Bothering to remember people

Sophomore year of college, I went deaf in my right ear. Not completely—I have about 90% hearing loss. (It was from a mistreated ear infection—meds were for the vertigo, not the infection. Steroid treatment brought back the little I have. When it stopped working, the treatment ended, and that’s where it’s been for 24 years.)

When I’m in places that are noisy, I need to be to the right of the conversation so I can hear it. Being a passenger is better than being the driver. I sleep good side down. I can hold one ear during fire alarms—and particularly bad rehearsal moments—and always held the screaming baby on my right shoulder.

At some point along the way, I learned that we hear diction more prominently in our right ears than our left, which perhaps explains why I struggle so much in noisy places, on the phone, or just being on someone’s left side if it’s not completely quiet otherwise.

I think it also explains why I have had so much trouble picking up conversations in Spanish. Besides the rapid word delivery (and currently being out of practice), I just have trouble hearing the words. Some of that is lack of familiarity, of course, but I don’t remember having that much trouble when I was younger.

Of course, when I was younger, I was also learning German. Maybe it’s just the difference in the language. Or maybe I did have that much trouble and simply don’t remember it.

If I’m in a place where I can’t hear well enough to follow a conversation and can’t seek other conversation elsewhere, I usually just mentally check out. It’s really stressful to try to follow a conversation that I can’t hear well enough, and it compounds social anxiety.

I know that immersion is the best teacher for foreign language. I’ve downloaded podcasts to listen to in the car, but what I quickly learned about myself is: unless I’m working really hard, I employ the “can’t follow it” self-preservation technique and just tune it out.

(Does having it play in the background help?)

Beyond this, what I’ve noticed lately is that I’ve started paying less attention to other things. The checking out is spreading. A couple of times in recent weeks, I’ve run into someone who I had met and maybe had a conversation with a year or three ago. They knew me by name. I didn’t even remember faces.

Some of this was a result of my job. I started in this job five years ago and had 400 students on three campuses—with three sets of faculty. I’m just not that good with names, so my energy went to learning the kids. The next year, I had more students, less than 100 repeats from the previous year, and two new campuses. All name/face energy given to students (and a small handful of people I really needed to know on each campus). This year was the first year that I didn’t have any new campuses and only half of my students were new.

I’ve gotten in the habit of not even trying to remember people.

It’s time to check back in. I’m not entirely sure how to do that, but maybe just being cognizant of it is a sufficiently good start.

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