Sunday, February 6, 2011

Riders, Lend Me Your Ears

This is going to be a quick post, because I really should be studying right now...

But huge CI moment for me this weekend, as I competed for Stanford's equestrian team in a home horse show. For the first time ever, the PA system was making sense to me during the equitation on the flat classes, when I stood by the back gate within clear listening range. (I did have a similar experience a few weekends ago at an away show, but the volume and sound quality in that arena were so cruddy that I really didn't get much more than an isolated word or two, and even then I might have been making that up.) Getting ready for my class yesterday and earlier today, I watched the other riders in the arena and listened to the announcer give the verbal commands for which gait they should display next, and found my stomach doing little lighthearted flips. Because, almost every single time, I got it!

"Riders, to the rising trot."

"Sitting trot, please."

"Riders, canter please."

"Riders, please walk and line up in the center of the ring."

"Riders, drop your stirrups."

You get the point. I even got the numbers being announced sometimes, when there wasn't too much background noise or cheering from the crowd. Now, I've competed in horse shows for much of my life, and this has me feeling so giddy. I used to be terrified - absolutely terrified - of flat classes because of my fear of (and actual experience with) missing the announcer's commands and performing much worse than my best. I used to get unbearably tense before every such class, and would often ride abominably because of my preoccupation with what the other riders were doing - was I doing it right? What was next? When would the next transition come? Would it catch me off-guard?

Today - entirely different story. Although my auditory processing wasn't as stellar when I was on the horse rather than standing and watching, I did pick up a few things during my own class. All this made me feel like running and jumping up and down and telling my friends and teammates, "I hear it, I understand it! Canter! Canter!" (A note: I restrained myself. Flat class announcing is far too mundane for such enthusiasm.)

Granted, all of these commands tend to be rather redundant. But in terms of a closed set that's actually applicable to an area of my life, whoo-hoo!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Auditory Memory and Other Ramblings

Auditory therapy, session two. Take-away points: right now it's all about building confidence and auditory memory. (Nothing new. That mental sound dictionary is going to be years in the making.) And it's about making myself stretch, too, defining a set that's neither too open nor too closed. I have to flex my listening muscles, so to speak, and make myself work hard without becoming frustrated or feeling like the answer is out of reach. It's a tricky balance. So how do I push those boundaries? This week we tried several things. Listening and selecting sentences at different volumes and distances, defining a category and then having me discern open-ended statements about it, listening to sets of words and determining which one did not belong. That brain of mine is still reluctant to listen, to put its faith in something previously so unknown, but the more I push it the more it cooperates.

Also, I need to put aside my fear of incomprehension. It's a bit ironic that lack of communication is probably my biggest fear, yet it's something with which I have a tremendous amount of experience. Over the years I've come up with a number of coping mechanisms for situations when I'm just not getting it. My brain has gotten good at glossing things over, at filling in the blanks when it can and trying to cope when it can't. Up to this point, that puzzle-solving process has mainly applied to lipreading, but now it applies to listening too. While deciphering the speech sounds I hear, I need to make myself release some of my inner tension. I'm going into overdrive, piecing together sounds in an attempt to extract a statement that makes sense, and worrying when none of it fits - but, when things do click, it often happens suddenly. No analysis involved: I know what I'm hearing! That's the goal, moving forward - to ask myself, am I listening with my ears or with my brain? That analytical mind of mine has always been a huge asset, but maybe one day it'll be a bit less necessary, or a bit less overburdened, as more of the pieces fall into place. What a great thought.

And, finally - this may be a bit redundant, but I keep feeling stunned at the texture of the world with sound in it. Seven months has not distilled my private sense of wonder. There's a bird building a nest outside my window, and I hear it right now as I type. I've been noticing new types of bird calls around campus, too, and other sounds keep shadowing me, feeling more and more like good friends. The whistling of the wind, the squeal of my bike tires, overlapping machinery, people's voices carrying over from the most improbable places. Hard work aside, all of this is so, so amazing.