Update #3 From the Pacific to Arrowhead

I checked my phone again, hoping this time there would be a bar.

Still no service.

This was peculiar because I was in the middle of Newport Beach and knew that I should have service… I realized to my horror that I’ve seen this exact same scenario when I was in close proximity to Coachella earlier this year.

The horde of smartphones being used by the festival attendees had vacuumed all service within a one mile radius.

The timing couldn’t be better.

I had just walked for over half an hour from my car because I didn’t want to pay for parking but now it looked like I would need to walk back and forth because I had my camera on me and no press pass.

My friends shrugged and turned around back towards the car but I stopped them, ‘there’s one thing we haven’t tried.’

The deaf card.

When all else fails, I fall back on my deaf card. Maybe I’m abusing my circumstances, but at the same time its a card that not everyone has. Deafness like everything else, has pros and cons so why not use the pros?

I went back to the press booth and told them my story of hearing for the first time recently and how it would make my day to be able to photograph my first festival experience.

The volunteer looked up, her almond eyes giving no hints. I prepared myself for the long walk back but then the press pass slid across the table. I was thrilled I wasn’t going to miss a hour of the show.

I walked into my first music festival.

There were three stages, all on a beach so I could feel the bass snake through the sand pebbles under my feet.

I had to turn my hearing aids down almost all the way because the music was so loud. I’ve been squeezed in mobs of dancing people before but this time it became a whole different experience with the music guiding the frenzied movement we call dancing.

I’ve always found wild dancing comical but here it became almost…. justified. At one point I couldn’t stop watching this small Asian man spin around with unnatural speed, if there wasn’t music blasting people would have thought he was experiencing a seizure of some sort. But his every move was on the beat and intangibly linked to the music.

Dancing has become less comical and more of a natural thing to me, on the flip side- I’ve never understood why farting made people crack up. I’ve heard all kinds of farts with my old hearing aids but the first time I heard myself fart with the new hearing aids, my face went beet red despite being alone. I didn’t realize how loud passing gas is. Now I understand the humor behind the gas, it is devastatingly embarrassing for the culprit… especially in a quiet room where there’s no escaping blame.

The dj sets I enjoyed the most were- Justin Miller, Bag Raiders, Perseus, Cassette, and Moon Boots.

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One common misconception is that I can suddenly understand all the lyrics. Instead of explaining I tell people to imagine someone born blind who gained the ability to see later in life… if you gave that blind person a book he would see it and all the words but would he understand?

Absolutely not.

The blind person needs to learn the English alphabet, the rules of grammar, and the meaning of every word. Learning to read is a long process and even more difficult later in life.

That’s what I am going through right now. Every new word I hear, I must memorize how it sounded and associate it with the word itself. To make matters even more difficult, people all sound different. Some have higher voices, some have strange accents, and some don’t speak clearly.

On top of that, I’m learning to separate sounds. Just as the eye focuses on one subject, I must learn to do the same with sounds. Right now, the more overlapping sounds, the more difficult it becomes. I’m training my brain everyday and am already making progress.

Now with all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that Classical music is my favorite genre. In part because I can already appreciate it fully without the lyrics. For a blind person, Classical music would be a beautiful painting… All other music with lyrics would be better described as books with pictures, the blind person could enjoy the pictures right away without need to learn the english language. Here, I have no musical history or knowledge so Classical is a blessing. I can hear every note from the low to the high and see the full picture. I still enjoy music with lyrics if it’s good but don’t have a complete picture until I read the lyrics or improve my linguistic vocabulary.

I listened to all of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and am almost done with Brahms.

I am starting to see music as a powerful emotional brush. These master composers paint the most stunning works of art.

Film, photography, paint, words and hands have always been able to weave unique stories and each medium differs from each other, neither better or worse. I think there are stories that fit in certain mediums better than others. Music has become a new form of storytelling that I’ve never had exposure to… even though its difficult for me to understand the lyrics, I’ve found joy in the roller coaster of melody and tone.

Below is some of my favorite classical works I’ve heard over the past few months, enjoy!

I tried playing the guitar and piano but no combination I hammered out sounded good. My notes were chaotic and unorganized. As soon my friend’s fingers spidered across the chords, I experienced the birth of a true song.

I would describe it as emotions splashed across a sound spectrum of mathematical purity and beauty. Someday I hope to be good enough to play one decent song rather than the wild garbled notes I produced on my first effort.

My friend who has been showing me the ropes of the guitar also composed the soundtrack for our latest short.

We shot this earlier this year, before I ever thought I’d be able to hear as well as I do now. If someone told me I would be working on the soundtrack I would have laughed. The first thing I did was build the soundtrack in my head based off fragments of my favorite sounds/songs and then described those sounds to Max (the guitar composer) he would play the sound back and forth until it matched up with what I had in my mind. We did this for over a month and then recorded the final track recently. Even if this short film isn’t well-received by others,  the journey itself was worth it. I was learning something new about the world of music every time I met up with Max.

Without further ado, here’s the short.

I finally got the opportunity to really binge on music because I got the coolest ‘headphones’ in the world. It’s simply a bluethooth device that streams music or phone calls from my iPhone or any other device directly into my hearing aids. That means my TV or computer or even video camera!

I actually plugged the compilot into my tascam field recorder on a shoot last weekend and for the first time in my life I was able to monitor audio. It was surreal because it was a moment that I previously thought impossible.

Another surreal aspect of it? I could not hear myself talk because the microphone was pointed straight ahead. My friend looked at me startled because I started screaming at them in a vain effort to hear myself… All other noise is blocked out, making this the most advanced noise canceling headphone in the world.

A canon could go off right by my ears but I would only hear Mozart in full crisp detail.

I started listening to an average of 5 hours of music a day.

Another thing I didn’t expect is my continued reliance on silence. Most days I only turn my aids on when talking to people or listening to music. It’s no wonder humans created music, the world is filled with so many ugly and chaotic sounds. With our eyes we can close them, with our hands we can move away, but how does a hearing person escape sound? Run away to someplace quieter? Cover your ears until your hands tire?

I know that hearing folks can tune out the background noise and I’ve started to learn how to do that myself but it’s a far cry from utter silence. To me, ‘tuning out’ is simply the difference of listening or not listening while complete silence leaves you alone with only your thoughts and provides clarity beyond words.

Having my aids on for more than half an hour, even in a quiet room, drives me crazy. Every single movement I make is highlighted by my aids and I’d rather focus on the task at hand as opposed to processing the information of the sounds triggered by my typing fingers or squeaking leather chair.

Water is the worst.

Every time I flush, I turn my hearing aids off because the swirling and sloshing of water is one of the ugliest sounds to me. Other examples include traffic, squeaking hinge, overlapping chatter, or barking dogs. I crave silence or beautiful music… not noise.

Music isn’t the only new blessing. Since getting my enhanced hearing aids, I’ve been able to converse with more strangers than before and with far less mistakes. This is a gift for the writer within me because I can dig deeper into the character of people and paint more accurate portrayals.

It’s a miracle I’m able to hear all these new sounds and tones but it also reminded me of the miracle of deafness. I couldn’t imagine living without eyelids and don’t know how hearing people live without earlids. I’m grateful I have a button I can press to mute my world. I know I’ve been frustrated with my condition more times than I can count but with the bittersweet benefit of hindsight, I can’t believe I ever regretted being deaf even if just for a moment.

I cannot imagine living without eyelids and the ability to choose not to see something, and being deaf gives me the ability that hearing people have to live without- “earlids” or the ability to choose not to hear.

Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

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The next update takes place in NYC and covers the Blues era. Throw song suggestions in the comments if they are considered Blues music.

Thanks for reading and check out these new articles on my experience-

CNN
TIMES UK
MIMI PAGE
OC REGISTER
PEPPERDINE GRAPHIC
ABC NEWS

Also here’s a recent interview on FOX news.


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One comment on “Update #3 From the Pacific to Arrowhead

  1. I am coming to find that “disabled” people of all types can give us incredible insight into our humanity. Your craving to sometimes “mute the world” brings to my attention all the distractions I allow on a daily basis. A recent run in with a blind person also highlighted how often I let myself be distracted by the onslaught of visuals all around me. The mind is capable of incredible things when we’re intently focused, and I was aware of how focused, and acute this blind person’s mind was. I can imagine, and you describe how incredibly attentive you are when listening to music, and the sounds around you.

    You inspire me not to just close my eyes, or shut my ears, but to address my full attention on something worthy.

    I am learning from you circumstances, and I understand them to be a miracle just as you do.

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