Blandy Experimental Farm Ginkgo Grove

7 12 2016

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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HLM Cover Feature: Emma Faye Rudkin

3 11 2016

Late last year my friend James Williams texted me to tell me about Emma Faye Rudkin, who was the newly-crowned Miss San Antonio 2015 and has hearing loss. James interviewed veteran Shilo Harris and I photographed him at his home outside San Antonio for our July/August 2016 issue, which focused on veterans with hearing loss. You can read James’ interview with Shilo here.

He knows I’m always on the lookout to feature people with hearing loss for Hearing Loss Magazine. I design and photograph for this bimonthly publication of the Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA). The November/December 2016 issue focuses on young adults with hearing loss.

James saw her featured on a local news channel and told me about her. I contacted Kathy Rudkin, Emma’s mother, and set up a photo shoot this past April when I would be visiting my family in San Antonio. Emma wrote the cover feature and I photographed her on a beautiful spring day in her hometown of Boerne, Texas. It was such a treat getting to know Emma and Kathy.

In the middle of production of this issue, we learned that Emma was crowned Miss San Antonio again for 2017. Congratulations, Emma!

Special thanks to James Williams for keeping his eyes (and ears!) open for new stories for the magazine.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

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Hearing Loss Can Be a Beautiful Thing

by Emma Faye Rudkin

I was very young when I lost the majority of my hearing. I became sick and developed a high fever associated with an infection, which resulted in my hearing loss. Even though there were signs, my parents had never been around anyone who had a hearing loss so they didn’t connect the dots right away. It wasn’t until I was three years old that they decided to have me tested and I was diagnosed.

As I said there were signs. For instance, in ballet I would dance in a corner by myself. I was also behind in speech and reading comprehension. Instead of saying “puppy dogs,” I would say things like “happy dogs.” Finally, a preschool teacher suggested I get a hearing test, and everything clicked. My mother describes the whole experience as “out-of-body.” But there were no resources for hearing loss in our small town, so she and my dad
were on their own.

A year after my diagnosis, my hearing declined even further, suddenly and significantly, to a profound level. Doctors said I would eventually go completely deaf, that I needed to go to a school for deaf children and learn sign language, and that I would never function “normally” in the hearing world.

My parents would not accept that. In fact, they chose a very different route for me, one that was essentially the opposite of what doctors suggested. I was immediately placed in intensive speech therapy, fitted for hearing aids, and enrolled in the most challenging private school in our area.

When I was young I did not want to wear my hearing aids and would always take them out. My parents talk about those early days as a struggle to get me to keep them in. But eventually it became a part of my everyday life and normal morning routine.

I knew only one other girl in our town with hearing loss. She wore hearing aids and was an oralist (communicated through speechreading) like I was. As I grew older, I became profoundly deaf. Nonetheless, it was never an option in my house to use my hearing loss as any sort of crutch. If I was having a really hard day and feeling left out or alone, my mama would always say, “Today, you are allowed one pity party, but tomorrow you are going to pick yourself up and carry on.”

Hearing loss has made me who I am but does not define me, so I never looked at the world as “hearing” but as a place full of the same opportunities and life to live as everybody else.

Today, speechreading is my main means of communication. My brain is constantly in overdrive trying to understand what is being said or why we’re laughing. I’m a great pretender. There are many sounds and letters I don’t hear, like F, G, H, K and S, but my hearing aids are programmed to fill in some of the sounds I miss. In a classroom or large group setting I try to arrange for the speaker to wear an FM assistive listening device, which transfers sound directly into my hearing aids. However, technology is man-made and cannot substitute for the God-given sense of hearing I just don’t have.

Dealing With the Insecurities
When I was young I didn’t see myself as different. But as I grew older the differences started to become more apparent and were pointed out by those around me. One of my major insecurities growing up was my hearing aids. They were the only visible sign of my hidden disability, and it separated me from my peers. The wind blowing was the bane of my existence in middle school because that meant people could catch a glimpse of my aids when my hair blew. Having to wear my hair up almost kept me from trying out for the cheer team.

When I was a freshman in high school, the language requirement was to take Spanish. It took me 10 years to properly speak the English language, and now I had to learn Spanish! It was a devastating yet eye-opening year of growth for me.

I felt embarrassed and humiliated much of the year because of the many times I was called to stand up in front of my classmates and speak the language I could not hear. The teacher did not understand how profound my hearing loss was and would play audiotapes in Spanish expecting me to repeat what was being said. On one test in particular, I failed the oral part of the exam. With tears streaming down my face I explained to the teacher how horribly unfair this was. She looked at me and said, “I thought you didn’t want to be labeled as different.” That was the final straw. I was not going to allow myself to be treated that way.

Taking the “Dis” out of “Disability”
There is a misconception that people with hearing loss require special treatment. The only “special treatment” I need is for someone to face me and speak clearly, and I can do the rest.

The most common experience I have is people yelling at me or over-enunciating, which only makes it harder to communicate. I always tell people to talk to me like anybody else because exaggerating makes me feel inadequate or that I am not capable of carrying on a conversation. As long as the person speaking is facing me and talking at a normal pace and volume, we are going to be fast friends.

I might need some modifications and accommodations to communicate, but that doesn’t mean my brain isn’t working. This is the most hurtful misconception of all: when people think I cannot talk or think for myself. People will communicate with me through a friend or family member, thinking what they said will be translated back to me. When people talk to me as if I am mentally impaired or incapable of speaking for myself, my typical response is, “My ears don’t work, but my brain works just fine.”

I used to truly believe I was disabled, but now I know my lack of hearing is my means to help others be free of that label. What I once believed was a disability has become my greatest ability. I know most people don’t know much about deafness and hearing loss and perhaps are curious to learn more. So now I take people’s questions and curiosity as an opportunity to share my story and dispel those misconceptions.

At the end of that freshman year in high school, I went before the school administration with a formal petition to offer American Sign Language (ASL) to any student who had a hearing loss.

The following year, my “foreign language” was ASL. I had to submit a proposal explaining how I would meet the four required language credits through ASL. My proposal was accepted, and I was allowed to take the classes through an online college. Not only was I able to learn ASL, but I got college credit for the classes as well! That experience is how
I learned about Deaf culture. Understanding my deafness was true freedom. I am part of the hearing world but I have a profound hearing loss which makes me deaf, and I know my purpose is to bridge the two worlds to close the gap.

The Faith That Sees You Through
I had become the great pretender of being “OK.” I would bluff and try to be part of conversations but I was in my own little world without anyone knowing the hurt I was experiencing.

Even though I was raised in a Christian home and went to a Christian school, I went into a darkness and had great anger toward God. I couldn’t understand that if God was supposed to love me, why couldn’t He make me normal?

If He was the big God of miracles, why couldn’t He heal me?

I wanted so desperately to be normal and to fit in. I became angry, depressed, horribly insecure and so lonely I could hardly stand it.

I knew I needed to change, for this life of sadness was not worth living. At 14, I signed myself up for a local Christian camp. Something clicked at camp and I started to undergo a transformation. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey.

When I got home from camp I wanted to find answers and try to begin healing. Inspired from what I learned at camp, I felt that healing for me would come from my faith in God.

I discovered two Bible passages that proved to be a turning point for me. The first one is Psalm 46:1 which says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This shows God has a greater purpose for us than our hardships in this world, way beyond our human reasoning.

The second is James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” My life is a constant struggle, but I wouldn’t be the person I am without these hardships.

Young Life
During the summer before my junior year I became involved with Young Life, a non-denominational Christian ministry that reaches out to middle school, high school and college-age kids in all 50 states and more than 90 countries around the world. Young Life stood out to me because they did not beat the Bible over your head or force doctrines and beliefs on you. They just gradually warmed people’s hearts to understand.

Young Life takes the pure roots of Christianity and makes it uncomplicated again. There are no religious rules imposed upon people, just the unadorned belief that can take someone who feels helpless and hopeless and turn them into a beautiful, transformed creation.

Young Life has taught me how to live life to the fullest. Through it I have come to understand that I am not alone in my personal struggles; that everyone has a battle to fight. Young Life has had a tremendous impact on my life. It changed the way I look at people and has really molded me into who I am today.

From Young Life to New Life
I have become a new person since those dark days in high school. The relationship with my hearing aids changed because of the life-altering experience at the Young Life camp when I was 16 years old. I learned who I really am and that I could use my hearing loss story to proclaim freedom for others.

One of the first things I did after this massive shift within was wear my hair up. Before that I would keep my hair down by my face so no one could see my hearing aids and make comments. It was a debilitating period in my life. But what the world thought of me no longer mattered and my insecurities started to slowly vanish. I started seeing my hearing loss as part of who I am and as the most beautiful thing about me.

My hearing aids have become a badge of honor to tell others what I’ve been through and what hearing loss is about. I now educate others instead of shutting down. Hurtful comments come because people are ignorant and naïve, so I take the opportunity to help them understand.

Joy can never escape me now. I discovered a new way of living and have an entirely new outlook. What others saw as broken—my ears—is what has allowed me to become my true self.

I think this applies to everyone. What is thought to be beyond repair can be redeemed and restored. Hardship can be turned into good. Our disabilities, whatever holds us back, can be transformed into our greatest ability.

In the early stages of my life I felt my hearing loss was the most tragic thing that could ever happen to me. Looking back, I now see the bigger picture. Not only is my hearing
loss not tragic, it is my greatest blessing. As I said, having profound hearing loss has made me who I am, but it does not define me. My label is not the “deaf girl” or someone with a “disability,” just wonderfully made Emma.

If you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, you are wearing your story. People can be inconsiderate and make comments, but it is only because they don’t understand. However, the choice is yours whether or not to accept that as your identity. You can educate and correct mistreatment. Always be ready to forgive those who hurt you, because that frees you from resentment and the hold that people have on you.

Miss San Antonio
In 2010 I began to intensely study piano and music theory. I started playing the guitar and ukulele, took singing lessons, and eventually started performing in my community. In 2015, I added the kick drum to my list of instruments.

Developing my musical ability was in preparation to compete in the pageant circuit. I wanted to use that to establish a national platform for the deaf and those with hearing loss. In February 2015, I won the title of Miss San Antonio. I am proud to be the first Miss San Antonio who is deaf. I was honored to win individual awards for Overall Talent, Overall Interview and Miss Congeniality. In July 2015, I competed in the Miss Texas Scholarship Pageant.

I placed in the top 10 and also received the Inspiration Award, Quality of Life Award, Academic Interview Award and Spirit of Texas (Congeniality).

I chose this particular pageant circuit of the Miss America organization for a reason. I truly believe in the Miss Texas and Miss America organizations and all they stand for. They empower women and provide scholarships for women to achieve their dreams and make a difference.

Winning the Miss San Antonio pageant has allowed me to travel extensively and make many appearances. I have spoken on television, met some very important people in our city and speak at conferences on a regular basis. My platform is “Aid the Silent: Turning a Disability into an Ability.” The Miss Texas organization has been an invaluable partner. They helped jumpstart my cause and have allowed me to bring my message to larger and wider audiences than I could have on my own.

I have grown as a person in unexpected ways. My role has required me to face the insecurities of my past head-on about my appearance and speaking. The beautiful part is that I am living in the redemption of my story. The things I used to let prohibit me from fully living are now propelling me into success. I am extremely honored to be part of such
a great organization.

Aid the Silent—My Miss San Antonio Platform
In January 2015 I started my own nonprofit, Aid the Silent. It has been a dream of mine for years to be able to give back to the community, especially the deaf and hard of hearing communities. Aid the Silent is dedicated to raising funds to provide children and teens who have a hearing loss with the resources and tools they need to find personal success.

Growing up I had access to many resources in order to succeed and not be held back by what was seen as a disability. I was inspired to start Aid the Silent after coming across statistics about hearing loss and deafness. Studies have shown a correlation between education level and people who are deaf or have a hearing loss. In addition, those individuals face severe underemployment.

I am currently enrolled in the University of Texas San Antonio Honors College majoring in Communications. In addition to being a full-time student and overseeing Aid the Silent, I make appearances at dozens of companies, schools and events each month speaking to both children and adults and telling my story.

I am also a Young Life staff member, and in the summer of 2016 I started the first Deaf Young Life to reach teens who have a hearing loss. For the inaugural Deaf Young Life event we took four middle school students who are deaf—with captioners and interpreters—to a Young Life camp. It was a huge success! I am now continuing my outreach and building relationships with students in the San Antonio area who have a hearing loss, and looking forward to holding our first Deaf Young Life club meeting in January 2017. HLM

For more information about Emma and her work visit AidTheSilent.com or EmmaFayeRudkin.com.

Editor’s Note: Emma was crowned Miss San Antonio 2017 in September.





Last week to see my exhibit at Green Spring Gardens!

18 10 2016

Be sure to sign the guestbook to enter your name in the drawing for a free gallery wrap canvas photograph from my exhibit! I’ll have photos from the reception in the next post.

Garden Muse Exhibit Postcard





Join me this Sunday at Green Spring Gardens!

7 10 2016
ONE LAST REMINDER!
 
My artist reception is this Sunday, 1-3 p.m. at the Horticulture Center at Green Spring Gardens. I’ll have lots of inventory (greeting cards, matted prints, framed/matted prints, etc.) at all price points and there will be more than enough sweets and savories (real food like bbq sliders and such!), so come have lunch here with us!
 
If you can’t join us this weekend but still want to see the show, the exhibit will be up until October 23, 2016. This exhibit features gallery wrap canvases in several sizes (ranging from 12×18 to 20×30). All images are for sale and a percentage of sales goes to FROGS (Friends of Green Spring Gardens).
 
SIGN MY GUEST BOOK AT THE EXHIBIT AND REGISTER
TO WIN A FREE 20×30 CANVAS FROM THE COLLECTION!
 
The Horticulture Center is open Monday-Saturday, 9-4:30 and Sunday, noon-4:30. Green Spring Gardens is located at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria, just off Little River Turnpike. There is ample free parking and entrance is free as well. Here’s the link to the map: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/#map
 
Hope you can come see the show and/or attend the reception. I appreciate the support, as always!
Garden Muse Exhibit Postcard




Seen & Heard: Mike Gannon

6 09 2016

Mike Gannon is our other Seen & Heard profile in the September/October 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I met and photographed him at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. Mike is an inspirational speaker, motivational trainer, success coach and CEO of Fit for Success in Northern Virginia. His book, If These Ears Could Sing! The Living Law of Attraction in Action, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. Fees outside the U.S. are slightly higher. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

S&H Mike Gannon

MIKE GANNON / Reston, Virginia / Born October 9 in Livonia, Michigan

MY HEARING LOSS… I was born profoundly deaf in both ears and wore very crude hearing aids (in the 1960s as a child). I never learned to sign, but learned to speak and read lips to communicate.

FUNNY HEARING LOSS MOMENT…  At the first birthday party I attended at age five, I observed all the kids moving their lips at the same time and I knew you were not supposed to speak when others were talking. It seemed like they were all saying the same thing. In actuality, they were singing “Happy Birthday.”

FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY…  Being the only deaf child in the school I attended,
I performed in the school choir with no one in the audience guessing I lip synced.

THE BEST GIFT I EVER GOT… my cochlear implants at age 40

THE FIRST THING I BOUGHT WITH MY OWN MONEY WAS… Arnold Schwarzenegger’s
first edition of Muscle and Fitness.

BEST ROAD TRIP EVER WAS… my trip to the Grand Canyon, where I heard the echo
of my own voice for the very first time

I LOSE ALL TRACK OF TIME WHEN I’M… coaching my clients.

MY LIFE IN CHAPTERS… A Prelude to Sound, If These Ears Could Sing, and Song Without
End (which happen to be actual chapters in my book, If These Ears Could Sing).

PETS? I have 19-year-old cat who believes I am her designated servant, which of course I am.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE WAS… to understand at age nine that my little brother who died from complications during heart surgery was never coming back.

I LOVE THE SOUNDS OF… nature—especially hearing geese flying over the lake at dusk.

FIVE PLACES I’VE LIVED… Michigan, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and in my imagination

I HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR… a dash of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua in my morning coffee—to honor my heritage, of course.

MUSICALLY INCLINED? I play the drums, keyboard and create music on the computer.

FIVE JOBS I’VE HAD… author, personal trainer/nutritionist, hypnotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner, success and life coach

GET ANYTHING GOOD IN THE MAIL LATELY? Notice of my last mortgage payment

FAVORITE PLACE TO BE… on my deck at sunset with a cold beer

HAPPINESS IS… connecting each morning to sound. Thank you, bionic ears!

I SIMPLY CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT… being a relentless questioner.

I MOST DEFINITELY AM NOT… a recluse or an introvert.

I AM… unrelenting, introspective and purposeful.

MY FRIENDS SAY I AM… the energizer bunny!

I REALLY SHOULD STOP… listening to my inner critic.

I REALLY SHOULD START… taking the advice others pay me for.

WORDS I OVERUSE… drop down and give me 20

I HAVE A FEAR OF… losing electricity and being unable to recharge my batteries for my implants.

THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD IS… more of it!

IF I RULED THE WORLD… there would be no calories.

MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IS… being able to speak as well as any hearing person.

I was amazed at the innovations that were showcased at HLAA Convention 2016. I stand in awe of the dedicated professionals who continue to give of their time and energy in service to others and making the world of sound richer than ever before.





Seen & Heard: Brenda Schmidt

6 09 2016

Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA) member Brenda Schmidt is our first Seen & Heard profile in the September/October 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by HLAA. We’ve been Facebook friends for awhile but I finally got to meet and photograph her at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June!

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. Fees outside the U.S. are slightly higher. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

S&H Brenda Schmidt

BRENDA SCHMIDT / Naperville, Illinois / Born January 20 in Columbus, Ohio

I LEARNED ABOUT HLAA… I work in the field of education for individuals with hearing loss.

THE BEST THING ABOUT HLAA CONVENTIONS IS… being around people who are experiencing similar life challenges. We rarely find others in the same situation nearby.

MY HEARING LOSS… I was about four years old when my parents started questioning whether I had a hearing loss. I was diagnosed at the age of seven, which was back in 1970. The first sound I heard with my new hearing aid was my footsteps on the ground. I had so many questions—‘What’s that sound? What’s that sound?’ I still do this today. With each improvement in technology I am hearing sounds for the first time, even at my age. The last new sound I heard was a hummingbird in my garage. I thought, ’Oh that’s why they are called hummingbirds!’ I was amazed!

SAGE ADVICE… do not try to fake your way through situations where you are having a
hard time communicating. Be honest and let people know you need them to speak up, repeat or rephrase. It’s all about having a sense of humor about the situation.

A FUNNY HEARING LOSS MOMENT… I was a cashier at a local drugstore in my town. A lady came to the counter and said something and smiled. I responded with, ‘Yes it is, isn’t it?’ thinking she had said, “It’s a beautiful day outside.” She had a confused expression as she walked out, so I asked a colleague what  happened. The colleague told me she actually said, “You have such beautiful red hair!”

WHAT ACTOR WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE? I most identify with Lucille Ball because of her red hair and the predicaments she got herself in. I’m always finding myself in predicaments.

MY BEST VACATION EVER WAS… Cancun and swimming with the dolphins.

SOMEONE REALLY NEEDS TO DESIGN A BETTER… captioning service for cell phones that can be used at any time. I wish there was an app or device that could take spoken language and put it into print, accurately and in real-time.

I RECENTLY LEARNED… how to make infographics. All technology fascinates me.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE… was say goodbye to my father, who passed away last December.

PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED THAT I… am a talented memorizer of names of people and phone numbers.

I HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR… Cheetos.

I COLLECT… dust bunnies.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO OVER? I would probably do my high school career over and try even harder than I did with the hearing loss challenges I faced. I would be more of a self-advocate for my needs.

FIVE PLACES I HAVE LIVED… Ohio, Texas, California, Illinois, and Michigan

FIVE JOBS I HAVE HAD… specialized children’s shoe fitter, drugstore clerk, pharmacy technician, teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, and special education administrator

I AM… positive, cheerful, and optimistic.

MY FRIENDS WOULD SAY I AM… warm, a good listener, and empathetic.

BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD IS… my Bluetooth streamer for my hearing aids.

NAME SOMETHING THAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR HOME THAT YOU ARE SURE MOST PEOPLE DON’T… ghost hunting paraphernalia

MY THREE FAVORITE POSSESSIONS ARE… my animals, my hearing aids, and my comfy pajamas.

MY FAVORITE QUOTE… I am famous for messing up quotes and making my own. One of them is, ‘You are walking on thin eggs.’

EVER MEET ANYONE FAMOUS? Minnie Pearl, Charlie Daniels, and Lloyd Bridges

I WANT TO BE REMEMBERED… as a kind person who was considerate of others.

MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT… is overcoming challenges with hearing loss
and showing the world I can’t be stopped by that barrier.

I love articles in Hearing Loss Magazine about access to communication
for people with hearing loss. I wish there was more info for us!

 





HLM Cover Feature: Gael Hannan

3 09 2016

Writer, actor, hearing loss advocate and public speaker Gael Hannan is our cover feature for the September/October 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine! I design and photograph for this bimonthly publication of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). Gael is such a lively spirit and wickedly funny. It was so much fun photographing her at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. (She mentioned she doesn’t live very far from enchanting Butchart Gardens in beautiful Vancouver—one of my favorite places to photograph. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m campaigning to be her new best friend!)

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

WEB Gael Cover

Hearing Loss Isn’t Funny 

by Gael Hannan

Keep your sense of humor. Experts say this is the trick to living well with hearing loss.

But—what if you don’t have one?

Well then, they say, you can learn to laugh at yourself.

What if you don’t know HOW, or CAN’T, or don’t WANT to? What if hearing loss has amputated your funny bone?

WEB Gael TOCHearing loss just isn’t funny. Quite the opposite; it drains us physically, emotionally and often financially. It’s not easy to guffaw at malfunctioning hearing aids, confused conversations and irritated relationships. Giggles don’t bubble from our lips when we make a comment that makes other people stop talking and give us the “you’ve got two heads” look—which of course means the discussion has moved on to something else while we’re stuck in five minutes ago. (I wish someone would announce a new topic—“And now we shall talk about politics.”)

Even people who are natural rays of smiling sunshine find it challenging to deal with a life-changing hearing loss. How many people, reeling from a 20 decibel drop in hearing, would say, “Gosh, isn’t that just my luck? Say, did you hear the one about the guy who couldn’t hear his wife…”

How was I supposed to laugh when a goofy mutt woke me up to show off his breakfast: my hearing aid, with bits of it still clinging to the doggy-curls of his chin? How to cough up a chuckle at embarrassing mishears such as accepting a date, only to find the man had asked something quite different? Or when I delivered one of my famous non-sequiturs: “Mom, can you help me with an essay?” “That’s great, say hi to him for me.” (Below: Gael and “Hearing Husband” Doug)

WEB Gael HusbandAlmost every hearing loss joke is a variation on one or two basics—which the average person with hearing loss will hear about a thousand times in their lifetime. The first goes something like this: “What day is it?” “Thursday.” “Me too, let’s get a drink.” And I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked, “Would you mind speaking up, I have hearing loss,” and the answer shoots back, “Pardon?”

We’re expected to laugh at all this?

Yes. Because it helps. (This is a good time to note that people with hearing loss are very good at laughing in group conversations. We laugh when others laugh and stop laughing when they do. Admittedly, that’s not quite the same thing as a real sense of humor, and our bluffing usually just gets us into more trouble. Just saying that we do know
how to laugh…)

Growing up in a small family—my parents, one sister and me—it was easy to understand dinner conversations because the kitchen table wasn’t big; anyone’s lips were only two dinner plates away. Even so, I would respond goofily to something I thought I heard, which amused everybody but me. We laughed a lot, en famille, because my father said the Lord loves a cheerful idiot and he felt we all qualified.

WEB Gael Hubby SonBut everything is funny, according to Will Rogers, when they happen to someone else. I can see the hearing people (especially the show-off types who claim they can hear a pin drop two counties over) almost implode as they try to suppress a smile or laugh at something we misheard. But later, when we’re out of earshot—which is usually not too far away—they tell these stories about us. Our communication faux pas and verbal boo-boos make us the friendly butt of funny stories: “I told Gael we were worried about our son’s shyness, and she said thank heavens no one in her family has sinus trouble.” Har-de-har-har. (Right: A pea between two pods—Doug, Gael and their son, Joel)

But hey, sometimes I laugh while the Hearing Husband doesn’t. He and I were living in a condo, waiting to move into our first house. He went to the lobby for some long-forgotten reason, and I closed the door after him and went back to watching a movie, which was loud. At some point, I might have vaguely wondered why he wasn’t back, but I was engrossed in the movie. At a momentary break in the noise, the phone rang beside me.

“Hello?”
“IT’S ME!”
“Oh hi, honey. Where are you?”
“In the LOBBY using the entrance phone!”
“But what…OMG…did I lock you out?”
“YES…YOU…DID! I’ve been back and forth between the apartment, pounding on the door, and back down here, and calling up for a whole bloody half hour!”

C’mon, don’t you agree this was funny? I mean, it’s not like I locked him outside in a snowstorm in his underpants! The Hearing Husband is also not amused with the consequences when I don’t hear the water running. Our two-year-old somehow flipped on a sink tap without me seeing or hearing it, and the resulting flood knocked out our phone line and electric garage door opener for 24 hours. And we’re just starting to laugh about the recent flood in our camper when I didn’t quite turn the tap all the way off before going to bed. Mopping up at 4:30 in the morning definitely ain’t funny and it didn’t help that the cat had refused to wade to his litterbox and “went” on the sofa.

Parenting with hearing loss can be challenging. I was engaged in an up-the-stairs shouting match with my teenage son; would he please get a move on and pack his darn hockey bag! I felt a tap on the shoulder; he was behind me, hysterical at watching me yell and gesture up the stairs to an empty bedroom, while he’d been answering me from the basement—where he was packing his darn hockey bag. I hate getting caught out like that.

WEB Podium GaelAbove: Gael gave convention-goers some humorous communication
tips at the Opening Session of HLAA Convention 2016 in June.

After a lifetime of hearing loss, this stuff still happens. Even with a commitment to good communication, hearing aids, and soon, a cochlear implant, I still have occasional bad hearing days when I seem to ask for repeats with every breath I take. On these days, I could swear that somebody had just passed a law that all citizens must speak as unclearly as possible with Gael Hannan for 24 hours. On these days, I’m a self-centered, walking pity party. But the next day, I can usually manage a whimpering smile at my day of bad hearing, and a couple of days later, maybe a weak ha-ha. Eventually, the embarrassment and frustration fade to black, leaving the funny bits intact. (Okay, Digby the dog did look hysterical with hundreds of dollars’ worth of hearing aid hanging from his hairy face.)

In most cases, our hearing loss is permanent; we get to keep it—forever and ever, amen—and if we don’t find a way to laugh, all we’ve got left is frustration and tears.
The late comedian Bob Hope once said, “I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.”

WEB Canadian Group

Above: Gael with her fellow Canadian HLAA members before the banquet

It is absolutely possible to hone the hearing loss sense of humor, even if you think you don’t have one. The first step is understanding that you’re not the only one going through this; you share it with millions of people around the world. The next step is to connect with some of these people, either in person or on social media. Through HLAA and other consumer groups, you can share your heartbreaking and hilarious stories that turn out to be universal—only the names, dates and locations are different.

Hearing aid feedback when someone leans in close for a kiss? We’ve been there, done that. Spent a sleepless night in a hotel, staring at the alarm clock and clutching the Shake-Awake for fear of missing your flight? Yup, us too.

Had to figure out if your man really just said—at 5 a.m. when you weren’t quite awake—“Let’s get married” when you didn’t have your hearing aids in? Okay, maybe that only
happened to me (but lucky for him, I’m an ace speechreader).

Allan Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor, wrote, “You may not be able to change a situation, but with humor you can change your attitude about it.” When hearing loss causes its inevitable daily communication breakdowns—some tiny, some big—we do what we can to get through them.

No, hearing loss isn’t funny—until you find the power to tell the joke on yourself. If you can’t, allow me to quote the famous t-shirt: “If you can’t laugh at yourself, I’ll be
happy to do it for you.”

We can laugh at our hearing loss. Just give us some time.

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Gael Hannan’s The Way I Hear It

WEB Gael Book CoverIn The Way I Hear It, Gael Hannan explodes one myth after another in a witty and insightful journey into life with hearing loss—at every age. Part memoir, part survival guide, The Way I Hear It is an insider account of the frustrations of communicating with hearing loss: pillow talk and other relationships, raising a child, in the classroom and on the job, hearing technology and the everyday things we like to do. Gael offers advice on how to bridge the gap between consumer and professional in order to get the best possible hearing health care, as well as tips for effective communication, poetic reflections and humorous, poignant stories from the people she has met in her advocacy work throughout North America. This is a book for people with hearing loss—but also for their families, friends and the professionals who serve them.

The Way I Hear It is available for ordering from FriesenPress and other online retailers in hard or soft cover, or as an e-book. E-book also available from iTunes, Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Google Play.

Check out her website at www.gaelhannan.com.

HLAA Member Gael Hannan is a writer, actor and public speaker who grew up with a progressive hearing loss that is now severe-to-profound. She is a past director on the national board of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association and created The Hearing Foundation of Canada’s award-winning Sound Sense hearing awareness program for Canadian elementary students. As a passionate advocate for people with hearing loss, she writes a weekly column for HearingHealthMatters.org and delivers insightful, entertaining workshops across the continent for people with hearing loss, hearing health professionals, and the general public.