Sunday, March 30, 2014


 My mother shouldn't let me watch scary movies before bedtime.  Oh, that's right...

Last night I watched Monster University. It was about 3 AM. I woke up at about the normal time that I wake up in the night. I'd taken my thyroid pill and had a small drink of water - no food! The thyroid pill doesn't work if you have anything to eat for half an hour so my brief insomnia is perfect. This also helps my weight because I can't have those dreaded 'midnight snacks' when I wake up and by the time the half hour passes, I'm usually back to sleeping soundly.

But last night: Monster University. It was DVR'd so I skipped through to about the last third to pick up where I'd left off last night. (It usually takes me 2 or 3 nights to get through a movie because I fall asleep after about half an hour - like when I used to read bedtime stories to the kids - we'd all last only about a chapter a night.)  This movie is more fun than scary but I did jump when Sully popped into the window as Mike was leaving school on the bus. No biggie though, right? On to the credits and then off to sleep.

There was someone in the house. The cat was hissing at someone and she was acting strangly. I needed to get up and let whoever it was know I was here and make them leave. But I couldn't move.  I could open my eyes (at least I thought they were open) and I could see the ceiling but I couldn't move my head to look around. I tried to speak but nothing came out. My voice was frozen. I strained hard to get my neck muscles to move my head just a little so I could see the room. Nothing. Frozen. Paralyzed. I knew that I had to wake up before I could move. I knew that sleep was keeping me paralyzed - for my own protection. So I turned my attention to waking up. It didn't dawn on me that this was only a dream. It was real. The danger was real. But I still had to wake up before I could move.  I knew that. Wake up first and then deal with the danger - whoever it was.

Remember this dream? You've been there, I know you have. I've been there many times before this. Sometimes I manage to get my voice to work first and I wake to the echo of a shout. This wakes my wife and she asks me what's wrong. "Bad dream." is all I can say. I remember once when I was young and I got my arm muscles to work first and woke up to the echo's of my arm hitting the wall. I think that dream was about my sister teasing me and I was trying to get away.

I guess it's fortunate that our bodies are programmed to paralyze us when we're sleeping because it prevents us from acting out our dreams.  Our dream world and our real world often don't match up very well and the monsters we chase - or become - in one world,  don't belong - and can't survive - in the other.

Friday, March 28, 2014


Someone should invent a new language for hard of hearing folks - like me. 

Age related hearing loss is more about partial hearing loss.  The top part of the hearing spectrum is lost. This is the part that allows us to differentiate between different words and word sounds. The sibilant part of words - that which is formed with the teeth and tongue, for example. It becomes hard to tell the difference between 't' and 'c' and 'p' and just plain 'e' sounds.

Most of the time when I say; "What?" in a conversation it is not because I didn't 'hear', it's because I didn't understand what was said. I heard perfectly fine but I couldn't interpret what I heard. Sometimes I repeat back to my wife what I thought I heard her say and we get a good laugh. But this isn't something I feel comfortable doing with others during the normal course of my day. So I just rely on; "What?", or "I'm sorry but I didn't understand that." It is difficult not to feel like this is an admission of ignorance or slowness on my part. I believe that people can't help thinking that deaf folks are also a little adel-brained. Or, when accompanied by my grey hair and wrinkles, they may think my mind is going along with my hearing.

But it occurs to me that we (hard of hearing) are like foreigners and that English is no longer our native language. It's not that we lack the vocabulary it's just that we are no longer able to match what we are hearing with the words that we know. So why not develop a language that we can understand which uses sounds we can still hear and differentiate. It may be something that is very close to English but not that close, like Cajun French.

I only had two years of French in college so I don't know that much about language or language theory but I wonder if other languages are as hard for their senior citizens to understand as English is for me.  After all, if everyone could only hear the bottom half of our audio spectrum, wouldn't our language evolve to accommodate.  Maybe we could force everyone who isn't hard of hearing to wear earplugs.

Maybe it's time for me to learn sign language.

 No, not quite yet. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The music

"A long long time ago, I can still remember when the music used to make me smile..."

High school choir.
High school band.
(The Beatles.) 

Teen age rock band that we took on the road to local bars and street dances. Maybe we did this to meet girls - maybe not. But we did meet girls. And once we started dating, the band - and making music - slowly got pushed into the attics of our lives.

And into the attic of my life.

Three years ago my life dropped me into an empty old house for three weeks. Alone. Separated from my family and from the world of internet, TV, and even radio.

But I had my guitar and a memory of how to play - and how to sing.  But memories don't make the muscles perform - either in the fingers or the vocal cords.

But I was in a great place acoustically; with bare wood floors, hard plaster walls, and high ceilings. It was like singing in a shower.  And I was bored.

So I started plucking the guitar. I tried to pick out the cords to "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. Pretty basic stuff, chord wise, but the picking will take work (lots of work).  So I started with the first verse  ( I remembered the words from hearing it so many times in "Shrek" ) and I quickly realized that my voice was no longer capable of holding a note. Wow, I guess if you don't use your voice for 20 years it can get out of shape. But there was nobody around to criticize so I sang, and I sang, I and played until my fingers hurt (no callouses to protect my finger tips).

"... I know these walls and I've walked this floor ... "

As I went about my business each day I would work on the words to the song. I'd go over each verse until I had the whole song memorized.  And then in the evening I would work on getting the words to fit the chords and the rhythm - such as it was. And so I would sit on that warm radiator after a days work and relax and play and sing to myself; to the room, and to the empty house.

It's not the same, you know: learning the words and learning the song. You can memorize the words and you can learn to play the music but when you try to put them together you have to re-learn them both. At least, I do.


After a week or so, my fingertips started to harden up and my voice stopped shaking and wandering around on it's own quite so much.  I had the words and the chords pretty much down and put together. And I was ready to move on. Okay, I was getting bored. It has always been hard for me to master anything because I get bored too quickly.  So I tackled "Ghost in the House" by Shenandoah (and covered by Alison Krauss). It seemed appropriate in this old house (and not TOO scarey). This was harder on my voice because it was higher (I had no capo) and some of the notes hit right in pitches where my voice didn't like to stay very long. But it was fun and fairly easy to chord (again, I wasn't too worried about the picking - yet).

"... I knew if I had my chance, I could make those people dance. And maybe they'd be happy for a while ... " 

But this was fun and I kept at it even after I returned to 'civilization'.  The empty house was replaced by my car and I would pick up the guitar while watching TV quietly pick over scales and progressions under the noise coming from the set.

I would think of songs that I liked (either the words or music - or both). I started listening to Pandora's Indie Rock channel and found some new sounds that I liked. A couple clicks on Google and I'd have both the words and the chords (and the tabs - if needed). The world was at my feet.

Between Pandora and Classic Rock radio, I started picking up songs - maybe a new one every week or so. My confidence and my chops have gotten stronger and I think I am slowly getting better. Soon maybe even good enough to play for someone other than an empty house (or an empty car).

My repertoire has grown to about 30 songs of all types and sizes. Last week I tackled the timeless classic; "American Pie" by Don Mclean. I confessed this to a kid that works for me and he said; "Yeah, everyone does that one - at parties and stuff." The way he said this brought to my mind a certain scene in "Animal House". But I don't care. It's a fun song to sing - and to sing along with - and I'd like to see someone try to smash MY guitar.

"... And we were singin'; bye bye miss american pie .... "

I keep a list of songs that I think I'd like to try in the future and now that I have American Pie down, my mind is already starting to wander over to the first verse of the next song.  In the back of my mind I have a fear that what happened to me in a certain college organic chemistry class will happen to me again if I keep trying to cram more stuff into my memory. It was the night before mid terms and I had all those CO radicals laid out in my mind perfectly. I tried to push just one more page into my head and then something broke. The next day at the exam my mind was a white piece of paper. I had nothing. And the worse part was that it never came back. But I can live without remembering organic chemistry. But music?

I do believe that the mental exercise of memorizing all these songs is something that will help me as I grow older. Maybe it will help me stave off alzheimer's or dementia many years from now. But I worry a little about pushing too hard. What if I try to push just that one more page and it all goes white - again.  But then again, I have an iPad with all the lyrics. So if push comes to shove, I can always cheat. My muscles won't forget what they've learned (either fingers or voice) over these past few years. And should keep getting better even if I have to read the words. I don't have 10,000 hours left to master this but as long as it's fun - what the hell. Huh?