Just Listen

Speed Racer is a classic, 1967 Japanese series that was adapted into a 2008 Wachowskis film starring Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Christina Ricci. I considered myself a fan of these actors- their most sentimental roles for me included Emile’s from Into The Wild, John’s from Big Lebowski, Susan’s from Stepmom, and Christina’s from Now and Then, The Addams Family, and Casper. Ricci is my girl.

Speed Racer was one of those movies I stumbled upon by accident, which also became one of my favorite movies instantly. Donnie Darko was discovered the same way. I was at a friend’s house and this was one of my brothers I’ve known since Kindergarten kind of friends. He blurted out, “Hey- you’re weird! You’ll appreciate this!” and then flashed the Donnie Darko DVD. Not only did I appreciate the film, and later, even the Director’s Cut version, I appreciate those who understand me and my desire to explore, enthusiasm for acting talent, and love for an awesome soundtrack. Speed Racer wasn’t some kind of epic masterpiece by any means, but it was different and the story is incredible and I love the featured actors in the film.

There is something timeless and uniting about any story that details defeat and triumph, especially when it involves an underdog who has endured a lot of pain, and ESPECIALLY when the underdog’s triumph is realized through defeating THE MAN, revealing everything coming full circle. It was relatable in so many ways, but there was a particular scene that just, as John Goodman as Pops says, clicked.

Without giving anything away, there is a scene in this film in which the words “just listen to her” are spoken. The scene is PIVOTAL and so many things rest on these words- this idea. This is one of those moments from a movie that strikes me at a nerve that means so much to my own personal underdog story. It is this story that I want to share today.

Helen Keller was an Alabama writer, who was born deaf and blind. One of my favorite quotes was something she said, The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. I have detailed in this blog the extreme levels of feeling I have done throughout my life, and one reason I feel above all else is because of my inability to properly hear the world around me. I am not deaf and blind, but if you ask people who communicate with me the question, you might get the answer- Just about.

When I was in elementary school, I participated in speech therapy. My S’s were too soft and I had a lisp, probably comparable to Drew Barrymore’s. Oh, you know, Drew Barrymore from Donnie Darko? And E.T.? And all the other movies I grew up obsessing over and learning mannerisms from?

Anyway, speech has always sounded muffled to me. As a child, I would sort of disengage with conversation and rather, tend to my imagination and small world I had created, or would just STEM with music at the highest volume through my headphones. As I got older, I noticed that the things I wanted to talk about were not necessarily what others wanted to talk about (unless I was with my musician or nerd friends). As I get older still, I notice my disassociation from situations that involve larger groups of people in which I am a participant, rather than simply a spectator. I also notice when I am a spectator, I miss out on a lot of information as I simply cannot hear. This happened to me while I was in the audience before the Dalai Lama and Dave Chappelle. I began masking, I began isolating. A four minute video I watched at my Audiologist’s office summarized why.

While many factors played a role in my declining auditory abilities, loud music and soundwaves, no matter how abrasive (in fact, the more abrasive, the better in some circumstances), were things I grew up constantly absorbing. Whether backstage, on stage, in front of the stage, or via headphones, these intense vibrations have pierced my ears and soul throughout my entire life. I can remember being three years old watching my dad playing a gig at a bar or rehearsing on his drums in our barn.

I have had tinnitus for years, which is, I guess, like living in a world without coffee and, therefore, something that can lead to very serious consequences if left neglected. My brain was trying to grab more volume from the outside, resulting in higher output that, to me, only sounds like an annoying as fuck high pitched ringing. And as the outside world became noisier, so too, continued the unseen, brutal cycle of hearing loss. Along with some other things:

The disengagement continued. The depression continued. The isolation continued.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand welcome to memory loss by age thirty-five.

Among some of the realizations which came along in working with Dementia patients on a daily basis was a deeper understanding of the simple, unimportant abilities we take for granted. It also forced me to reevaluate the word important. Having the simple ability to wipe your own ass may not feel very important now. BUT(T) it is! Likewise, the ability to hear background noise and distinguish sounds within speech is important.

When you lose basic hearing functionality, you don’t really take into account what is actually happening to your brain, how your hearing and some vital areas of your brain are connected, and how ripping and wrinkling this particular trail on your map is leading to worse problems that will cause you to gradually decline to the point where, hey, sorryyou can’t wipe your own ass now.

That is exactly what is happening, though. Hearing loss is a lot more complicated than just (it’s more annoying to me than you, promise) repeating “Huh?” over and over. My co-workers have witnessed me standing up from my chair countless times to place my ear to the window in order to comprehend the information that someone (masked) is attempting to relay to my damaged ears. “Sorry?” Yeah, you bet I am.

My hearing tests I’ve taken over the years have been helpful in mapping my current status of hearing damage. The area gauging how well I hear soft sounds (S, F, TH’s) drop well below normal, resting just above the “Recommended for Surgery” line. When I place my hearing aids inside of my ear, the calibration of these devices amplifies those sounds for me, as well as any other levels that need amplified and equalized- which are sadly, many. But this allows me to not only distinguish the words that others are directing to and around me, but also allows me to speak more clearly myself and actually engage in a meaningful conversation. I can also meditate much easier now. Meditation is the topic for Monday, though.

Another useful bit about this auditory testing allows you to determine whether your hearing loss has, over time, made an impact on your ability to comprehend speech or sound. My results proved that despite my hearing loss, I have yet to be affected in my area of comprehension. Meaning, I’m not a total dumbass for not responding to you. It isn’t that I can’t understand the meaning of your word usage, it’s that I just didn’t hear every sound you made. This is something to consider when verbally communicating with someone, especially while wearing a mask. I can’t read lips in this scenario, so the time it takes me to respond may increase and I might look confused until that happens.

Just smile and nod.

When you have spent years literally adjusting to the noises around you, you tend to work harder to do more of the L word. Just Listen. Listening is something that a lot of people seem to despise. I enjoy listening to the world around me, but especially to music. I have made so many playlists over the years, like little personal friends of mine. These songs have kept me company, in a strange way. It always helped me to escape the ringing by placing the headphones on my head and immersing myself into an album. It was what, I felt, kept me from going mad. Mad World

I am now happy and grateful that I have the ability to hear the outside world better and the inside world less thanks to technology and science. Hopefully, this will keep me engaged longer and I can slow the downward spiral to a pace which will keep me living independently, longer. I hope that my short piece today can help shed light on an actually kinda important issue. Just listen to her.