The search for the novel inside me continues. Like Michelangelo, I don't think that I am making anything up - writing this whole time has felt much more like divining. Recently, one of my students whom I am also tutoring has gotten into exploring mixed genres of writing, and in particular, shows very strong aptitude for lyric essays (please check Seneca Review online for great examples!) She pointed out to me that she thought my "project" sounded like it might be suited to this form, too, but it's taken me weeks of that suggestion stewing in my head, along with many articles and reviews and examples sent my way from her (also for her benefit, of course!) to get me to actually experiment with the form. This is the first try, and I am really pleased with it. Here it is, in not-very-edited form. Please keep in mind use of first person here is mostly fictional, though the emotional intent is similar to real life, the facts, fact-sounding though they may be, aren't.
Comments are welcome!
---------from "Stranger Ancestors" (working title of "novel" in progress)----------------
My mother kept silent from age 42 to 50.
In the later years of life, the inner ear recedes in on itself and makes of any noise a maze.
Though hearing aids can assist the sounds in entering deeper into caves of the cochlea,
it is rare to ever recover whole sounds.
She claimed she couldn’t hear, too.
How does one dis/prove a deaf/mute?
Such guilt to even assume she’d waste any of her very few words
on a lie like that.
Often, in grief or response to similar trauma, subjects lose their ability to hear
earlier than the typical timespan, which is chemically predisposed to occur in the mid seventies. Sometimes, because of this early loss, the shocked subjects refuse to speak.
My father-in-law has a similar early hearing loss. But he isn’t silent at all. In fact, he
constantly interrupts, not having heard others’ words, and jolts and juggles his own sounds, constantly pretending he can hear everything, including himself.
Women are more likely, socially, to respond to this largely genetic indisposition with silence, rather than arrogance. Being the quieter sex trains such subjects for the reticence and subtleties of early hearing loss. Many embarrassing incidents can be avoided this way; however, lifetimes of social interactions also crumble in these cases, compounding the loss.
I am lucky they never met. Imagine what a holiday mess that would be! My father-in-law wailing away without explanation, his stream of consciousness impotence in face of his auditory ignorance. And my mother, pushed over by the force of his steam train presence, would have heard his intention loud and clear, pounding her butterfly heart, like an action across the world making impacts unseen.
Ironically, it has been found that the inappropriate overly-loud speaking to the deaf so commonly found on the part of the hearing is often a parallel behavior in the deaf themselves, as they have no volume regulator of their own. Rather than looking into the face of the listener – who may reflect back a shame or pity they’d rather not see – they newly, early, nearly-deaf often choose, especially male subjects, to barrel forward without bar.
I read a fantastic book on sign language when my mother was 43, after she’d been silent a year. I hoped we could learn to “speak” to each other this way, but I of course missed the point that she was done communicating altogether. The book, “Train Go Sorry,” has become irrefutable confused in my mind with another book published in the same era, “French Lessons,” as both are memoir-fact books, and had similar facts, tone and even colors on the covers. When I moved to France for a study abroad year, the two became even more interlinked, as I often felt both dumb and deaf in the face of speaking French every single day.
Because second languages are stored in a separate part of the brain from the primary or mother tongue (except, of course, in the case of being raised from birth in a plura-lingual environment), stroke research has found and been able to point at the strange ability of otherwise mute stroke survivors becoming able to speak, fluently and without question, their secondary or tertiary languages, but without being able to either recognize or form their mother tongue, regardless of age.
My maternal grandmother had had a stroke when I was young and for a few days, it is rumored, all she could speak was French, being that she had learned it when she was a child, though later, as a teenager in school. I remember her mostly in French, and so I felt strangely close to her in France, and yet, I had the hardest time parsing out anything beyond the basic nouns and verbs I needed to get enough food to eat. Beyond that, at bars and on the street, as soon as I missed just one word, I would become so ashamed that I couldn’t stick to the frame of the speaker, whether directed at me or not, and the world would grow grey and silent in misunderstanding. I wrote to my mother about this near the end, having had no contact with her all the year, feeling so distant from her without her face to see. I expressed a great deal of sympathy for how she must have felt the last few years, and thanked her for passing on the French her mother had taught her. I hoped she had broken her vow and read the letter, feeling me touch her through it. She died a day after my exams were over, and I flew home early for her funeral.
Studies find that babies cannot hear, after the age of 16 months, the basic sounds of languages other than their mother tongue and any other languages sung constantly in their presence from their time in the womb. This is striking because many sources now confirm that when a baby is actually born, or perhaps soon before, it is born with the potential to hear and discern all languages, and this deafness of human potential is a fast and distinct loss. It can never be regained later in life, though aptitude toward language learning can assist in regaining some semblance of discernment of differing sounds.
I found the letter, months later, unopened on her desk.