Being Different…

WHEW! First off, sorry I dropped off the face of the blogosphere. Although, it’s not like one can consider posting a mere 3 blogs as a meaningful contribution… Perhaps one day I will explain the reasons for my absence, but probably not. Suffice it to say, it was part laziness, part procrastination, part nothing to post, part shame for not having posted anything in so long. BUT I now feel so inspired to post something, so I will.

I am different. I’m pretty sure we’re all different in our own ways, we all have things to set us apart from our otherwise homogenized lives. But I am here to talk about the ways in which I am different and how they affect my music life.

I was born with a condition called Microtia. My right outer ear is deformed. It is further complicated by the absence of an ear canal, and a CAT scan I had when I was 12 revealed that I was also born without a cochlea, stirrup, hammer, and anvil, although my ear drum seemed to be present. 

When I tell people today, most of the time I wait several weeks or even months before bringing it up. I may say things like “I’m deaf in my right ear,”  but I don’t usually get into the physical deformity bit until much later. And when I do my little show and tell act, I do so bravely, almost proudly. And they all have the same reaction… “oh, I NEVER noticed that before…” practically verbatim, practically every time.

The person I told most recently gave me a little chuckle when he referred to it as a “little thing.” I think his exact words were “I never notice little things like that,” but I can’t be sure because I was so taken aback by it.

You see, when I myself was a little thing, it was not a little thing. I was constantly afraid my fellow elementary school classmates would notice it and make fun, like they are wont to do. And some did. And sometimes it was awful. For the first 3 years of my schooling experience, K-2, I NEVER wore my hair up. I would insist on half ponytails. In fact, I can remember the first time I allowed my mother to put my hair up (although, she will probably add some contextual argument against it, but this is MY first memory). It was for 3rd grade class picture day and it being the early 90s the thing to do at the time was to wear side ponies. FINALLY! a hairstyle for me! I remember having her put the ‘tail on the right side of my head and throughout the day I adjusted it, pulling it snugly down, making sure it would cover the offender. I’m sure that picture is floating around in one of my grandmother’s photo albums somewhere…

The childhood game Telephone was the WORST. In 5th grade I went to a girls party and the game began play. The basic rules of the game are that everyone sits in a circle and one girl whispers a sentence into the next girls ear and each girl whispers it into the next girls ear until it reaches the end of the circle and the final girl announces the sentence. Usually once the sentence has gone full circle it has been mangled by mis-hearings. This game was fun for me as long as the game play went counter-clockwise, into each girls left ear. But inevitably, even after I vehemently suggested going CCW, the girls would suggest switching up game play and I would dread it coming to my turn. 

But my differentness made me stronger. Yes it came with a hefty price tag of insecurity and deep sadness, and of course I struggled with feeling cast out, but for the most part I am stronger person who is comfortable in her skin. It is a situation that I can do absolutely nothing about. I certainly can’t change my past. And I’m mostly ok with it.

I remember when I heard the results of the CAT scan that I was absolutely devastated. I sat in the room listening to the doctors explanation, staring blankly at the backlit films until I was practically blind. I didn’t know what those images meant, I barely understood the words coming out of his mouth. I was only 12. But later that night I showed a level of maturity that surprised my mother. After a fair deal of crying into her shoulder it dawned on me that though the news was not what I hoped, it wasn’t necessarily the end. I told her that it was only 1996, and that I was only 12, and who knows what kinds of scientific advances could come in 10 years… My mother looked at me with a look of love and shock and compassion that only a mother could give, and she embraced me again, hugging me tighter than I had ever been held before. The comfort I received in that moment remains unparalleled. I made peace with my ear right then and there, or at the very least took the first step on the journey towards making peace with it.

Of course there have been moments since then that weren’t so great. On my 16th birthday my dad made a light-hearted joke about my ear and the joke itself wasn’t terrible. I probably would make it myself today… but at that time on that day I wasn’t ready to deal with it, and I sobbed in the parking lot of the pool hall he worked at for quite a bit. Of course with every new boy I was interested in, I was worried. Would he like me less if he knew I wasn’t “whole?” It turned out that the good ones didn’t mind. And the best ones loved me more for it.

As most people do, I really came into my own in college. Every year I had to patiently remind my choir director which side I was hearing impaired and which side of the choir I preferred to sing on. Was it his left and my right, or the other way around? People would stare at me as I interrupted rehearsals saying that this spot or that one didn’t work for me. Who did I think I was? I learned to revel in that moment. That little bit of self importance. As I went on, passed college and into my professional life I’ve simmered down a bit. It’s much more matter-of-fact, because, quite simply, it is a Matter of Fact that I am hearing impaired. There are things that I can’t do that most people can…

I can’t wear earbuds. I can’t enjoy stereo/surround sound. I have trouble keeping my balance and fall a lot. I can’t hear people very well while I’m driving. When I’m at night clubs I typically stand to the right of other people or turn my head so they can yell something into my good ear. And glasses and earrings are rarely level due to the size discrepancy.

But there are some pretty funny/cool benefits too. I can put my good ear down on the pillow and have a much quieter nights sleep. This is so nice on road trips and airplane rides, provided I have a good seat. Ear plugs come in 2 pks so I usually have a spare. I only have to plug one ear while I’m in the shower, and when I jump in the pool I can use one hand for my ear and the other for my nose. I can pretend not to hear my spouse pretty convincingly. But the best perk of all has been my strength. I am such a stronger person than I would have been, had I been perfectly hearing. I have to fight for the things I want.

And of course it’s affected my musical life. There are accommodations that must be made. I only use Supercardiod mics so that I can keep my monitor at a 45 degree angle from the mic. I have to explain it to fellow musicians quite frequently, and singing in the crook of the piano is probably my least favorite option. But I also have a unique perspective of sound because I’m more aware of the feeling of a sound while it’s in my mouth, and I’m less distracted by the sound that everyone else hears.

I think my final battle with my ear was in October of 2010 when I got a tattoo of a treble clef behind my ear. For me, it was a symbol of me finally being over it. If I could draw even more attention to that part of my body, I must truly have accepted it. And I did. And ever since then I’ve felt empowered.

And lastly a pic of my ear without and with the tattoo…

ImageImage

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