On Hearing and the Invisibility of the Old

ON HEARING AND THE INVISIBILITY OF THE OLD

I want to express my gratitude for an internet blog such as this one in its endeavor to make women more visible – at all ages and in all circumstances. The term “invisible women” covers so many topics in so many places that it is hard to know where to begin to talk about it. I chose the topic of “hearing.” Women with white hair and wrinkled faces and bad hearing look alike to those who are accustomed to being with different groups. American women tend to become invisible as individuals after menopause and even more so into old age. Elderly people, not just women, who become increasingly deaf are likely to find themselves isolated from the world around them. Other people often give up trying to talk to the deaf as too much of a struggle.

I lost some 80% of the hearing in my right ear when a tumor broke the eardrum years ago, but I can still hear reasonably well with my left ear, depending. My son and his wife suggested I was playing games if I said I couldn’t hear them because sometimes, obviously, I could even without my hearing aids. This prompted me to pay attention to whether and when I could hear. What made the difference? Sometimes air pressure — heavy, sullen days were the worst. Sometimes wax or dirt blocked my ears – getting them cleaned out by a professional from time to time made a difference. Too, if I had a sniffly nose and my eustachian tubes were clogged, my ability to hear went down.

I tended to miss some sound registers. I discovered that I could fill in with guesswork that took advantage of context and became so good at it as to deceive myself as well as others into believing I could hear well enough without the aids. Sometimes I encountered people who would speak in an aggressively soft voice, as if testing me. Then trying to hear became exhausting. When you have to guess, discard, and search again mentally to discover just what it is that you are hearing, having a conversation becomes hard work.

Too, just where a speaker was in physical relation to me was important. I needed to have someone looking at me when he or she spoke. If his or her head was turned, I couldn’t get the speech, often even with hearing aids in my ears. Generally, I could hear someone quite close; with more distance the problem increased. And other sounds intruding – music or television in the home, diners in a restaurant – would isolate me from companions even more.

Women should refuse to sit in neglected silence.

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Learner’s? Permit

OMG, I live in one of those crazy states where the government has decided that it is a good idea for 15 year olds to be turned loose as drivers on the roads of our communities. Well, my beloved child hit the golden 15 this past weekend and is off to the DMV to take the “road rules” test and obtain his pass to the American Dream – driving! He does not have to be insured. He does not have to be added as a driver. He does not have to take a road test or driving school of any kind. He had to take an online course on the evils of drugs and alcohol, useful but not so much since he can only drive with one of us in the car? So we might notice the odor of alcohol; you think? He has to take a 15 minute test on the road signs; mostly the shapes like those baby toys where the baby has to put a diamond in the diamond hole. And he has to take a “road rules” test, 15 minutes. But he does not have to show that he can apply them. $20 later, he’ll be on the road. I guess they figure if a licensed adult is in the car nothing bad can happen. I can’t imagine what I can do to prevent an accident from the passenger seat in the split second I might have to speak advice. I am short and certainly could not reach the pedals. I am menopausal and certainly could not get a coherent thought out in reflexive time. I am getting older and do not have the reflexes of a teenager. So, life will be interesting for the next few months until he gains some confidence (and then God help us). But I do have a one year reprieve on that unbelievable insurance bill.

Loss

Another friend in the wind; another death, they are coming too soon, too close together. An iconic, legendary, grumpy old man who helped countless people put their shattered lives and their shattered selves back together. He lost his wife, also a legendary soul, and despite the attempts of many to care for him, to inspire him to care for himself, he died on Sunday. He left behind a huge group of men, dependent on his guidance, his pithy truth, now leaderless. But they have each other and they will find their way. I have memories of him, many of them verbal; advice given and repeated by many, passed from friend to friend. This man was loved by so very many, but I wonder if the weight of that love, the weight of being iconic, grew to be an awful lot. The burden of being the “helper”, the sage, is a great one. I always thought he loved it, but he shared it with his wife of so many years. He never would care for himself, and his wife understood that only he could decide to do that. Since her death, he let himself be cared for more and more by those around him. As his health deteriorated, he ended up in the hospital and after heart surgery, just wouldn’t eat; as if without his wife he just had no reason to. Finally, in the end, he told the men he was “just tired”; I understand. In a way that I never thought I would, I understand. He will be missed, but legends are timeless by definition.

Gaylord

Is not my real name. It is the name of my mother’s dead sister. She is the one of whom my mother says “she was the best” “she was the nicest”, etc. She died quite young, a very long time ago. My mother, many years ago, paid me an exquisite compliment by telling me I was most like her sister Gaylord. If my child had been a girl she would have been Shaina Gaylord (but he wasn’t and he isn’t). There is something liberating about writing under an “assumed” name – I love that description. It is like going on vacation alone to some far away place and making up a persona for yourself. Blogging gives you a forum and an assumed name gives you a sense of freedom. It is false of course, since you provide your blog address to everyone you have ever known. So why not put my own name to it? I don’t know, I am contemplating changing that but haven’t decided. Even if everyone knows who I am, having a different name is fun, in some weird limited way. Using the name gave me the courage to start this blog with an entry about the “red hat” thing (you can still read it under November), which apparently offended quite a few folks. Amazingly and unlike my “real self”, I didn’t care. If for no other reason, I think I will keep my Aunt Gay’s name for now, I don’t think she’d mind.

The Spandex Restricted List

Yes…I believe there is one. I also think you all know whether you are on it or not. I know I am. I believe most Americans are on it. I also believe most Americans do not own or utilize mirrors appropriately. If they did, they would be much more aware of whether they are or should be on the spandex restricted list. I am convinced that most Americans do not look at their butts in the mirror before leaving their homes in the morning, giving rise to an aesthetic crisis of some magnitude at a time of day when a person is insufficiently fortified with caffeine to withstand it. In larger urban areas the number of young lithe (probably anorexic) folk seems greater and therefore the list might be a bit shorter in these areas. Everywhere else, and particularly at family resort destinations (one of which I live quite near), the list is enormous and almost all encompassing. There are some simple possible rules of thumb. If you don’t own a bicycle, don’t wear spandex. If you are not at 20% bmi or less, don’t wear spandex. Unless you are going to work out at the gym and you are already in great muscular shape, don’t wear spandex. Spandex is not a fashion statement of any reasonable sort. If I work out, I wear comfortable, cotton, clothing that breathes. Spandex is tight and shiny and calls attention to all the wrong things. Worst of all, spandex forces all the extra out the top and bottom. If you have extra, don’t wear spandex; and check the mirror.

Friends in the Wind

During this past season of Hannukah (only one of seventeen spellings), a friend of ours suffered a massive coronary during the night. Come morning he was alive but significantly oxygen deprived. He and his family lived out west, as we had for years but no longer do. As in every situation of this sort we felt terribly powerless, but more so for the distance. When tragedy strikes I tend to task my way through, make food, help my elders, dress the youngsters and all such things that need to be done. As we received e-mail updates on his condition and it became clear that the family was gathering, that he would never awaken from his coma, there was nothing we could do but feel sad, and a little scared. We aren’t old, but he was younger, one child in college and one in high school (as is ours, but we started late!). The suddenness of it, the finality of the attack was frightening; the thought that there would never be a final word, a goodby, a hug, a soft kiss. And on night six of Hannukah as we gathered with our family and friends to light the sixth candle, I asked a moment of silence for this dear soul in his fight for life and we lit a special candle for him. I later learned that, as a result of the time difference, he died at just about the time we held him in our hearts for that brief silence. It is hard to describe his family; his parents, his wife, his children. All are extraordinary and special people, talented, bright, loving. They all had an extraordinary relationship with one another. I know they still suffer. We are powerless to help in any way. And so today I listened to the Grateful Dead by way of tribute, he would understand; but he’s gone.

To Do Lists Redux

Okay, so I’m back on the to do list rant. Tell me, how can some little girl’s to do lists be a book? How can people actually pay to read it? What is interesting about that? A to do list is all the things you have not yet accomplished. So not only is she young and inexperienced, apparently she has a long list of things not accomplished. Why are we interested in that? Why don’t we want to know what has been accomplished? Or is the best we can do to applaud the much lesser accomplishment of having created a to do list? I think we should like to see a “Done” list; a list of all that has already been accomplished. Or, even better, a list of “what I am not going to think about today so I can live in the moment”. It can be argued that a “Done” list is the past and a “To Do” list is the future. So is a non-list the present? Even better, maybe we should simply abandon lists (yes I keep coming back to that) and live what is in front of us, each and every moment of each and every day. Would everything get done? No. Would everything that absolutely has to be done get done? I think so.