Well, why didn’t they just SAY so?

People need to talk so others can understand
People need to explain things so others can understand

When I was a little kid, I had trouble hearing. I could pick up a full range of volume just fine, according to the tests they gave me, but I had a hard time distinguishing between sounds.

“S” sounded like “F” and the soft “TH” to me.

“B” sounded like “V” to me.

Unless I saw a word written out, it was sometimes hard for me to understand precisely what was meant. Based on what I heard, it could have meant anything, really.

I was also a very literal child, who didn’t “get” the whole slang thing. That 1970s song “Convoy”, which was an extended conversation between truckers using their trucking slang, was pretty interesting for me to listen to. I had all sorts of unusual ideas about what exactly was going on there, and when my mother asked me if I knew what the song was about, I said, “Sure! It’s about truckers going bear hunting!”

She gave me a strange look that made me think I was probably wrong — and sure enough, the “hunting bear” reference was really about truckers doing battle with the highway patrol.

I also had a lot of disagreements about what people were talking about and what they were saying to me. I got my letters mixed up, because they all sounded the same to me, and I made up my own (stubborn) mind about what words should be used — and how.

I remember one time I had a pitched battle with my mother, who told me that the name of one of my school friends was “Valerie” — with a “V”.  I heard “Balerie” — with a “B”. Never in my life had I heard her name pronounced with a “V” sound, so being the stubborn kid I was, I argued for quite some time and got very, very angry, that my mother had it wrong.

She kept repeating “Valerie… Valerie… Valerie”, drawing a “V” in the air with her finger, and I got angrier and angrier.

Because that wasn’t what I experienced. It wasn’t what I heard.

I also had trouble pronouncing words. I had a “lisp” when I was little, partly because I didn’t realize you had to form “F”, “TH” (the soft one), and “S” differently with your mouth. I thought they were all the same sound, so I picked the one that was the easiest for me to tolerate.

Part of the issue was that I had trouble with my ears — they were so hyper-acute, the sound of an “S” literally hurt them. It was painful to pronounce “S”, so I tried to soften it, like a “TH”. And of course, that was wrong, so I was in speech therapy for some time, to try to correct it.

That was rough. They took me out of my regular classes, and not only was everyone staring at me, but then they walked me through the halls of the massive school that seemed so cavernous and vast to me. I could never remember how to get there, and I got lost a number of times. People got upset with me, because apparently it was easy to get to the speech therapist’s office. Easy for everyone else. I got turned around and couldn’t find my way. And the speech therapist had to keep coming to my classroom to show me the way.

So, I figured I must be an idiot.  Such a simple thing … and it was so hard for me. There must have been something really wrong with me.

I also couldn’t makethe sounds right. The speech therapist kept trying to get me to sound out the sounds, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tell that there was a difference between them, and try as I might, I couldn’t make the connection between what they were telling me to say, and what I could/did say. It all sounded the same to me, and nobody explained to me the way to shape the sounds in my mouth, so I could say them correctly.

After some time trying to work with me, the speech therapist gave up. They may have suspected I just wasn’t trying. Or they couldn’t justify spending any more time with me, because I wasn’t making any progress. They may have also believed I was deliberately being difficult.

There were a lot of things that were pretty challenging for me, which I “should” have been able to do. But I couldn’t. And nobody seemed to know how to help me.

What really would have helped, is if someone had just told me that you shape words different ways with your mouth. Everybody seemed to take for granted, that everyone knows that. But looking at someone’s mouth from a distance, you cannot see the position of their tongue or their teeth or even the subtle differences in their lips. “B” looked pretty much like “V” to me. And even though “TH”, “S”, and “F” look different from a distance, I could not tell the difference in the sounds, so I could never tell if I was saying it correctly.

So, I went with the sound that was the least painful — the “TH”.

Eventually, it dawned on me that sounds were shaped differently, and if I just formed them properly, even if it didn’t sound right to me, others would get it. I have no idea if I reached this conclusion myself, or if it finally sank in, after I was on my own and the lessons of the speech therapist finally sank in with me. I used to think I figured it out by myself, but now I think it could have been a delayed realization.

In retrospect, it would have been really helpful, if someone had just sat me down and explained to me slowly and carefully, in very clear and logical terms, that words and sounds were produced with certain positions of lips, tongue, and teeth. And have me practice making those sounds with my mouth. Even if I couldn’t hear the sounds properly, I could know that I was forming the words correctly, so others would understand me. Even if I didn’t get it, at least someone would. And 1 out of 2 is better than 0 for 2.

Then again, they may have tried. But I was a tough case. I had trouble paying attention. If people didn’t explain to me why we were doing something, I lost interest. I was also overwhelmed and stressed from the walk to the speech therapist’s office, so that made it hard to concentrate. Plus, I didn’t know why I wasn’t getting it. I just didn’t know. And neither did they, apparently.

The whole speech and articulation thing just messed with my head when I was little — to the point that I started hyper-articulating things, and I became pretty OCD about making sure I was pronouncing words exactly right. It’s one of the reasons I can pronounce foreign words pretty well and also simulate a non-English accent pretty well. I get extremely nervous if I don’t pronounce something right. It’s a visceral reaction to past bad experiences, I guess.

As a kid, I had so many failed interactions, thanks to my speech and comprehension difficulties. On my first day at kindergarten, I couldn’t articulate to the teachers what my address was, so they couldn’t put me on the right bus. And after my first day of school, ever, when my mother was waiting at the bus stop, her firstborn was nowhere to be found. The school called to tell her they were giving me a ride home, but my mother almost lost it when I didn’t get off the bus.

I had lots of trouble with kids at school, too. I tried to talk, but I couldn’t seem to make myself understood. I felt like I was babbling into the wind, and it might have sounded that way to them, too.

Ultimately, when I could read books, I turned to them for company. That was enough. It was more than enough for me. Books didn’t make fun of me, they didn’t look at me strangely, they didn’t correct me, they didn’t test me to see if I got it. They were just there, waiting to impart their knowledge. Of course they never told me how to pronounce the big words that I found there (I thought rendezvous was pronounced renn-dezz-vus, until my dad told me otherwise), but then, that never mattered, because I had the meaning in my head.

I swear, I really don’t know what is up with people who can’t be direct and just come right out and tell people what the deal is. Hinting around and intimating makes me nuts.  It drove me nuts as a kid, and it still does today.

If I’m messing up, just tell me. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to deal with, when you have direct information, rather than trying to “go easy” on me. Easy is hard. Direct is simpler.

Don’t make me guess — just tell me what the deal is.

And then I’ll deal.

Long days, quiet days, better days

It’s all out there

So, I’ve had a bunch of pretty intense days, and I’ve had a couple of quiet days. Today feels better than things felt a couple of weeks ago, largely because I’ve actually been making some progress, without being constantly interrupted by everyone around me. I’ve removed myself from the middle of the “mosh pit” of the “open collaborative space” and taken up residence in a room on the other side of the building… or I’ve had my headphones on and ignored everyone around me… or I’ve stayed pretty late, just knocking out the mindless tasks that are so unbelievably tedious, yet have to be done.

I’ve also had an interview with a recruiter that went really well, and I’m supposed to have a call with a hiring manager tomorrow. My job search is off to a raring start — this is the first position that I’ve explored, and it actually looks promising. I have my reservations, and I certainly don’t want to just go with the first thing that comes along. I need some points of reference. At the same time, though, if this is a good thing and if it looks like a good fit for everyone (especially me), then I’d be kind of dense to not go for it.

And that gives me hope. Because that wave of clarity that came over me the other day is really paying off. And the direction I’m going, work-wise, is so very energizing for me. It’s like I’ve gotten a fresh new lease on life, a boost, a shot of energy. Just by doing what I love to do, and what I’ve been doing for close to 20 years. How excellent is that.

In the midst of all the activity, in the midst of all the changes, the one thing I need to remember — perhaps above all — is to replenish my supplies. I feel like I have to work so much harder and put so much more effort into even the simplest things, so I don’t screw them up, that I run out of energy sooner, and I get really depleted. I think it’s a combination of TBI-induced distractability and hyper-sensitivity, as well as operating at a higher level in general, than I have in the past. I really have had a tremendous run of advancement, over the past two years, but that has come at a price, and I haven’t fully adjusted to the intensified demands on my system.  My life has become significantly more complex, but I haven’t invested as much time as I might have in developing the habits and rituals that will support me the way I need to be supported. Yes, I have been very diligent about eating breakfast and taking my vitamins, but my exercise has been uneven at best, unpredictable and lackadaisical at worst, and my eating habits after breakfast have left a lot to be desired… especially in the evening when I’ve gotten in the habit of eating a large dinner late at night. I don’t live in Spain, where they typically eat after 9 p.m. It makes no sense for me to be living like this.

I think one of the biggest shifts I need to make, is actually taking my progress seriously. It’s weird — when your brain is unpredictable, and things are constantly taking you by surprise (for one reason or another), you tend to think that success and good fortune are more about luck than preparation and hard work. At least, I tend to think that. Oh, I know there’s a lot of prep work and elbow-grease that needs to go into any successful endeavor. I think I believe that a lot more than many people around me (who seem to think that “working smart not hard”, and/or simulating success will suffice). But at the same time there’s always this thought in the back of my mind that no matter how hard I work to prepare and develop my prospects, something can blind-side me and take it all away – or point me in a completely new and different direction that just doesn’t fit me at all.

Like with this job situation — when I started, things were great and I felt like I was home. It was a small-ish company that had a lot of the qualities that I was looking for in an employer. But then things changed dramatically in ways that were wholly out of my hands, out of my control. And I — like so many others — was forced to adapt to something that showed up on our doorstep and wasn’t going away. It’s that kind of thing — the unknown, the unanticipated, the unexpected — that happens to me all the time. To the point where it seems pretty useless to come up with fancy plans and work to make them happen.

‘Cause stuff always comes up.

But what was I saying… oh, yes — in working on my life and working towards my goals, I tend not to make much of my work and my progress. At least, not in my mind. I tend to play down my progress and not really appreciate how much I’ve accomplished, and how much I’ve changed not only my life, but the lives of those around me. Maybe it’s just well-informed humility that keeps me from getting cocky and thinking “Yeah, I’ve got this,” when I know full well that at any time, something could happen to dramatically change it all and trash what I’ve worked so hard to create. It’s happened before, and I always expect it to happen again. It’s a fine line I have to walk, a careful balance I have to keep, between confidence and realism, between optimism and pragmatism. I know that life brings constant change for us all. But in my mind, it often feels so disruptive, so troubling, so pernicious… and I feel so helpless. My literal mind gets stuck in a certain way of thinking and being that — let’s be honest — will never be 100% correct and true. But getting out of that mindset is like trying to extract myself from quicksand.

So, life tends to do the job for me. It throws me curveballs and it ambushes me. It makes things really, really interesting for me… and trashing my assumptions and presumptions on a regular basis. No matter how attached I get to certain ideas, certain situations, something usually happens to trash it, and I have to either start from scratch or make some real adjustments to my attitude and approach, just to keep up.

It’s just life, of course. Tell that to my literal, inflexible brain. It doesn’t deal well with change, which is ironic because there has been so much radical change in my life over the years.  Sometimes the biggest challenge is often not only dealing with the unexpected, but dealing with my mindset and attitude about all this unexpected stuff. And it’s a constant exercise.

Like so many other kinds of exercise, the harder I work, the more I need to rest and feed myself. I’ve discovered — yet again (it’s like that movie “Groundhog Day” inside my head sometimes) — that in order to keep up the blistering pace of just living my life, I need to feed myself — body, mind, and spirit — as well as get plenty of rest. It’s no good when I’m depleted. I’m no good when I’m depleted. And I need to take my work and my efforts seriously enough to really rebuild after all the pushing and striving and change.

After all, building muscle is not just about stressing your body. It’s mostly about recovery and proper nutrition. And in a figurative sense, I haven’t been giving myself enough of that — downtime, rest time, replenishment.

So, that being said, I’m going back to my reading — The Winner’s Bible, for starters. I’m reading it while I ride my exercise bike in the morning, and it’s already having a positive impact. There are some other books I’ve checked out, that look really promising as well — books that emphasize pacing yourself, building in recovery, and really constructing a whole “success ecosystem” around yourself.

It’s good. And it’s helping.

So, that being said, it’s time to get on with my day. I’m just focusing on what’s in front of me, these days, giving my best to the various efforts I’m undertaking and not getting too far ahead of myself. I’ve effectively let go of all my attachment to the job I’m in now. There’s really no future in it for me, and I’m finding the future elsewhere. I’ve got excellent prospects; I don’t have to stay in this situation any longer than I feel like it. And I’ve got a whole wide world in front of me, waiting to be explored. Things are good. Life is good. And I can give myself some credit for all the work I’ve done, all the progress I’ve made — both personally and professionally. It hasn’t been a fluke – it’s been a ton of hard work… much harder work than a lot of people I know are willing to do. And I can be proud of that — while remembering that change is the one constant in life, and I really can’t take anything for granted. I have to keep working and growing and exploring. And I have to give myself ample time to recover and relax and rebuild.

It’s a fine line, this. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.