My forthcoming novel, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, is about a teenager who relaxes when she plays the violin—to such an extent that she goes into a trance that allows her to contact ghosts. It’s certainly inspired by my love of music, especially classical. Indeed, my radio is usually tuned to my local classical NPR on the way to and from work. Classical music relaxes my mind and tames my mood. The runs of a violin dancing along the melody soothes me and reminds me of the greatness of humankind and all the beauty we can create.
That was, it did soothe me.
Until a nasty ear infection ruined all that.
After my daughter gave me a case of pink eye that later became an ear infection, I found my hearing “off.” It started out just muffled—like I had cotton in my ear. But then everything became distorted. It wasn’t just that everyone sounded like they were speaking under water. No, it was much worse.
For higher-pitched sounds, I heard the world in two different tones. My left ear heard things on-pitch. My right ear, I discovered when I covered my left, heard the world a half-step higher. The worst was my baby’s musical toys, already created to play high-pitched cartoon variations of well-known songs. The effect with my ear infection was that everything sounded like demented carnival music.
Shoe fly, don’t bother me…
Isn’t this the type of thing that plays as a backdrop to a slow-moving carousel in a horror movie?
Twinkle-twinkle little star…
I glance around, half expecting a clown.
Mary had a…
The worst was at work, when I had various meetings and discussions with people asking for my help. Part of me was listening and trying to find solutions to their questions. The other part of me was thinking about how this demented way of hearing the world must be one of the ways people lose their minds.
I found that on my way to and from work, I had to listen to silence. Even the wind streaming through open windows sounded distorted. The baby’s cry made her sound like a bizarre clown-baby, and I half expected a red-nose, sharp-toothed monster to be staring back at me from the crib. My voice was that of a mad mermaid.
And worst, my favorite music, my relaxation, sounded like a terrible cacophony. Worse, in fact, than the cacophonous tuning of an orchestra before a concert. It was terrible. I felt—unsophisticated. Like classical music was somehow over my head now.
Television shows required closed captioning and subtitles just because it took too much energy to focus on what characters were saying (in my head, they all started looking like psychotic clowns, their bubbling voices adding to the ambiance).
And it didn’t help that the world seemed to go crazy with paranoia about people dressing up like clowns and luring victims into the abandoned woods.
So what’s so fantastic about all this?
The first—I came away from the experience with a new empathy for people with hearing disorders and other auditory conditions. I remember having a professor who complained about a constant ringing in his ear. While he certainly looked like he was bothered by it, I could not at the time understand how: I assumed that, like the humming of florescent lights or the ticking of a clock, such a sound would undoubtedly blend into the background. But after my nearly two weeks of distorted hearing, I understand the lengths it must have taken him just to function on a day-to-day basis.
I came away with a renewed appreciation for closed captioning and subtitles, something I previously merely took for granted as something that could be used when others in the room were trying to sleep.
The second—I came away from the experience.
It’s given me a new perspective and a new appreciation, not to mention some great ideas for the sequel to The Man with the Crystal Ankh.
I waited until today—Sunday—to post my Fantastic Friday post because I wanted to be sure my hearing was back 100%. Though it still sounds a little muffled, I now listen to classical music again and enjoy the beautiful, crisp notes of a violin as it runs up and down a melody. Even the baby’s cries sound melodious. Well, almost.