I put my jacket hood up when it rains, and with my old aids that was no problem. These aides give me feedback (loud squealing) with the hood up. Sometimes I can coax the feedback to go away, but not always. I am not excited about having to keep track of an umbrella!

I have had hearing aids since I was in law school in my late 20's, but didn't start wearing them consistently until my hearing got worse a few years later. I'm on my fourth or fifth pair now. I have seen my audiologist for so long her children have grown from preschoolers to driving. I have a mixed type of hearing loss - mostly sensory-neural but with a topdressing of otosclerosis. I had a stapedectomy about 18 years ago, and a clean up a couple of years ago. My hearing has gotten worse recently, so much so that when I take my hearing aids out I am in a very quiet place, a place where I don't hear much of anything. That's not to say quiet is a bad thing - I like quiet, and prefer it to noise. But after my last hearing test, my husband and I both asked the same question - should we be learning sign language?

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