Save the Ears, Save the Girl

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Learning to manage my audiophobia

 

Photo by Jaee Kim and found on Unsplash

I remember following my mother into a large department store in the Winrock Shopping Mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As the doors opened, I winced before stepping inside. I shuddered and pulled at my mom’s hand. There was a high-pitched noise and it hurt my ears. I mean really hurt.

My mom didn’t know what was going on with me on that particular day, but after it kept happening, she figured out that the security alarm in the store gave off a noise that most people couldn’t hear, but I could.

I’ve always had sensitive ears. I like to blame it on the fact that I had a lot of ear infections when I was a baby and toddler, but maybe that is counterintuitive. As an adult, I had some ear issues and when an ENT looked deep into my ears they reported that I had a small scar on one of my eardrums. Likely due to all of those ear infections.

Then the doctor looked at my hearing test and commented that I have strange hearing. I hear very well at the very high end and at the very low end, beyond to so-called normal range, but my hearing in the mid-range is far less acute.

This personal auditory feature was endlessly annoying to the musician I once dated. I would pump up the bass and treble on my cheap aftermarket car stereo and drop the midrange. It sounded better to me. He was constantly fiddling with the equalizer to suit his ears dulled by years of standing in front of a guitar amp turned up to eleven. As soon as he exited my car I’d set it back.

So to put it blunt terms, I have weird ears. I always have. I figured I would lose hearing capacity as I aged, and I do think that has happened some, but I still have ears like bat. At my, ahem, advanced age I can still hear those so called “mosquito” tones aimed at shooing away teenagers.

This also means that I have to manage my ears, which has come to my mind lately due to working from home every day and spending four to eight hours a day using Zoom. I share a space with my partner, so I have been using a good pair of in-ear headphones for the many, many Zoom meetings I attend each day. Those in-ear devices fit right up in there. Piping the sounds of Zoom very efficiently and forcefully to my eardrums.

At the end of last week I hit an audiophobic wall. After participating in a lot of work meetings it felt like my head and nerves were jangled. I found it hard to concentrate. I found myself restless. I found it hard to understand and respond to simple questions asked by my partner.

My immediate reaction was to chalk it up to stress, anxiety, and fatigue. And that is not completely wrong, but there was something more going on. I realized that my ears, my tender little ears, were overstimulated. I had hosted my coworker’s voices all up in my head all week long and I couldn’t stand one more sound agitating the cilia. Not one more.

Going outside and sitting in the sun for a little while helped. My neighborhood was gracious in its momentary silence, providing a sliver of peace. I could hear the birds in the trees. I could hear the unmistakable “toot toot” of a BART train in the distance. And I could hear no human voices. It was nice. More than nice, it helped me regain some sanity.

I realize that Zoom meetings aren’t going away any time soon, and my ears aren’t changing anytime soon either. Better managing these adorable little audio problems on the sides of my head is going to be key.

A new set of over ear and noise cancelling headphones has arrived. Switching the types and timing of using each kind of headphone is being considered. Finding time to rest my ears at the end of the day is also being planned.

Next, I need to figure out these hips joints that are tired and cranky from sitting in a not terrible chair in front of a Zoom screen all day long.

I love working from home, but it is not without some costs. Zoom fatigue is real.

This item can also be found on Medium, and you can see more of my work @karenfayeth over there

Please Notice

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“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., from the book A Man Without a Country

Last night I ran across these bon mots from the author Kurt Vonnegut. This is not the first time I’ve seen the quote, it’s fairly well known, but for some reason this quote had a little more resonance than usual.

Miles of text have been written by people like me about their feelings on this quote and on Vonnegut himself. To be fully candid, I am not a devotee of Vonnegut only because I haven’t actually read any of his books.

I know, I know. Who didn’t get Slaughterhouse Five in High School? Me along with all my fellow students in the Albuquerque Public Schools. Saaaaalute.

My beloved is a fan of Vonnegut’s work, and has read most or all of his published writing. Let’s be honest, he had a better public education than I did. But let’s set that aside for now.

Vonnegut seems to be quite quotable. I mean who can ignore this brilliance of words like this:

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

Can’t argue with that. But back to the quote at the top, about taking the effort to notice those moments where the prevailing winds are happy.

That sentiment is a little bit different from prevalent mindset to be found online and in the media. There is a real drive to getting mad about just about anything and staying mad about it. About taking the maximum offense as often as possible. About grinding out misery. I guess perpetuating the agony keeps the eyeballs coming back, and eyeballs = ad revenue.

I really do get it.

But I just can’t thrive with that anymore. In the real world, not online, beautiful things happen every day. Happy moments exist and it’s not only good to notice them, it may be a matter of survival.

For example: There is a quirky scrub jay that inhabits my yard. I put out a bowl of peanuts and the bird picks through them like the pickiest toddler in the history of food, tossing aside the items that don’t meet exacting standards. It’s a funny moment of joy when I scold an unscoldable bird to “just take that one and stop being so picky!” The scrub jay never listens.

There’s the unscoldable rascal!

Today at work I did a nice thing for a coworker that really wasn’t that difficult, was right in my wheelhouse for the work I’ve spent a career doing, and helped my coworker out of a jam. They were so surprised and delighted I felt like I’d performed magic.

This morning I woke up next to the most wonderful man in the world. Tonight, I get to come home from work and hug him again.

See? If all of that is not nice, then I don’t know what is.

Feels good just to notice. Makes me want to keep noticing. Makes me want to pause a little when my own outrage seems to take the lead in my response to anything I read or hear or see.

Maybe I’m running too hard, reading too fast, reacting too soon.

Maybe I need to fart around a little more.

Maybe I can just remember it’s never as bad as it seems. Nor is it as good as it can be. But everything is always just a little bit better than I give it credit for. Leaning more toward the side of doing okay rather than not.

And that’s more than nice.

Do I Smell Toast?

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On Friday morning I had what could best be referred to as one of them déjà vu kinda deals. Wikipedia says that’s “the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before.” Close enough, let’s go with it.

I ended the stressful workweek with a fairly intense morning meeting. It was a good meeting, but it was intense. When it was done, mentally beat up and a little worse for the wear, I left the building to walk to my car to move on to the next part of the workday.

Whether the heat, the quality of light, the alignment of clouds in the sky, a smell, or something entirely more woo-woo, as I walked to my car I had this overwhelming desire to lay down on the warm concrete sidewalk, just like I used to do when I was a kid. Follow with me here.

Growing up, I loved to go swimming at a public pool that was less than a mile from the house. Very walkable across a lovely green park and over to the pool. Once there I took to the water like it was my second home. Splashing around, spinning into summersaults, trying to see how long I could stay under, doing handstands, all of it. I’d stay in there for hours then when it was time to take a break, I’d breach the surface like a sea lion and flop onto the sun warmed concrete. Teeth chattering, I’d lay with my body straight out with arms tucked underneath.

The hot concrete warmed up my skin while the New Mexico sun baked the other side of me toasty brown.

There was a certain smell, the hot wet concrete and chlorine mixing with the cut grass smell from the park just over the fence. So much better, even, than laying in a pile of towels fresh out of the dryer, and that is pretty damn good.

This past Friday, I didn’t just think about this memory, I actively wanted to live it again by laying down and hugging the concrete. I had to use the grown-up voice inside of me to say, “don’t you do it or so help me…”

That feeling didn’t go away for a long while, long past when I’d climbed into my car and drove off, landing back at the office and back at work. The feeling still resonated with me and throughout the day, I had such a yearning, an overwhelming need to feel that feeling again.

Later, after work, over a glass of something lovely and chilled and delicious, I pondered why exactly I had such a strong memory and overwhelming desire to lay on warm pavement.

Was it nostalgia for the simple summers of childhood? Easy days not spent inside negotiating with recalcitrant suppliers. Days where could idle by the pool.

Was it the sense of warming comfort I’d get from hugging the concrete? A deep satisfying down to the bones warmth, like a comforting hug from the sun.

Was it simply a synaptic misfire in an already overwrought brain? Do I smell toast? Hell, I really don’t know.

Even as I write this a few days later, I can still feel that yearning somewhere inside. I don’t really need to do anything to remedy this, like go seek out a swimming pool and hot concrete. I just know that this out of nowhere memory stays really strong with me. A feeling of having lived through it and a desire to feel that again.

To compensate, I spent much of the past weekend out on the back deck soaking up a little California summer sun, but not so much that my fair skin burned. I sat out there watching the world go by and pondered my own life enough that I’m now tired of thinking about it.

I do still wonder, though, where the hell that memory came from. And why.

Then again, maybe thinking about it too much takes away the magic off the memory. A good reminder to myself to just, you know, let it be.



And oldie but a goodie from my Flickr archives, the swimming pool at Filoli Gardens

©2011 Karen Fayeth



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In The Flow

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I wrote a short essay about Albuquerque back in the day. About Cutter field, little more than a dirt lot and a bunch of crazy hot air balloonists.

The Balloon Fiesta was a lot different back then, and it was a whole lot more interactive.

Take a minute to reminisce with me through my little essay titled “In The Flow” which just found a home on a place called The Story Pub.

You can find a link in the right column of this page, or you can…


Read it Here: In The Flow






Photo from the family archives.



Top Ten Things I Miss About New Mexico – 2018 Edition

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One of the most popular posts I have ever done on my little blog is this one: Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas in New Mexico.

Originally written in a fit of holiday homesickness in 2007, I republished it at the holidays for many years.

It’s been a while since I put it up on the blog, and this year I decided not to republish that same post but instead write a new one. It’s now eleven years later and things have changed. I have changed.

I’m sure many of the items will be the same, but may be on the list for a different reason. I don’t know, I’m riffing this as it comes to me. Eleven years seems like a long time, then hardly a blip on the radar too.

Anyhow, I’m super sentimental today and I’m listening to oldies Christmas music (go Bing Crosby!) so here we go:


The (refreshed) Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas in New Mexico:


1) The smell of piñon fire smoke mixed with the smell of snow or very cold air. Don’t think snow has a smell? Think again. And piñon is the smell of home, hands down. Where I live now it’s often a spare the air day, so no fires. And also, no snow.


2) Shopping with my mom for the annual Christmas ornament. Usually we shopped in Old Town, but not always. I took the challenge of picking out my annual ornament very seriously. I have all of them now in a box. Maybe I should hang them on the tree this year? I haven’t done that in a while.


3) Biscochitos for sale pretty much everywhere. I love making them but also love eating them so sometimes my demand outpaced my supply. There was a little restaurant in Los Lunas that my folks used to like for breakfast that sold their own biscochos by the register. So light and crumbly. Gah! I could go for one now.


4) Tamales as gifts. Tamales at holiday pot lucks. Tamales at holiday parties. Just, all the tamales! All the time.


5) Creamland Egg Nog. You might say, “What now? Don’t they have egg nog out there in crazy California?” Yes they do, but I’ve never found any I liked as much as that local NM dairy brand. Plus now that my ol’ rig can’t tolerate dairy like it used to, I just have live in memories of glasses of delicious chilled nog from childhood.


6) This holiday candle my mom had from Avon that she only put out at the holidays. It smelled SO good. I have no idea what the smell even was, some sort of spiced berry thing. It was in a really pretty gold painted glass container.

Oh wait, holy moly. I found a photo online. This is it! Called Avon First Christmas Frankincense & Myrrh, circa 1967 to 1972. This is the scent of my childhood holidays. Man I miss that smell. It’s all Christmas Eve just after Mass, gazing at the tree, eating tamales, and you know, drinking big glasses of egg nog.


Awesome nostalgic photo was, surprisingly, found here.


7) Holiday happy hour at Gardunos, the one by Winrock. They’d decorate that whole warehouse looking place for the holidays. The margaritas flowed and mariachis played and there were good eats in abundance. I hear that the quality of Gardunos has gone to meh in recent years, and that makes me sad. Those days live on in memories from my mid-to-late 20s. (Well, there are quite a few things I miss from my 20s. My waistline, for example.)


8) And also sopaipillas. Which isn’t really just a holiday but year-round thing, but gall durn I miss them.


9) Snow on Sandia Crest. Or snow on the Organ Mountains. Or snow on any of the gorgeous mountains in New Mexico. (and the delicious city water that flows at spring thaw). I do NOT miss driving in snow, or how crazy people get when it is snowing, or cleaning snow off the car. Or for that matter, snow melting then re-freezing for weeks so you have that one patch that you slip on every single morning on your way to work.

But snow in the mountains? Perfection.


10) Making, placing, and lighting luminarias. Yes, we called them luminarias, correctly or not. Labor intensive but a labor of love. Digging up good New Mexico soil to fill paper bags and plopping in a candle. Stamping out the fire when the NM winds got to be too much… Like that.


Wow, so that is ten. It’s over as quick as it started. You know, ten seems hardly enough to capture all of the homesick in my heart, but this list is a pretty good place to start.

Maybe later tonight I’ll sip a little good Irish Whiskey (which doesn’t hurt my tummy!) and put my old childhood ornaments on the tree and hug The Good Man and The Feline and let memories have me for a while.

Coming up in the next few days: When I am done with the Wayback Machine, I think it is time to write the Top Ten Things I Love about Christmas in the Bay Area. There is a lot to love at the holidays, and after living here for 20 years, maybe it is time to give it its due.





Very cool image of Central Avenue in the 1950s-ish, at Christmastime was found here.