Brief cyborg report and a new member of the family

I met with my audiologist last week, and she is positively thrilled with the progress that I've made with my implant. I can hear keys jingling (and they sound like keys jingling), the warning bells in my car, the click of the dog's nails on the floor, and a multitude of other sounds. I sat in the backseat of our car and was able to have a conversation with my husband while he drove. I haven't been able to do that in years.

Speech and communication are getting much, much better. To give you another idea of how my communication has improved: when my audiologist and I first met, her voice went entirely out of my hearing range. In order to discuss the results of my exam and my options, she had to pull up a word document and type everything she wanted to say for me. When we activated the implant, I could hear her voice, but we still had to rely on typing to make sure I understood everything she wanted me to do. On our last visit, the only time she had to type to me was when she turned my processor off to map it.

At this point, I have essentially gone from no ability to communicate with her to being able to hear and understand her words with visual cues (i.e. lip-reading). I still don't have a lot of speech discrimination without visual cues, but I am beginning to pick up random words here and there. My audiologist said to be patient--that word discrimination will come. Given everything else, I believe her.

I am doing listening exercises and working to distinguish sounds so that I can improve. And if I haven't said it often or loud enough: Dr. Eric Oliver, Carolyn Wilkinson, Au.D., and the staff at Wake Forest Baptist absolutely rock.

In other news

For those of you who have been following along, you know that last fall, we lost our boxer Bruce to cancer. He was a good dog and my husband missed him terribly--and even though I'm the cat person in the family, I missed Bruce too. So we decided to work with a boxer rescue group to find another dog.

Enter Dimie-girl.

Her official name with the rescue group was Diamond, but she doesn't answer to any name. Her last foster home called her Dimie-girl, and she seems to respond to the Di in Dimie ... sometimes. We're working with her.

Dimie is somewhere between three and five years old. Don't let the picture fool you, she is huge. Macavity seems to like her just fine, or as much as Macavity likes any dog, which is to say he hasn't started peeing on all of his favorite sleeping spots to keep her away. She isn't as bouncy as Bruce, which also makes Macavity happy, because bouncy dogs upset him, especially bouncy dogs that like to give him big licks on the side of his face.

Dimie is reticent, but she is slowly warming to her new environment. She still hasn't mastered the stairs. Unfortunately, she sometimes tends to get excited coming downstairs, and she slips. Unlike Bruce, who would catch his balance and keep coming, Dimie tends to freak out and she locks up. Her front legs shoot out in front of her and she essentially slides down the stairs on her belly. When this happens, it sounds like my house is falling down, the cat thinks she coming to kill him and hides behind the sofa. We run to see what happened to find Dimie standing at the bottom of the stairs somewhat stunned but in one piece. We're looking at getting some stair treads to help her with traction.

She seems a bit forlorn in the picture, but don't let that fool you. She has forgotten herself on a couple of occasions and acted happy. She is not a barker. She whines, so I get to practice distinguishing pitches based on her whines.

So ... say hi to Dimie.

On Writing

As for me, I spent some time this weekend tweaking the website. I wanted to start 2017 with a new look, and I'm happy with the new header and color scheme. It might not seem important to many of you, but for me, playing with pictures on the website is an outlet for my creativity that relaxes me.

Quite frankly, the last portion of 2016 and the first part of 2017 were a bad time for me emotionally. I had to force myself to write and often spent more time staring at the screen than actually writing.

Since my audiologist wants me to practice listening with visual cues, I decided to open a file and see if I could use my text-to-speech program in Word to edit what I'd written. For the first time in about five or six years, I could hear the words as the program read my text. Before I knew it, I was cleaning up clunky sentences and fixing logistics while practicing my listening.

Last night I opened the file, thinking I would just tweak a couple of sentences and then go to bed. I ended up writing for two hours.

I'm becoming more operational by the day, so let the world know: I'm back and I'm angry and there are stories to write ...

Book review: Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich

I usually don't review history books here, nor do I review books before I've finished them, but I made some comments on my Facebook page regarding Ullrich's biography of Hitler and the parallels of Trump's rise to power. People asked for more detail, but Facebook is somewhat limited in the scope of formatting quotes so here we are.

A caveat before we begin: this not a review in the usual context of a review, where I tell you about the book and whether I think the book is good or bad. I'll be overlapping my discussion of Hitler with Trump's rise to power. I have shut off comments, because this isn't really something I want to discuss; however if I don't get all of these thoughts out of my head, my brain might explode.

With that said ...

Historians watched the 2016 presidential election with horror, just as we are currently watching the political climate ... also in horror. We tried to warn family, friends, and associates, only to be ignored and castigated when anti-intellectuals derided us. Of course, this isn't the first time the 'intelligentsia' has come under attack because we didn't tell people what they wanted to hear.

Hitler's inferiority complex ... led him to excoriate "the so-called 'intelligentsia' who ... in their never-ending arrogance look down on everyone who hasn't been run through the obligatory schools and been pumped full of the necessary knowledge." [Ullrich, 82]

Trump doesn't like us either.

Frankly, 2016 was so wretched for me, I couldn't read any history from July through December. It was like watching a high-speed train wreck while clinging to the cowcatcher. From that perspective, I guess ignorance is bliss.

For those who don't know me, or missed the other eight hundred times I've talked about this, my father was fascinated by the events surrounding World War II. He was a child in the thirties and forties and lost a brother due to the war. His interest in history was infectious. I caught the bug and have been reading histories of World War II since my teens. Needless to say, I cut my teeth on biographies of Hitler and his entourage.

Like every other student of the era, I asked that enduring question: how did a man who was described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a "half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” rise to power?


Now we know.

And if you read Volker Ullrich's biography, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, you will begin to note conspicuous similarities between Hitler's and Trump's rise to power, both in socioeconomic terms and in their political rhetoric. Given that so many members of Trump's entourage, now known as his Cabinet, are affiliated with the Neo-Nazi movement in America, their understanding and blatant reproduction of Hitler's techniques comes as no surprise to anyone who has studied the Nazi movement in the thirties. The parallels are so striking that you can take sentences from Ullrich's biography, change "Hitler" to "Trump", "the Treaty of Versailles" to "NAFTA," and "Jews" to "Mexicans and Muslims" and be talking about precisely the same populist attitudes that led to the rise of each politician.

Ullrich promises in his introduction that his biography will 'normalize' Hitler; although, according to Ullrich, "this will not make him seem more ‘normal.' If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific." Thus far, I've found Ullrich to be a man of his word.

By juxtaposing passages from Mein Kampf with actual events, Ullrich destroys the myth of Hitler's meteoric political rise and brings it into context with the times. The mix of economic insecurity, the public's resistance to social change, and post-war trauma came together in the perfect storm to give Hitler the necessary ladder to work his way out of obscurity and into politics.

The circumstances at the time played into Hitler's hands, and he was more skillful and unscrupulous about using them than any of his rivals on the nationalist far right. [Ullrich, 92]

Hitler was an obscure figure on the political front until he joined the DAP (German Workers' Party), which he eventually molded into the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party). The DAP was a far right (alt. right in twenty-first century parlance) group of men with chauvinist-ethnic theories, who met periodically to discuss politics. When Hitler attended DAP meetings in the early twenties, the group consisted of a handful of members with no strong leadership, and Hitler saw a moment ripe for exploitation. It was also during his days with the DAP that Hitler discovered his talent for rhetoric and speaking.

Hitler was "someone seduced by himself," someone who was so inseparable from his words "that a measure of authenticity flowed over the audience even when he was telling obvious lies." [Ullrich, 97]

During his days as speaker for the DAP, Hitler cultivated his performances in the beer halls with live bands playing music prior to his events in order to rouse the people's spirits. He also had a deliberate habit of showing up a half hour late to raise the crowd's anticipation. The same format was used by Trump at his rallies with loud music and late appearances as Trump capitalized on the fragmentation of the Republican party during the 2016 election cycle. Trump could have learned the art of mastering a crowd from Hitler, whose events were said to combine "the spectacular elements of the circus and the grand opera with the uplifting elements of the circus and the grand opera with the uplifting ceremony of the church's liturgical ritual."

A master of the moment, Hitler played on Germans' widespread bitterness over the Treaty of Versailles in plain-spoken speeches ("plain-spoken speeches" can be translated to:"tells it like it is" for the twenty-first century crowd). He claimed the Treaty brought Germany to its knees and subjugated the nation to the whims of other countries just as Trump rails against NAFTA and NATO, claiming that both are out to constrict the will of the United States and its people through unfair trade agreements and treaties.

The receptivity of large masses is very limited. Their capacity to understand things is slight whereas their forgetfulness is great. --Hitler, Mein Kampf

From attacks on treaties, it was but a short step for Hitler to sow distrust among the people against their own government. He ranted against the democratic Weimar Republic by calling the representatives "a republic of scoundrels," a "Berlin Jew government," and a "criminal republic." He portrayed everyone, including Reich President Friedrich Ebert as "incompetent and corrupt." Likewise, Trump questioned the legitimacy of President Barack Obama's birth certificate, and thereby the legitimacy of his presidency, painted his political rivals as corrupt, and seized "lock her up" rants to fuel people's anger.

Effective propaganda must restrict itself to a handful of points, which it repeats as slogans as long as it takes for the dumbest member of the audience to get an idea of what they mean. --Hitler, Mein Kampf

Hitler [and Trump] repeated the message of politicians selling out the people ad nauseam, and the people in Germany in the early thirties bought it all hook, line, and sinker just as the people in America bought the same lines in 2016. Nuance was as non-existent then as it is now. Political rhetoric was driven by series of propaganda points. Hitler's speeches from 1920-22 attracted larger and larger audiences, because he kept hammering home mantra-like vows of revenge, accusations against politicians, and promises to fix everything.

Like Trump did in 2016.

I am about a quarter of the way into the biography, and I can assure you that Ullrich keeps his promise to horrify. Although at times, I'm not sure if I'm repelled by Hitler or by my internal comparisons to Trump. Either way, I'll continue to read ... even though we all know how Hitler's Reich ended. If nothing else, I'm looking for the sign of things to come in the hopes that we can somehow mitigate the damages.

In terms of the biography, I highly recommend Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939. It is an excellent starting point if you have never tried to read a Hitler biography. Ullrich is a journalist as well as a historian, and his journalist approach to the facts brings together large amounts of information in a very methodical and easy to read format. Don't be intimidated by the size. The actual biography is only 758 pages, the rest is Ullrich's extensive notes. It even has photographs for the anti-intellectual in your family who just wants picture books.

If you're into rating systems of stars: 5 out of 5 stars.

Cyborg report ... ghosting the disabled

Ghosting isn't just something that just happens online. Over the last few years, because of my hearing loss, many people in my social and professional life found communication with me so difficult, they simply stopped talking to me. Not everyone, by any means, but quite a few people found interactions clumsy, and I'm sure part of their discomfort came from not wanting to offend me through some inadvertent faux pas.

I'm not even sure if they were aware of the ghosting. These are all good people, and I don't for a moment believe that their intentions were malicious. However, their uncertainty paralyzed them and often led to inaction.

Of course communication is a two-way street. I didn't help matters, because I was so nervous about mishearing a conversation I rarely interacted with them. In many ways I ghosted myself.

My sense of isolation grew and turned into depression. I felt trapped within my circumstances and my job. I was desperate to escape the haunted house my body had become, so during the first part of the year, I ramped up my online communications, because at least here, I felt like I could talk to people and understand their responses. 

Then over the summer, my audiologist's office recommended I try a new captioning phone that enables me to answer the phone in my home as well as place outgoing calls. With that phone came a new taste of freedom. However, the face-to-face communication issues remained. I've worn hearing aids since my mid-twenties, and my current audiologist has been with me for over twenty-five years. He had nothing to help me and has been advocating a cochlear implant for a couple of years.

Meanwhile, our library director has a friend who had recently gotten a cochlear implant. Like me, this lady had zero percent speech discrimination prior to acquiring her implant. I wrote to her online early in the fall of 2016, and she graciously shared her experience with me. I took the first steps to see if I was a good candidate for the implant. I knew if I hesitated, I might never go forward with the surgery. One thing led to another, and then things cannonballed in good ways.

In just the two weeks since my implant has been activated, I have known a remarkable difference in how I am able to interact with other people. I don't catch every word, and mumblers are still to be feared, but I feel much more confident in face-to-face interactions.

Last week, a lady spelled her name out loud for me, and I managed to pull up her record on our computer system. Prior to the implant, I never could have accomplished that simple task. Right now, I still use a combination of lip-reading and visual cues, but I have interacted with cashiers in the grocery store and students on campus in ways that I have not been able to do in years.

While these incidents might seem insignificant to many, the confidence induced by these interactions has lifted me out of the depression that engulfed me in 2016. I feel more empowered to take control of my life.

I've got a long way to go in my hearing therapy and a lot of hurdles to surmount, but right now everything feels possible. That little bit of hope sustains me. I don't shy away from social interactions, and while I'm not always one hundred percent successful all of the time, each interaction allows me to test my progress and adapt myself to new circumstances.  I am hoping that as my self-confidence increases, then maybe others will feel more comfortable being around me.

And while all of this is a marvelous success story in the making, I still want to talk about the ghosting. This post isn't about blame, because I don't think a lot of people even realize they're doing it. I'm hoping that if I talk about my experience, others might recognize ways they can help their disabled friends.

Living with a disability of any sort is already daunting enough. When you have an invisible disability like a hearing impairment, people often make assumptions: that you're dumb, or you're obfuscating to create problems, or that you're ignoring people because you're a snob. Those assumptions take a life of their own and become labels.

Frustration is already high given the amount of daily obstacles that must be navigated, so what the able-bodied might see as a minor slight--the lack of closed captioning on a movie trailer, or a closed handicapped ramp, or signage without braille--the disabled person, who has spent years staring down obstacle after obstacle after obstacle, sees the final straw that breaks the camel's back. Frustration causes us to lash out, and while sometimes we're heard, often we are ignored, and that just increases our distress.

When I become frustrated and cry out, it's not about you. It's about my own feelings of helplessness. The same is true of many disabled people. We talk and talk and talk, and when no one listens, we scream. Not all of us are famous enough to be heard. So we shout and watch our words drown and when no one responds, we withdraw and become ghosts.

We tend to forget we're worthwhile. We live on the margins. Sometimes we become depressed and that causes us to withdraw even more. We become ghosts.

But there are a few exorcists among you, dear people in my computer. There are the podcasters who, although they knew I am deaf, invited me to be on their shows nonetheless. Even though most of the time, I've had to turn folks down, the fact that people thought to ask me didn't offend me. You made me feel included with something so simple as an invitation.

There are the well-intentioned friends who have listened to me when I become frustrated. Others have offered me solutions--some of which have worked and others I have known about. No matter if I've tried the same thing dozens of times without success, the fact that someone took time from their busy schedule to alert me tells me that you are kind. It truly is the thought that counts. Still others have championed my cause with something so effortless as an RT when I advocated for change. Those small kindnesses add up to daily dosages of hope, and hope keeps the ghosts at bay.

I can only speak for myself, but it's okay for you to acknowledge my disability. You may ask me questions. You may ask me how you can help me. I am not ashamed of my disability any more than I am ashamed of my hair color or my height. Being deaf is a part of me, and I'm delighted to teach you ways to keep myself and others from becoming ghosts, because take it from me: ghosts are unhappy creatures and isolation is no fun.

Cyborg report ... activation

This morning at 9:00 a.m., we activated my implant and programed my processor. Things are interesting right now. I think my brain has forgotten how certain noises are supposed to sound, so it's filling in the blanks with a ringing sound very similar to tinnitus. According to my audiologist, this is not unusual. Some people report hearing a wah-wah sound, others hear a very mechanical sound.

Me ... I get ringing.

For example, the dial tone on my phone sounds like an episode of severe tinnitus. If I listen hard, I can distinguish the buzzing of the dial tone from the ringing noise. Initially, typing gave me little spurts of ringing that is now turning into clicks. Speech is still difficult, because voices come with that annoying ringing.

Except for the ringing, people sound natural to me and so does music. I watched Flamenco, Flamenco on Netflix and I can hear the clapping and the softer taps ... guitars and pianos ... fingers snapping ... a woman's voice ... a sigh.

I heard my cat cry. There is a humming sound in my house ... maybe the refrigerator ... I'll figure it out.

I went for a walk on our nearby walking trail. I was reminded of Mark Lawrence talking about a young boy, who had just had his implant activated. He ran down the hospital halls, making noise to hear the sounds he could make. That was me on my walk today.

Today I heard leaves rustling in the wind, and the wind roaring through the trees. I heard the swish and crunch of leaves underfoot ... water rushing over stones ... leaves ... footsteps on the soft earth ... from somewhere nearby, a tractor ... the wind, rustling through the trees.

And ringing ... although I think the ringing was the sound of birds ... I can't remember how birds sound, but I might someday soon.

Cyborg report ... week 4: Movies watched

Cyborg report week 4: Watching movies, reading, and recuperating has been the name of the game, although I have once more begun writing in something akin to my old routine. In between, I have spent a great deal of time catching up on movies and various series that I've missed over the last year. Today's post will cover the movies, so here are a few that I've watched:

KURONEKO (Kaneto Shindo): In war-torn Japan, a mother and daughter-in-law are murdered by marauding samurai. They swear their souls to the spirits so they can have the power to return as ghosts and take their vengeance on all samurai--that is until the daughter-in-law's husband returns as a samurai. Rather than murder him, the daughter-in-law gives her soul to the spirits and descends into Hell for a chance to love her husband one more time.

Like Kurosawa, Shindo is the master of mood with gorgeously shot scenes and entire sequences where the emotion is conveyed without a word being spoken. My favorite scenes were when the daughter-in-law seduces the samurai in order to murder them. While she makes love to the men, the mother dances in the shadows. During the killing of random samurai, the mother's movements are sharp and decisive, her gaze is hard. But when the daughter-in-law seduces her son again, the mother's movements are sad and slow. It is a magnificent performance by Nobuko Otowa.

ONIBABA (Kaneto Shindo): More war-torn Japan for you, but where KURONEKO was a ghost story, ONIBABA is true horror. The film is set within wind-swept marshes in a remote location, where a mother and her daughter-in-law murder lost samurai for their armor. The pair dump the corpses down a deep, dark hole, and then sell the armor for grain. The story takes off when a bedraggled neighbor returns from the war and tells the daughter-in-law that her husband is dead. The neighbor then seduces the daughter, drawing her away from her mother-in-law, who cannot survive without the girl's help.

When people discuss horror, they rarely use the word lyrical, but I've found some of the most evocative and memorable horror has combined the power of poetry with dark symbolism. Shindo uses the rustling reeds to evoke everything from dread to erotica, and the emotional entanglement of the characters tightens like a noose in every scene. The supernatural aspects don't show up until late in the film, and rather than detract from the story, the ill-gotten demon mask is made more horrific by the mother's descent into madness.

NIGHT AND FOG (Alain Resnais): A thirty minute documentary, which was filmed ten years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, NIGHT AND FOG combines images from the overgrown camps with Nazi footage of the active camps. Resnais creates a poignant memorial to those who died while juxtaposing the past with the present as a warning to future generations.

RAN (Akira Kurosawa): This is one of my favorite Kurosawa movies, but not so much for the King Lear story trajectory. The true joy of RAN is Lady Kaede, played by Mieko Harada. She is not seen until about a quarter of the way into the movie, and then her role is small; however, as the plot progresses, Lady Kaede's role grows into a malignant flame that consumes everyone with her desire for revenge. She is patient as an adder and just as deadly. Her knowledge of human nature allows her to manipulate the men and achieve her goals. Mieko Harada is positively riveting in the role. The movie is a must-see for her performance alone.

KUNG FU PANDA 3 (Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh Nelson): Don't judge me. It was cute. I haven't seen the first two movies, so I can't really contrast them against the third, but KUNG FU PANDA 3 did have a few laugh out loud moments.