Insights from a "deaf musician"


Hi Friends,

I had the most amazing experience last night!  I watched a fantastic movie (Wonder Woman) and for the FIRST time I knew every word they said!!!  It was incredible!  I have been to movies my whole life and have always missed the one liner jokes or the pivotal statements that make the majority of the plot!  Dialogue would fly by me and the question mark would rest heavily upon the top of my head.  Those who I’ve partnered with would always be straddled with the task of “keeping me in the loop” and missing parts themselves to keep me up with what was going on.

How did I catch every word this time? 

We are lucky here in Boise.  The top-notch movie theater in the village has a “close caption” device they can now give to movie goers!  Who knew?!?  I’m a VERY BIG FAN of close caption!  In fact, I often would rather wait and watch a movie on Netflix just so I can have the captions.

Let me back up. Some of you may not be aware that I am “hearing impaired”.  My immediate family would use the term “deaf” ha!  I’m sure they would say that because I annoyed the hell out of them a time or two not being able to hear them properly.  And some of you who I may not have responded to might just think I’m moody or perhaps a snob.  Nope…neither (well, I hope not, ha!). 

I am severely hearing impaired and if you hang out with me long enough, you will know I don’t compute everything that is said.  Before watching that movie and before going to Nashville, I used to think I heard at least 80% of what was going on.  NOPE!  I was so wrong!

I am lucky if I hear 70% of what is going on! I venture to say the numbers are less than that truthfully speaking.  I have been issued hearing aids since I was 19 years old.  I’ve been hard of hearing all my life. When we went to Nashville I made it a point to wear my hearing aids.  I simply don’t like them.  They are uncomfortable and frankly, I’ve been a bit lazy, cheap and distracted to get new ones.  But I found out they work!  Ha! 

I was listening to a gentleman tell me some information about a website I needed to put our music on and in the middle of his discussion the battery in my left ear died.  WOW!!!! I thought, “Holy Shit! I really AM DEAF!!”  I still had a good ear so I could make out what he was saying but I was flabbergasted with just how much those aids were… well, “aiding” me.  “Damn, I really do need these fucking things! Hmmm!?”   I have forgotten.  I have been fortunate to be around sensitive people the last 10 years of my life and I have been fortunate to be with Mo who is my “translator”.  That poor girl!  LOL!  

When I was a child, my mother must have thought I was blowing her off.  (Much like I think our new puppy, “Juno” blows me off).  I was probably around 7 when my parents put it together.  I think she called me and I did not respond.  She got closer and closer to me as my back was turned and then she realized.  “Niccole can’t hear”.  Yep.  She took me to the doctors and they ran some tests and I have significant loss in both ears.  Particularly in the high range, I hear low end just fine. The cochlea, that snail shaped bone in the inner ear has cilia, little hairs, that “catch” the sound. Well, mine have been damaged and are lying flat which makes it difficult to hear, especially in noisy environments or with lots of background acoustics.

This impairment use to be an agonizing topic for me by the way. I would RARELY admit this to anyone and with good reason. Have you ever noticed how people respond to those who can’t hear?  I’ve made attempts to enlighten people about this issue and the first reaction I get is, “WHAAATTT!!!?”  Like somehow that is funny?  HOW…is that funny?   That reaction is caused by people not knowing how to respond.  It’s a knee jerk reaction to someone’s disability and frankly, I find no humor in it.  It actually is quite annoying.  It would be like me finding out you were blind and then giving you the finger and laughing.  Yes, that’s how NOT FUNNY that is!  There is also shame in it.  People associate deafness with stupidity as if somehow they run together.  FALSE.  Deafness and stupidity are two very different things.  This world can treat deaf folks as if they are less than, inferior, weak or subordinate.  Look at the elderly and how little patience folks can have for those that can’t hear well. 

Me?  I consider myself lucky.  At lease NOW I do.  I didn’t always.  Now, I don’t have to hear the NOISE of the world.  Think about all the nasty gossip I get to miss out on!  What a blessing!!!  Lawn mowers are quieter for me, neighbor dogs, mosquitoes, gum chewers…you name it! 

I do miss things though.  I miss a lot! I miss the sounds of crickets, the leaves rustling in the wind, the birds waking to a new day singing their songs.  I miss high-hats on the drums and the highest octave on a key board.  I’ve missed important pieces of conversation, instructions from teachers, lessons, lectures, discussions, and don’t ever talk to my back or try to whisper something in my ear…I will just look at you with a blank stare…blink, blink blink.   

I had a friend that loved to whisper during class and I would tell her I could never hear her and she insisted on still doing it.  Do you know, in my youth, I wanted to slap her every time?  (I never did) but I was so frustrated.   Now?  I guess I don’t care.  LOL!

I suppose I just trust that if there is something I really need to know, I will “hear” it.  Here’s the trade off.  I SEE EVERYTHING!!! And I FEEL EVERYTHING!!!  Yes.  And sometimes that is hard too.  All you hearing people miss so much communication!  Communication with the eyes, the body language, and the energy the person holds.  People don’t SPEAK the truth anyway…they SHOW the truth!  In their eyes, the way they hold themselves, their expressions, their laugh, sigh, body posture, anxious fidgets, tappy fingers, proximity.  The “aura”, the energy field that resides around a human being... I feel that!  I am astute, sensitive and deeply aware of that “bubble” we all have, as we are all emotional beings (some more than others) and we all emanate energy.

So, I have these “magical” powers.  I have a keen sense of others emotional journey.  I can feel what songs might lift them, or one they really need to hear (usually not the one they WANT to hear) to have them reflect and release.  I get to cut to the chase with good friends.  I look in their eyes and SEE THEM.  See their beauty, see who they really are, love them exactly how they are and …I listen. 

I may be deaf….but, I really listen!  Ask any of my good friends and they’ll tell you.  I hear “between the lines”.  And I feel very blessed.  It wasn’t always the case that I felt this way. 

I was the butt-end of MANY jokes when I was a kid.  Who didn’t pick on the “deaf kid” back then?  I was frustrated and angry, left out and excluded! The world moved too fast and no one really knew or had the distinction of this difference with me.  People just weren’t sensitive or aware back then.  Kids can be cruel. 

Yet now, I don’t care.  If you are cruel and talk in a low whisper or say something off-putting…I don’t hear you half the time!  Ha!! Ignorance is bliss right?  I can’t tell you how many times Mo has been so grateful that I didn’t hear someone’s snide remarks about “whatever” while I’m on stage (or off).  I have taken to the philosophy that, “if I don’t hear it, it must not matter”.  Yet I know that is not completely the truth.  But I have a little Winnie-the-Pooh in me, “oh botha” and bit aloof at times, yet sensitive.

How do I do what I do?  How do I play music?  Many of you, when you find out I’m hearing impaired or you see my aids in my ears wonder how I can sing.  Well, it is a mystery even to me at times.  I am at a disadvantage than my hearing colleagues; however, sometimes there is an advantage. 

I listen from “inside” and when there is too much noise out there in the world, i.e. excessive crowd talking; I usually do better than Mo who can hear keenly.  She can hear soda fizz in the next room! THAT’SAMAZING!!!  Yet she cannot discern her own instrument or voice when there is too much in competition with it.  I will hear my own voice from, how shall I put this, “within my head”.  I don’t know if that makes sense to you or not, but that is how I do it.  I hear and feel it INSIDE myself, not outside myself. 

Granted, the inner ear monitors that we now use have been a God send!  I just love those things!  It’s like I am in the studio when they are on.  And, since I’ve been hard of hearing my whole life I can still pretty much communicate with people when I have them in, because I “feel” what you say more than I “hear” what you say.  Does this make sense?  In fact Mo usually does the sound check for us (which makes perfect sense), but I can feel when the room and our music is too loud.  I can read people’s body language and now and then I tell her to turn it down.  She’s learned to trust me, even though I have this disability. 

My old dog Osa knew it too.  I can’t tell you how many tea pots caught on fire!  Ha!  We trained Osa to “nose me” anytime the tea pot would go off, but before she learned I was lucky I didn’t burn the house down!  Now we have one of those automatic shut off electric tea pots.  So Juno is off the hook!  

Why am I even sharing this with you?  I think because I was so moved to “hear” (read really) all the words in that awesome movie.  I could have cried!  Truly!  My whole life, movies were the most frustrating experience and I LOVE movies!  But it SUCKS not to hear the “good stuff”.  That truly sucks! But I’ll take the good with the bad. 

I am a “deaf” musician!  And I celebrate it!  I think it makes me a more sensitive person; someone who wishes to include everyone, regardless of their differences or disabilities.  I have overcome this “obstacle” and have “done it anyway” regardless of what other professionals would have recommended.    Don’t let any “nay sayers” crush your dreams!  Don’t let facts, reason or impairment tell you, you can’t do something!  If you WANT to do it – find a way! 

I am no longer ashamed of my hearing loss.  I have theories about why I may have “lost” my hearing.  But I think it’s helped me “find” myself and deeper parts of others who really need to be seen!  Who really need someone to listen, listen from the inside. 

Don’t we all need a little quiet in this loud world?  Don’t we all need to quiet our “chatter” down to hear what we are feeling?  I listen all the time!  Make no mistakes.  I may not catch every word, but I catch a whole lot of behind the scenes and I feel truly blessed!

And thank you to whomever invented “closed captions” now at the movie theaters!!!  How awesome!  I could do a kart-wheel this makes me so happy!!!  And if you haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet…GO!  She is AMAZING!!!  


 "Wonder Nic super powers!!!"  :-) 

"Wonder Nic super powers!!!"  :-) 

Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to “listen” to my story! 

Writing Assignments:

Here are some questions to ponder or do your own private writing.  (I am still the teacherbig laugh* and I like to give “homework”).  Do it only if you would like to:

How do you hear things? How do you listen?  What voice is the loudest?  Do you wish you were deaf sometimes?  Imagine what a quiet life would be like? Are you the kind who likes silence or do you need something like a TV or radio playing constantly in the background?  Who listens to you, from the inside? Who do you listen to?  When you listen are you constantly thinking of what you can say or do you take in what the other person says?