Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What is Hard (Versus What is Easy)

So easy sometimes to make some amount of progress and then realize how far you have to go. What is more, so thought-provoking sometimes to reflect on progress itself in terms of what is hard and what is easy.

Things are easy now that weren't before. In auditory therapy this past week, I got several strings of words as long as 11 or 12. And got them perfectly. My auditory memory was working overload and could barely regurgitate them before the whole string vanished entirely, but... 12 words?! That's a really big deal. The other day while riding I heard (and, more importantly, understood) my coach yell directions across the arena to another rider. I grasp full sentences over the PA more and more often at horse shows. It's easier to relax in daily situations with noise; no longer is it so jarring and strange.

Still, the moments of clarity notwithstanding, much of listening is still a matter of fighting for every scrap of information I get. It's pulling myself up a sheer rock face by my fingertips. It's teasing something small and slippery out of a hole it doesn't want to leave. And then I get my prize and, tired and a bit proud of myself, look around at the world around me and feel abashed. What I have just accomplished is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared with what's possible with sound.

Really, the thing about hearing that makes me marvel is how, when it's working properly and all circuits are firing, it's all rather easy. This never struck me too much before the CI; listening and hearing was just something I didn't do, something I relegated to the realms of hearing people. I never considered how it works. Think about it. Sound waves compress, travel through the air, enter your head through two small holes, make a series of bones shift and membranes vibrate and nerve cells pulse - and then the brain calculates the frequencies and combines them and evaluates what they mean. And then you understand and respond within an instant. It's astounding. I watch my hearing peers and marvel at how easy everything is. How thoughtless. It feels beautiful, in a way. Picking up the phone while driving, or otherwise multitasking, and having a rapid-fire conversation with your mother. Navigating through overlapping voices, engaging in high-speed banter. Sitting in a noisy, dimly lit restaurant at a large table and speaking across to someone five seats away and somehow - I have no idea how - picking up on their voice shooting at you amidst the din. Isolating that voice and recognizing it and holding on to its coherence. There's a peculiar kind of intimacy about those kinds of daily exchanges. I've been watching such things lately and wondering, now that I have some vague sense of that facility of auditory access, what they would feel like for me. Honestly, it fills me with an unexpected feeling of wonder.

And then I think of myself, inching up my rock face. That sense of difficulty versus ease: the moments that it occurs to me are the moments that I feel farthest away from hearing-world immersion, because what is most arduous for me is most thoughtless for them. I want it to be easy, as easy as fitting together words and writing them on the page, and I know that it will never be. I want to know what easy feels like. Gliding in and out of sound and, most importantly, meaning. Dancing with the facility of words. This may be what I'm thinking of - and then I remind myself how many other things in my life are wonderfully, unbelievably, laughably easy. And then I stop and, indeed, have to laugh a little.

But because something is hard doesn't mean that it is less worthy of joy. It was hard, but I did it, versus It was easy, but I did it. In both cases, I'm left with simply, I did it. And that doing is enough, at whatever level it takes place. Here's to not taking our skills and actions for granted. And here's to "it" - listening, hearing, understanding, communicating - becoming easier and easier. :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Even with the CI, I keep running into the differences that I feel between my interests/pastimes and hearing culture. A lot of this might be more personality than deafness-related, but the fact is that being deaf has shaped my personality in one way or another. And even now that I'm hearing more, those deep-engrained preferences are still just there. They're not good or bad; they just are.

Take, for instance, music. I still remember seeing a deaf friend not long after I got the CI and having her tell me that she'd come to appreciate music more since getting her own CIs, but that she still wouldn't call music an active pleasure in her life. She didn't mind it if it was on, could even enjoy it sometimes, but she didn't actively seek it out. "I wouldn't waste the energy to get up and walk across the room and turn the stereo on, if you know what I mean," was what she told me. "Having it be quiet is fine by me, and honestly a lot of the time I prefer the silence." I remember having that conversation (it was about a year ago) while I was still in more flux between the deaf and the hearing worlds, still not quite knowing what would be possible for me with the CI or how it would change me. What! No! Music is cool! It has rhythm and pitch and complexity and whatever else - and I can hear it now! This is finally something to share with my hearing friends!

A year later, I think I've learned not to force things. I've ended up at a similar place as my friend. I'm grateful for the opportunity to experience music in my life, and when I find it playing in the background I can appreciate it much more than I used to, but... that's it. My brain hasn't made enough sense of it to be in awe, or addicted, or whatever hearing people feel when they listen to a song they like. Music isn't at the core of my being, and never will be. It's a roadside attraction when I happen to pass it by, but not something I pursue. I realize that some hearing friends might read this and find it sad, or pity me for missing out, but I don't feel any of those things. There might have been a point, immediately post-CI, where I was anxious for the device to do for and instill everything in me, when I would have viewed this relative apathy as a failure. But it's not. It's something like a hearing sighted person who isn't all that into art, but who will go to a museum from time to time with friends, nod appreciatively, and then leave. And I know several hearing people who are that way about music - my parents, for instance. I never had a very musical household growing up, my sister excluded. My parents like music when it tumbles into their lives. But they don't go out of their way for it. And neither, it turns out, do I.

This past weekend I was roadtripping back from an event with some teammates when they jacked someone's iPhone into the car, worked their way through a playlist of songs (what kinds of songs? I wish I could say), and all sang along for a good hour or so. The volume was amped up, the car was shaking, I was in the front passenger seat listening to them sing. There might have been a time in which a scene like that would have left me browbeating myself, feeling miserable, drowning in my own isolation. Obviously I couldn't sing along. I didn't know what song it was. I hardly knew anything about the music at all, save that I could hear it. Our worlds were leagues apart. Theirs - the world of music videos, of concerts, of karaoke, of singalongs. Mine - of thoughts, books, visual culture, and none of those auditory-based things. But the fact that I could be there with them, hearing if not quite sharing in the same experience or feelings, but still tapping somewhat vicariously into their car-ride singalong, was enough. They got something more complex out of the music than I did, but my own thoughts did get the opportunity to fly off unhindered. I found myself looking at that space between us, understanding what it was, and feeling more at peace with it than ever before. Maybe part of me even enjoyed it. To each his own.

And, honestly, this example sums up something I've been feeling lately - that, even though I am not a hearing person and cannot (or do not care to) participate in all of the facets of hearing culture, my own experience is so unique that I cannot dismiss it. This isn't a justification for exclusion or insensitivity, nor is it allotting certain things to the hearing that the deaf cannot or should not do. It's more of a commentary on myself, and on discovering personal preferences. My deafness has shaped me, for one end or another. Now that I can hear music and experience other things, I take the taste of it, smile, and feel appreciative. Then I realize even more strongly what I truly do love to do - for myself. Not for the sake of fitting in, but for my own abilities and passions, and for no other reason.