Q: OK. I want to get at something that I get the impression you either do not want to talk about, or never talk about, or something, I’m not sure what. Something I think that others might think important to know about you, but that you, for some very personal reasons are not willing to reveal or talk about.
ReeL: What’s that?
Q: Your hearing.
ReeL: You’re right. I don’t talk about that. The issue is that I have a hereditary hearing problem that limits my ability to learn to speak a language and I prefer for people to not know about that. To not let that intrude into the conversation in any way.
Q: What exactly is involved with that?
ReeL: I have difficulty first, in hearing my own speech. And second I have mid-range hearing loss that affects certain tones/levels of pitch in which the human voice falls within. This makes it difficult to hear and learn how to reproduce certain sounds in spoken language.
A lot of my early thinking was heavily influenced by the growing realization that I had a severe limitation in my own abilities. That I would have difficulty in any area where learning to speak languages would be a critical skill, for example. I had great difficulty learning to speak my own language, English, originally.
ReeL: To study a lot of things you needed languages. I didn’t have languages.
Q: What do you mean that you did not have languages?
ReeL: Don’t misunderstand me, I passed my tests for graduate school in both French and German, for example, but only to the dismay of my teachers. But those were written tests for written language, you see. Not spoken. So in class I was terrible. It was a disaster. In reality I had a difficulty enough time speaking English, but went to great lengths to mask it. It wasn’t really language itself that was the problem, it was speaking that was the problem.
Q: Very hard to believe for anyone who knows you today.
ReeL: Well, part of that is that in order to overcome my hearing limitation, I was encouraged to speak as much as possible as a child, even when people couldn’t understand me very well. This is the main way I got to the point where I could be understood and speak clearly. But it was a huge learning curve since on one level the hearing situation manifested itself as a difficulty in picking up new sounds, such as in spoken language, including English. My brother and a cousin quickly picked up spoken languages with almost native fluency. I, on the other hand, had great difficulty learning to speak English, my native language.
Q: No way.
ReeL: Yes, it’s true. People would ask, what’s my problem? I was in special ed classes for speech and for learning how to speak when I was a kid.
Q: You were in special ed?
ReeL: Yea, for part of the day.
This situation comes out in other ways. My son, you know, is very musical, and he used to ask me to hum a tune when I referred to a piece of music. But believe me, in my situation, it is virtually impossible to hum a tune. He would think this as very odd, that his father couldn’t hum a tune, but listened to all this music.
Q: So you can hear music, OK?
ReeL: Well, yes and no. I love music. But I have no way of knowing what music sounds like to other people. I have very good hearing outside a few mid-tone ranges. I obviously don’t hear the same thing as someone with full spectrum hearing. But think about it, in music, if you are missing something, you don’t necessarily know you are missing something.
Q: What about lyrics?
ReeL: Well lyrics are almost impossible. That’s true, I don’t really catch lyrics. Probably why I vastly prefer music which doesn’t depend on understanding any lyrics.
When I was very little, my parents thought that I didn’t like music at all, because I didn’t seem to respond much to the songs they played and sang. Then my mother caught me one day playing a Brahms symphony she had on an LP and realized that I liked music; I just wasn’t much interested in anything with lyrics in it.
Q: But you review theatre.
ReeL: Yes, but only dramatic theatre. Actors are far easier to understand than most people because they work on, or have inordinate talents in, speaking with a rich range of tone, that’s part of their basic craft, which more or less insures that I can hear them. I have no business reviewing musicals. My wife loves musicals, so we go to them, but I have no way of judging a person’s singing voice. For me, it might as well all be opera in Chinese.
But we need to back up a bit.
Q: Yes, let’s go back to that Special Ed thing you mentioned. I’m curious about that. I can’t imagine how you could have been placed into Special Ed classes. [to be continued]