I'll be giving a talk next Tuesday June 3 at 2 pm at the New Hyde Park Public Library. Q and A and book signing. The event is sponsored by the Advanced Hearing Center. Dr. Allison Hoffman will also be speaking. Free admission. The talk is titled "How I Lost My Hearing and Found My Life Again."
I went to a conference in Ottawa this weekend, what i assume was an interesting series of talks about the great Canadian writer and Nobel prize winner Alice Munro.
I say "assume" because I couldn't hear a word. Somehow i thought Canada was more progressive than the U.S. and that surely there would be looping or some kind of hearing assistance.
But no. The three day conference was held in a small lecture hall with terrible acoustics. I tried different spots around the auditorium, including sitting 10 feet in front of the speakers. But even there the miked voices were muffled.
And, paradoxically, every cough, every candy wrapper, every squeaky seat sounded deafeningly loud.
It was not a young group. The speakers were mostly senior in their field and clearly of a certain age. In the manner of academic conferences they read their papers, many of them looking down and mumbling.
How easy it would be, at a conference like this, to ask if any in the audience would like a copy of the talk (the paper) to read as the speaker read it aloud. I doubt that very many would have the nerve to public accept the offer, given the stigma of hearing loss, but it's just this kind of gesture to the ubiquity of hearing loss that may eventually help destigmatize it.
In the question and answer sessions ,speakers called out their questions from all over the audience, not getting up where at least they could be seen. No see, no hear for me. And probably for others. How about a little common courtesy.
The panelists lounged back in their chairs, far from the mikes, or walked around the auditorium, their backs to many of us.
So frustrating. But I seemed to be the only person with a problem. And to others even I probably didn't seem to have a problem.
Why didn't I speak up? Good question. I was a guest at the conference, not a participant.
But mostly I just didn't think of this easy solution until afterward. Scrambling to find copies at the last minute might be confusing. But how about offering the option during the registration process to opt for written copies for those with hearing loss. If the speakers don't want them floating around afterward, they can collect them at the end of the talk.
Still, it was a gorgeous weekend in Ottawa, cloudless blue skies, a light breeze. I finally gave up and took a long walk along the Rideau Canal, had lunch in an open air restaurant in the By Market, dropped into the spectacular but nevertheless architecturally cumbersome National Gallery. Drank some good Canadian beer.
I'd have liked to hear about Alice Munro though.
For many years, my favorite form of exercise was a long walk, usually two or three miles a day. I live near a park and there’s a perfect 3-mile loop, which helps keep me going to the end point and back.
From time to time I have had a walking partner, someone I would usually meet at a fixed point along the way. We’d walk and chat, and the time passed quickly. I had two walking partners in fact, one in the city and one in the country. Both walked at my pace and both had lots to say and because we were in motion conversation came easily. (Have you ever noticed how much more voluble your teenagers are in the car than when you try to talk to them at home.) For a while I walked with a friend who was recovering from cancer, more slowly but still lots of good talk.
When a walking partner wasn’t available, I listened to books or music. Mostly books. The very first recorded book I listened to was Moby Dick. As you can imagine, even at three miles a day (about 50 minutes) it took months to finish Moby Dick. But I couldn't wait to get back to it in the morning, even when I was in the long section about different types of whales and whaling, and I rarely missed my walk. I also listened to Anna Karenina, a book I had read when I was young and found intensely romantic. This time around I had far less sympathy for Anna, who seemed like a classic narcissist. Sometimes I listened to Carl Hiassen or Elmore Leonard and found myself laughing out loud.
But then I went deaf. Or, more accurately, deafer. I no longer could year with headphones. Around the same time, my walk partners dropped away for one reason or another and so I was often left walking alone with my thoughts. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I’d even take a notepad along in case I thought something particularly brilliant.
But thinking – brilliant thoughts or not – was not enough to get me out day after day. So I got a dog, a puppy. Suddenly I was walking four or five or six times a day. As he got older we resumed my long morning walk, with shorter ones in between. I still have plenty of thinking time, but now I have a reason to go the whole three miles. The dog would happily go five or six and I can rarely persuade him to turn around and go back before the 1.5 mile mark.
A dog prompts ad-hoc conversations and despite my hearing loss I’ve made new friends and a slew of new acquaintances. It’s always easier to hear in the open air, and sometimes we strike up conversations sitting on a bench at the dog park, sometimes while the dogs romp, sometimes just a wave and a hello.
Now that I'm one of the Walking Deaf, I’m much more in touch with people – and the environment -- around me, no longer isolated by my headphones. I miss the recorded books but it’s more than made up for by new friends, dogs, cherry trees in the spring, bare branches glittering with ice in the winter, sitting on a park bench with a casual acquaintance in the heat of the summer.