The other day London Aunt asked me if I wanted to go to a talk with her. It was a talk by Jeremy Paxman and it was almost sold out.
Usually, I shy away from going to talks as I find them so difficult to hear, but after considering it for a moment, I decided that if anyone was going to be easy (ish) to hear it would be Jeremy Paxman – indeed, I often find myself not really reading the subtitles on University Challenge, so clear is his delivery of questions.
For some reason though, I completely forgot to ask London Aunt to request that we have seats reserved near the front to enable me to lipread, too and so, when we got there and found a massive queue and first-come-first-served seating arrangement, I realised that I lipreading from 20 rows back would not be an option.
And it wasn't. But I was able to understand maybe 50% of what Jeremy said. Although, after discussing it with London Aunt afterwards, I realised I had missed far more than I erm... realised. Partly because, if you don't hear something, how can you possibly know that you haven't heard it?
So anyway, sitting there in the hall, I had a sudden flashback to my school years. Of struggling to hear on subjects I was fascinated in. I was a super geek at school... I loved information and facts and when I had better hearing, used to absorb them all like a sponge. But as I got deafer, I remember that the effort of hearing the information seemed to prevent the absorption of it.
That exact thing proved to be true at this talk. I know that I heard full sentences that Jeremy Paxman said. I know that I laughed when he made a joke. But I cannot tell you a single thing that he said. Not in an informed, learned way anyway. I can tell you what he was wearing, and that his hair is longer in real life than in the current series of University Challenge. I can tell you that he does speak exceptionally clearly and eloquently, but that's not enough any more. It's not enough for me to simply hear someone. When 'listening' (lipreading) for long periods of time, I need the written words for support. Otherwise, my brain quite simply goes into overload.
As the talk neared the 80 minute mark, I started to feel that same desperation feeling that used to creep up on me in school and university lectures. The desperation that said, 'I'm done trying to listen. Please stop the noise. I need to sleep.'
Indeed, I had permission to nod off in my A-level and post-grad lessons. I was allowed to put my head on my desk and sleep. But truthfully, even if I hadn't had permission, I would have done it anyway.
Listening exhaustion is like no other exhaustion I know. It's not like jet lag, or a bad day at work. It's not like a hangover or being woken for an early journey somewhere. It's totally consuming. It takes your eyes, your ears, your entire face and your brain. It makes me want to cry with the realisation that useful information is still whizzing past my ears but that I quite simply cannot access it.
And as the talk drew to a close, all I could think about was going home, taking out my hearing aids, getting into bed and turning off the light. I was craving complete silence.
And that's what I did. At 8.45pm.
And looking back, that's what I did for much of my A-level years and post-grad (my degree was basically self taught with 2 hours of lectures a week so I didn't really ever get listening exhaustion).
It made me thankful that I rarely have to do that anymore. But slightly sad too that if I want to access the interesting opinions of people like Jeremy Paxman, this is what I have to do. Unless it's one of the marvellous talks that have live subtitles done by Stagetext.
One thing I wish I'd done is somehow requested the copy of the talk that Paxman gave. So that I could have read it at my leisure after my nap – a captioned afterthought on the evening.
Next time I might just request it in advance.
If my ears (and addled brain) allow there to be a next time.
Happy Wednesday peeps