Saturday, December 30, 2006


My daughter has been spending several afternoons a week with my mother. What do I do with the free time? Listen to music at really high volumes. Not the Curious George soundtrack, which I actually adore. And not even Madonna's Immaculate Collection, which my daughter adores. I've been listening to Hole. To Pink Floyd's The Wall. I've been listening to REM. The music I listened to before I went deaf. I test myself to see how much of it I notice missing at a regular listening volume, and then I just blast it into my living room so I can see at what decibel level I can hear all those fabulous nuances I'd forgotten at some point were there. This is how the deaf girl entertains herself when she's all alone.

The real truth of the matter is that other than what I've lost in music, I am really quite comfortable with the whole deafness thing now. I think the shift occured this summer when I stopped saying, "I'm going deaf." I just, instead, started saying, "deaf." That was it for me. A simple act of acceptance in a word. If you're becoming something, you live in a state of anticipation and its consequent fear. But if you are something, then that's just a fact of being. I think that as long as I was, in my perception, "going deaf," I was hoping that something would somehow stop it. It became exhausting to check in on it, guaging how much hearing I'd lost overnight or something. I'm much happier being deaf than I was when I was losing my hearing. I now have energy to focus on other things. Like rocking out to track 10 of Celebrity Skin.



Maybe he likes to be
listened to by the deaf girl,

the way she watches
each word begin deep

beneath his facial muscles
before it even becomes

a thought. He likes to see
her turn her entire body

toward him, square her
shoulders as though

she’s about to listen with her heart.
When she’s ready, she lets him know

he has her full attention. She’s
focused. She takes a breath.

She lets him know she’s
ready to have this conversation,

just as an astronaut is ready
to step onto the moon

or a cloud is ready
to burst open with attentive rain

and he’s forgotten what he
wants to say but wants so badly

to move his lips.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Daughter, My Deafness

"You can't be deaf," my 3 year old daughter says into the rearview mirror at a stoplight. "You have to be my mama."
The light turns green and I readjust the mirror so to see the traffic behind me.
My daughter's face disappears, as does her voice. What I want to do is pull over, get out, crawl into the seat next to her carseat and insist that my deafness has nothing to do with whether or not I can "be" her "mama." I don't want the drama though. I don't want to frighten her. At the very least I don't want her to think she can drop bombs like that and get me to pull over every time.
"I am your mama. Nothing changes that."

The conversation began because I was practicing my signing at the stoplight. She asked, "Are you signing?" Then she started waving her arms in the air, "I'm signing, too." As we pull onto the Interstate I tell her that once we both can sign it won't matter if I can't hear everything. I tell her that this is why it's important to practice. In my mind, I'm signing this.

As we drive home, in the far corner of my eye, I see her little hands making words in the air. Her words. It is the same as the gibberish she first spoke when as a baby she realized mouths are important for more than nursing and crying. This is sign language baby talk, and I encourage it just as I encouraged her early attempts at speech.

In my heart, I'm breaking a little. I'm feeling the urgency of establishing her trust that I'll always hear her in one way or another. It's also trust in myself that I'm trying to establish. She knows I love her. She'll always know that.

"I'm deaf too," she says when we get home, her hands moving the air between us. She then asks, "Why are you deaf?"

Here are the answers to this questions: (I've tried all of them, and each time they form the why-loop toddlers are so good at creating)
"I am deaf because my ears don't hear everything."
"My ears don't hear everything because your great-Poppee was deaf."
"Great Poppee was deaf because his body's ears didn't work."

"I am deaf because God thought I should listen more."

And then we get onto God and then on and on and on.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why I'm Wearing My Hearing Aids

This morning I will act in an independent film called Neutral. I, like all the other actors in this, have a small part. It is a pastiche of some 100 lives. I play a mother who waxes surreal freely with her son then suddenly blocks his flow. I am wearing a black dress and heels because I'm supposed to look like I've come from a teacher conference to discuss my son's behavior. I'm also wearing my Phonak hearing aids.

I gave birth without wearing my hearing aids. I went through my pregnancy without them. When I was actually in labor, though, I realized I couldn't hear what the doctor was telling me to do. I was strapped to a table, or it felt I was, by these electrodes guaging my and my baby's heartbeat and I couldn't hear what people were saying to me (except my mother, who always talks carefully to me). It was a feeling of being out of control because I was so controlled--by the machinery (the electrode belts), by the absence of the machinery (the hearing aids).

In the final hour of 16 hours of labor the doctor spoke orders to me from behind the blue blanket stretched between my legs. My mother translated what she said, meaning she repeated them so I could read her lips. But I was exhausted and eventually just closed my eyes and let the voices go. Inside the dark, I asked my daughter to tell me what to do. An idyllic forest scene appeared and in it was a little rabbit. The rabbit hopped to the left, I pushed to the left. The rabbit hopped to the right, I pushed the right. And in this way, following this little rabbit, I delivered my child 45 minutes before the doctor had predicted.

I'm wearing my hearing aids today so I can hear the directions I'm given.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Speech Banana

There are things I don't hear anymore. Some of these are bird songs, the wind in the trees on a balmy day, and rain. Also on this list are weedwackers more than a hundred meters away and the sound of my name spoken by someone who isn't looking directly at me. I don't hear music in my yoga class. I don't hear my teacher's voice.

If I put in my hearing aids I can hear these things louder than you can. Especially the weedwacker, and the music in yoga class is often louder than my teacher's voice.

I cannot communicate without my hearing aids in. But I can still hear the sound of the human voice. I can hear a few of the words, but this is not enough to follow the flow of what someone is saying. On my audiogram, there are three frequencies in which I dip into "severe" hearing loss. There are three in which I am mildly or moderately deafened. The marks on my audiogram fall just below or far below something called the speech banana. This is a gray area between 30 and 60 decibels at which speech sounds occur. I can make out some of the speech sounds and not others. When I lipread, or speechread, my imagination and experience with mouthspeech compensates for my loss of the speech banana. When I am wearing my hearing aids, I lipread very well. It's fatiguing because it requires so many different ways of paying attention, not the least of which is a kind of telepathy.

When I first heard my audiologist talk about the speech banana, I cracked up. But it was the first metaphor I'd learned pertaining to hearing loss. The other metaphor is "cookie bite" refering to the audiogram of a sensorineural hearing loss, or nerve deafness. Audiology is a very abstract science, and I am very a concrete thinker. I was grateful for the metaphors. My hope in writing about this transition is to create more metaphors about it, so losing this particular sense will make a bit more sense.

The Sound of a Particular Music

I am thinking of my favorite listening experiences. I have not thought of this before, of breaking down my life experiences into the sense they pleased. In terms of gustatory experience, a particular bowl of potato leek soup served me in a restaurant on a rainy day in Montreal comes to mind. Visual experiences: Lauterbrunnen valley in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland in June. Tactile? a particular rain I felt in Florence one night I was locked out of the Ostello Camerata for coming back too late, having spent the evening romping with Jorn and Russell (from South Africa) and Maritza (from Chicago). The rain was thick and almost warm. Jorn kissed me in it; that might have helped drive it into my "best of" memories. Olfactory and Auditory are a bit more specific, more difficult for me to name. Olfactory? Best smell ever? Something about when the Spring temperature hits a particular feel and mixes with a perfect kind of blue in the sky, more specifically, that one morning after my 8th birthday in Toronto and Bethy and I walked to school wearing our matching white capes. Best sonic experience? Now, I can name it.

I was in London in the Fall of 1989; the Berlin Wall was coming down but I was in London. I'd wandered into St. Pauls to kill some time (and I hear Sam Beckett retort: but who wants their time dead?) between lunch at Whitbread and evening curtain at the Barbican. I sat in the pews of the choir stalls, thinking that was a place other tourists were sitting. But they weren't other tourists. They were people there to attend vespers. All the tourists, I realized as men in robes began to appear through secret little doorways facing our stall, had been ushered out. And Midsummernight's Dream started in 20 minutes. So I broke all protocol--stood and made my apologetic way back to the black and white marble of the nave. I was a third of the way to the door Christopher Wren's masterpiece when the choir blocked the light of the exit. Men, countless men, draped in black and white robes and processing in two collumns, all singing the deep baritone of the Gregorian nature. Their song filled the dome, filled the engravings of John Donne's tomb, pressed into the grooves of the wood of the pews, and I stood there in the aisle, the opposite of a bride, headed out in my green woolen coat, my blue wool hat, and these singing men walked past on either side of me.

Outside again in the gray chill, it took a moment for me to recognize all the other sounds of the world, which in that moment, meant nothing.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Dawn of Deafness

I found out I was losing my hearing when I was 31 years old. Later that year, I broke off with one boyfriend, met another, traveled to China, came back, got pregnant, got married and the next year I gave birth, got divorced, and started to accept the fact that I was going deaf because now I was a parent and I was terrified I couldn't hear my daughter cry.

It can turn your life around, this losing a sense. And although I know the teachings of Buddha and Christ and so many other great teachers tend very much in favor of overcoming our attachment to the senses, I never realized how attached to hearing I was.

There are dimensions I hadn't thought about. The first, the second--what are they? and the third? I know the fourth is time. Is one of the others sound? It ought to be. Sound ought to be one of our dimensions because as I lose it I feel the world has grown thinner. A layer has come off.