Our featured VOICES OF ROOTS SALON writer Anne Schultz expresses her grief over the challenges and isolation stemming from hearing loss, made more frustrating by her love of language and spontaneous conversation. Read her essay “Oh Hear Ye” here.
Oh Hear Ye
an essay by Anne Schultz
The first time I noticed that all was not well with my hearing was one day in 2004 when I was working as a writing consultant in a third grade classroom in a Chicago Public School. I asked a child a question, which she answered. I didn’t hear what she said. I asked her to repeat, and again I didn’t hear. The third time I didn’t hear, the teacher intervened and repeated the child’s answer.
Not too much later, I needed to wear a hearing aid in each ear; by this time, I often didn’t hear adults either. I was fine with one-on-one conversations, and even up to four or five people if there wasn’t too much ambient noise – but more than that and I was frequently lost. And today, even with the latest technology, I don’t hear well.
Feelings of grief and loss, like those we speak in our series End of life/Afterlife, are associated most immediately with the actual death and dying of a loved one. Even though the magnitude is vastly less, there is a dying and a death that occurs with other losses, such as those of mobility, sight and hearing. For myself, most of all, I think of my relationships with my grandchildren. I love them very much, and yet I am apprehensive when I am going to visit with them, because often talking with them is awkward because of my difficulty with hearing, and this breaks my heart.
Having to ask people to repeat is the killer. It puts a hold on the conversation, and there is little of the spontaneous flow that occurs naturally when people are talking together, particularly when humor is involved, as it often is in my family.
Don’t we all enjoy a good conversation? I do–particularly conversations in which there are different points of view expressed, and sometimes I find my point of view changing in the course of the conversation. I tend to be opinionated, and these conversations cut through that. I enjoy the feeling of increased openness and spontaneity. There’s nothing like a good conversation to bring people together.
But I’m excluded from many conversations – not because people are consciously excluding me, but because I miss much of what is said. It’s not just about hearing the words – that’s the first level of hearing –but the second level is to understand what the words mean, and it takes a while to put both those two levels together. And because of this time lag, I miss some parts of any conversation without even realizing that I’m missing them, except for a vague puzzlement because I seem to have lost something. Then sometime later someone refers to something that I simply never heard at all, and then I’m even more puzzled because I thought I’d been with it all the time. So I retreat into isolation because I don’t know what else to do.
I don’t mean to preach. And I know a number of people whose hearing is much worse than mine. I see them struggling to be a part of things, often losing the struggle and disappearing into themselves. I also see people doing their best to help by talking louder. The difficulty here is that the problem is generally not one of volume, but of clarity, and if you could speak to them with careful clarity this will often help.
I’m so happy when I DO hear. Suddenly a release – somebody looks at me and speaks directly to me and I understand what they’re saying, and the light in the room becomes brighter, and I almost laugh out loud. I’m able to respond, and someone responds back to me, and I become part of the conversation.
It’s such a joy, to be an ordinary person.
Anne Schultz is a poet and a teacher. The foundation of her teaching is in drawing forth the power of imagination in her students; her essay, Writing, Reading, and Imagining was published by Schools Magazine, and in 1981 she founded the Institute for the Imagination; a high point was being invited to Trinidad/Tobago to give the feature presentation at a conference, The Arts in Education for Societies in Crisis.
She has taught at De Paul University’s School for New Learning, where she received an Excellence in Teaching Award, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was an Assistant Professor.
The Unicorn and the Judge, published with a grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, is the first book of a trilogy of prose poems which she finished recently, on the continuing theme of the Judge and the Unicorn.
A founding member of the Community of Voices, Women’s Salon at Roots, Anne can be heard reading her original work as part of the program Wonders of End of Life, on Friday, October 24, at 7:30 PM at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 3857 N Kostner in Chicago. Anne and six other writers present this moving work as part of the End of Life/Afterlife four day arts festival produced by St. John’s, with cultural arts producer Jamie O’Reilly as Salonniere.
Wonders of End of Life
End of Life/Afterlife Series
Friday October 24 at 7:30 PM
St. Johns Episcopal Church
3857 N Kostner, Chicago
Read more here.
Voices of Roots Salon is a new feature of the J. O’Reilly Productions blogs,
profiling one of the artists of Roots Salon and presenting selections of their original work.