How Going Deaf Opened My Eyes

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Tumble Inn, Powder River, Wyoming

We all know what we’re supposed to do when life gifts us with a basket of tart, yellow citrus fruit, and that’s what I’ve tried to do since my hearing deserted me in 2010: make as much lemonade, in as many variations, as I can concoct.

One of those variations was writing a cathartic book. My memoir, Life After Deaf: My Misadventures in Hearing Loss and Recovery, published by Skyhorse on November 5.

Another variation is photography, which I started taking seriously in hopes that it would make up for my loss of music, precious music, as a creative outlet.

Even after a pair of cochlear implant surgeries that restored some functional hearing, my pitch is so awful now that I can barely sing “Happy Birthday” in tune by myself, let alone with instruments and other singers to fool my bionic ear and pull me off key.

Listening to recorded or live music can be torture. Drum solos and gamelan gongs sound sort of like I remember, but the more non-percussive instruments you add and the more complicated the harmonics get, the more music becomes sonic mush. A philharmonic is about as melodic to me as an orchestra of vacuum cleaners.

When I had cochlear implant surgery in Los Angeles in 2013 — a do-over for a 2010 operation that hadn’t worked out — I was unable to fly back to my home in Athens, Georgia, until I’d healed a bit. Out sightseeing, my wife Marty and I discovered that the area of West LA near the hospital was a practically a museum of signage dating back to the 1950s, ’40s and even earlier. Everywhere we looked, it seemed, there was a forgotten hotel marquee or a rusty old neon sign.

I started snapping pictures with my phone. And once we got back home, I got myself a decent camera, a Nikon with a good zoom, and started looking for similar antiquities wherever I traveled, be it Wyoming, New Jersey, or my adopted home state.

It’s surprising how many are out there, sort of hiding in plain sight in big cities and small towns and along two-lane roads, well-nigh invisible to the locals but practically flashing to a fresh set of eyes.

I share some of my growing collection here not because I have any illusions about my mastery of this visual art, but because they document vestiges of earlier times. Their kind is fast disappearing. A couple of these are already gone. We may not be able to save them, but we can preserve their memory.

Keep an eye out — a camera handy.

https://www.amazon.com/Life-After-Deaf-Misadventures-Recovery/dp/1510746870

Written by

Mississippi native, award-winning veteran of The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, stand-up storyteller, lives in Athens, Ga.

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