Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From Lipreading to the Radio to Hearing

Earlier this fall, I was on the radio. Or, rather, my writing was! (Long story short: an essay I wrote appeared in an on-campus literary magazine, after which someone from the Stanford Storytelling Project, a radio show on the local KZSU station, approached me and asked if I'd be interested in reading it as part of an upcoming episode. Although I didn't want to read it myself - I didn't feel that my verbal reading skills would do it justice - I was flattered and more than happy to comply if someone else recorded.)

I shared the date and time of my radio appearance with my family and friends, but didn't actually listen myself. That is, until this week when a friend reminded me that my essay, now in MP3 format, did have a presence on the web archives. Here it is, at the bottom:

(Text version searchable elsewhere.)

A few days ago I pressed "play" and sat in my room while it filled with the sound of my words, in someone else's voice. (With transcript on hand, of course. It may be my own writing, but my memory isn't perfect.) As I told my friend afterwards, it was neat but it was also strange.

One thing people have often commented on regarding my writing is its pacing and acoustic flow. They've asked me how I've come to understand the metrical rhythm that is inherent to language without ever having heard it. Or they ask me if I hear my own thoughts or words in my head like hearing people do. I'm not quite sure. I don't know what it feels like to be inside someone else's mind, so how would I answer? Writing for me has long been a matter of feel, or of seeing the visual balance of the words and their accompanying rhetorical devices on the page. Thinking about writing, or about words, likewise happens on that almost-unconscious level of feel. I touch words more than I hear them. I grasp their texture and their shape as they pass by, and although some of this might be related to sound it would be reductive to narrow that process to the physical property of hearing. I do gauge how my words unfold in terms of timing and rhythm, but on the whole rhythm isn't directly tied to sound. It's a more deeply-engrained property of the body, for me long associated with physicality.

Hearing all of these things, in the form of actual sound waves, was a remarkable experience. I won't say that listening to my essay made it feel more real to me, or anything like that. It didn't. Writing, for me, will always exist in the mind, in the life of the mind and its particular moods and flavors. But I still enjoyed accessing how the texture and affect of my prose translated into sound waves. And did experience a bit of a surreal moment, besides, when my mind made the leap from content to form: lipreading to the radio to hearing. It forms a nice little circle, doesn't it?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mass-Generated Mumbo-Jumbo

The long-engrained habits of my own brain, as well as the challenges that those habits create in structuring a new auditory model of the world, is something I've been meaning to write about on this blog. (In a nutshell, it's the story of my current stage of listening.) But it's also something that I've written about before, so in favor of a different topic that strikes me as more immediately interesting, I'll bypass it for another time.

I had someone ask me earlier this week about the CI: my progress, whether I'm still happy with the decision, etc., but also about my recent ability in social situations. That last one was the trickiest for me to answer. While my level of environmental awareness and, subsequently, the sensory richness of my world are unbelievable, I still can't help but wish that that impression of auditory texture translated better into the specific fine-tuned connections that would help me more with human speech. Don't get me wrong: my brain is figuring it out. With a single speaker in a quiet location, I'm often surprised and gratified at my ear's ability to fill in the gaps, ease the pressure from lipreading, understand, and, well, listen. But, unfortunately, the world does not operate according to the norm of a single speaker, speaking one at a time, in a quiet location.

As a full-time student, I've reached the point in the academic term when my energy reserves are rather low. Those reserves are already reluctant enough to contribute themselves to (my admitted phobia of) group interaction, but in recent weeks they've been all but shot. And, today, I was wishing that I had a mental typewriter to record the verbal nonsense that my brain sees/hears/juggles on a regular basis. It, reconstructed, goes something like this.

A: Yeah, you know, I was thinking eoriwudn seriuesof ghjldf eirojdf. And it's problem sets and papers and erieosf reuesonf eruelsgh.

B: That sounds really tough. Eeriosdncs eoirslfn and you know vneowri but erouewo it's not so bad boerusor.

C: Askrjejf sdifuseorjf sdfiusd at three o'clock. Ersdnvfoer eruilsbr one of my friends said that eriowehjf qweurs but then I told her erous erwyn oweur. She wasn't very happy.

A: Twoeru sdfbero this afternoon eoriueo and oweur.

C: Awwww.


A: Dsfkjfls the Fiesta Bowl? Erwoeiur seruhesf vnvlee.

B: No, I'm not going.

C: I am.

D: Dfskj sieru stijsjf sdfjsldfj!

A: Where are you staying? I was thinking I would sdklfjs pfgoihf seriulkj ofgihfjdfh. And then fly back seriuoenf drtiurd fly out of zeiruoes portiren before coming back to school.

D: Yeah. Eroewur sdfbe that sounds like a good idea. Have you heard of erouwel seruro vboer?


C: One time kweridsf dfguorgj eriuefmdl I was on a plane, and eriouwefj sdhfdnf piruoe guy checked my luggage, and then - and then -

B and D: laughing

C: Yeah, I know right, eriweuor vwryeiwnf this stewardess was just srehyweknf ierwekfn and then I got home and my mom looked at me and said seriouewlf fdghdorgn esrueyifhn upoertjlnwe.

A: I did that one time. It was when xerieuosf erouewly eriejof roriuweon.

D: Rwriuweaolf qoweui sdfnselr but he said sadfnsoer rsoweroj.

Me: silence

[Chewing, mumbling, accelerated speech, overlapping conversation interspersed throughout]

Is it any wonder, sometimes, that I just walk away? (I need an iPhone autocorrect to revise all these jumbled words.) Even if they all spoke perfectly in turn, the flow would still be challenging. Whatever my discoveries with the CI, the reality is still a little bit sobering regarding social interaction.

I'm looking forward to some good old-fashioned sign language conversations over the holidays. Or at least some familiar voices to listen to and challenge my ear with - in quiet houses and living rooms, at that!

Friday, December 2, 2011

World's First Waterproof Sound Processor

Advanced Bionics just issued a press release about its new waterproof Neptune sound processor.

Since the days when I was a kid and communication really didn't matter in the face of fun and games, I've disliked swimming and hanging out in water (at least, with people who don't sign) because the knowledge that I will be totally deaf while in the pool,  playing at the beach, etc. is just uncomfortable. If there's the slightest risk that I'll get my CI or hearing aid wet, I just go without - meaning forfeit my hearing. To this day, I have absolutely no concept of how things sound underwater or in watery environments. (I still have memories of being coerced into playing "Marco Polo" in the fifth grade. The other kids loved it because I of course took forever being the one underwater. To this day the notion that I even participated seems laughable.)

And having the option of not wearing the processor behind the ear - how wild. Except maybe a few rare days of being sick in bed, I've never gone a day in my life (since way back when I was diagnosed with my hearing loss) without some hearing device perched on my ears. I feel naked without one.

The design does look strange (a disembodied, futuristic-looking box instead of something clearly designed for ears), and I've been perfectly happy with my Harmony processor, but for me the concept of the Neptune is intriguing. And so, so cool. And common sense. I'm happy that AB is taking steps toward solving real technological barriers that have existed for deaf people for decades.

In a nutshell: even though I'm not a poolside kiddie anymore, I want one. Sort of.