By Melissa Amster
**Giveaway is now closed**
I found "Listening Closely: A Journey to Bilateral Hearing" on LibraryThing as part of an early reviewers request list. It is a memoir of a woman who lost her hearing at a young age and then got bilateral cochlear implants. I was immediately intrigued, as I have a son who wears a cochlear implant and I was awaiting a hearing test for my daughter. I found the woman on Facebook and contacted her. I was equally fascinated by what she had to say and enjoyed e-mailing with her. This remarkable woman is Arlene Romoff, president of the Hearing Loss Association of New Jersey. She's here to tell you lovely listeners about her experiences with hearing loss and cochlear implants and how they have shaped her life and the way she views the world. I'm interested in reading her book for personal reasons, but also because it sounds amazing and eye-opening for anyone who has never been in Arlene's shoes.
And here's your chance to read it, as Donna Spurlock of Charlesbridge is giving away five copies of "Listening Closely" to some lucky readers in the US.
To learn more about Arlene, visit her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out her blog.
How did you decide to write a book about your experiences with hearing loss and receiving cochlear implants?
I could probably write another book answering this question! When I started to lose my hearing in my late teen years, it was a bewildering experience – that even a mild to moderate hearing loss could impact my life so much. I decided that if I was going to lose my hearing, at least something good should come of it. That’s why I became active in advocacy for people with hearing loss, and that’s also been the rationale for writing about my hearing loss and cochlear implant experiences – essentially to make people understand hearing loss and what a miracle cochlear implants are, allowing the deaf to hear. People found my first book, "Hear Again – Back to Life with a Cochlear Implant," very helpful - so helpful, in fact, that I was often asked when I was going to write a second book. Ten years later, when I knew I would be pursuing bilateral cochlear implants, I began to write again – the objective, once again, was to shine light on hearing loss in a way that people could relate to: walking along with me on this journey.
Like with Alice Eve Cohen's memoir ("What I Thought I Knew"), the Jewish high holidays and spirituality also feature prominently for you when it comes to your hearing loss and implantation. Please elaborate on this.
I could write another book about this subject, too – and I may! There is a spiritual component that runs through "Listening Closely" – I don’t focus on it because I wanted the book to resonate with people of all beliefs. But there were many “coincidences” during my hearing loss journey – occurrences that were “too perfect” or “ironic” to ignore – that always seemed to alert me to “pay attention, Arlene!” For example, my second cochlear implant was activated between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so I heard the final shofar blast with two ears on Yom Kippur – definitely a “pay attention” moment! There are other spiritual connections to be discovered in the book if one is looking for them, but for readers who may not share this perspective, the book is still about the wonder of being returned to a world of sound.
What was the first recognizable sound you heard after being hooked up with your implants?
My husband came to the activation of my cochlear implants, so his voice was the first sound I heard. Beyond that, it’s always about the little things that people with normal hearing take for granted – like the directional signal, or footsteps, or keys jingling. Any particular sound isn’t that significant – it’s that the world has
come alive again.
Did getting implants have any social ramifications between yourself and others who chose not to get implants (or those who are rooted in the Deaf culture)?
Ahh – the Deaf culture question. There are people who are born deaf whose main communication mode is sign language, and can only communicate directly with other sign language users. Usually, they’ve never heard a significant amount of sound, so don’t really know what they’re missing - but they cherish their ability to communicate within their Deaf community. I can empathize with that basic human need to communicate with other human beings. In contrast, I grew up with normal hearing, and didn’t know anyone who used sign language, so I naturally wanted to communicate once again with my friends and family, and the larger hearing world. Even though I, too, am deaf, I function as a hearing person and need an interpreter to communicate with sign language users.
There are also people who could benefit from cochlear implants, but have chosen not to get them. I’ve found that they usually don’t know enough about them, and also don’t realize how much they are missing. I’ve heard from many people who have told me that my books gave them the information and courage to move forward and get a cochlear implant. It’s interesting how well people with hearing loss can relate to one another – and that includes children and teenagers, too.
How closely does the implant sound compare with what you heard before you lost your hearing?
Most hearing people want to know that and the answer is that cochlear implants do usually sound normal – eventually. At first, there is an adaptation period, as the brain and nerves get used to being stimulated and figure out how to process the sound coming in. Hearing with cochlear implants is a “brain thing,” and the brain eventually makes sense of the information it is being given.
What was your journey to publishing like?
“Journey” is a good word! While I was working on this second book, I began showing my writing to some audiologists and colleagues, to make sure that it was technically accurate, and also to gain some emotional support as my journey progressed. I received emphatic encouragement to “please keep writing!” Evidently, what I was describing – what I call “on beyond the testing booth” – was giving important perspectives to these professionals, to the extent that they felt it was important new information that needed to be heard. From there, it gained the attention of the publisher who had handled the distribution of my first book – and the rest, as they say, is history.
If someone were to write an autobiography about a powerful experience of their own, what would be your advice?
Find your own voice – and then find a point of view. Make notes, not just about events, but about your thoughts and emotions. Then start connecting the dots until there’s not just a story, but a reason for it to be told.
Do you have plans to write any more books? If so, who would be your intended audience?
I sense that my latest book will somehow lead me to another topic to write about. I don’t know what that is yet! Part of the process is interacting with my book fans – it is so invigorating to know that people want to read what I write. If there’s another book in me, it will find the page eventually.
What is the strangest question you've received regarding your cochlear implant?
One person wanted to know why I didn’t just learn sign language instead of getting a cochlear implant. This may not sound so “strange” to a hearing person, but it was shocking to me that this person did not understand the enormous limitations of deafness that sign language can’t possibly address. I told her to try to imagine getting through her day without hearing or understanding the people she was going to encounter – and also be attuned to how much she relied on sound cues to function. Hearing loss is the most misunderstood of disabilities, and its impact is typically underestimated.
Do you have any vacations planned for this summer or the rest of this year? If so, where to?
I’m planning to do some book presentations and book signings – and while that’s not exactly a vacation, it is an adventure – seeing new places, meeting new people, sharing ideas, and always taking pictures! I’m assembling a picture gallery of book fans holding "Listening Closely," and I can’t wait to add more!
Thanks again to Arlene for speaking with us about her experiences and to Donna from Charlesbridge for providing the books for the giveaway.
How to win "Listening Closely":
Please comment below with your e-mail address.
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Bonus entries (can be listed all in one post):
1. Please tell us: If you were to lose your hearing tomorrow, what sounds would you miss the most?
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US only. Giveaway ends June 19th at midnight EST.
More by Arlene Romoff: