Destiny is Corny

When I was in the 8th grade, my friend Jeff Cooper, told me about a book during a Boy Scouts camping trip… it was called J-Pod, he said, it’s a funny book about a bunch of video game developers who smoke weed and build a hugging machine. “You should check it out, you’d probably like it a lot. It’s by Douglas Coupland.”

When I was in Middle School, I was the walking embodiment of listless… which is to say, I didn’t walk much at all. Outside of Boy Scouts, I didn’t participate in many extracurricular activities—unless you count playing World of Warcraft as an activity (I do, but…)—I was starved for attention, getting it, of course, but also giving it. I previously blogged about my hearing loss (undiagnosed at the time) and how it impacted me during school. While it’s safe to say that its impact was mostly negative, one rather fortuitous positive benefit was that I read. A lot. It’s where I directed my attention. I didn’t read the books assigned to me in class because it was already the most frustrating part of my day and the source of a lot of failure; attempting to keep up via acing homework seemed fruitless. I had the school-wide record for Homework Incompletion Slips.

Until Jeff told me about J-Pod, had you asked me who my favorite author was, I probably would have (somewhat unfortunately) have said Orson Scott Card, who’s Ender/Ender’s Shadow series of books were a continual source of inspiration for me. (Later, once my hearing loss was finally diagnosed, the Ender’s Shadow series took on a whole new meaning as I was drawn to characters with disabilities, real or imagined.) If I was feeling particularly precarious, I might have said William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which I had, at that point, never completed, but “loved” because the aesthetics I understood were cool and I knew that it had inspired some of my favorite movies and TV shows. I also might have said Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, a series of comics my dad would buy me in exchange for reading books on the reading list he made me… books like Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

This changed shortly after my dad took me to the local Barnes and Noble and I picked out my first Douglas Coupland novel. They didn’t have J-Pod, but I was drawn to another title, All Families are Psychotic. I read it in maybe a day… it was everything a young boy could want: profane, “adult,” truly funny, edgy, surprisingly accessible, deep. From the moment I finished it, Douglas Coupland was my favorite author and that was my favorite book… until I picked up J-Pod online… then that was my favorite book… then it was Girlfriend in a Coma… then it was Eleanor Rigby… then it was Hey Nostradamus!… and then it was Life After God.

The impact that Douglas Coupland had on my life cannot be understated. It’s always somewhat cheesy to say “so-and-so author saved me” or “such-and-such piece of media saved my life” but in this case, I honestly think the statement is somewhat literally true (which has, in turn, caused me to really believe people when they talk about someone or something in the same trope-y way). As I grew older, the funny and edgy qualities that drew me to his work fell out of the forefront of my mind and I realized that his novels were truly deep and had much to say about contemporary culture, loneliness, and spirituality. That’s a story for another blog post… though, frankly, it might be good enough to try and get published.

Jeff, always brilliant, went on to work at Google and now lives in Pittsburgh. We fell out of contact quite some time ago. His impact, however, has stuck with me… ask me today who my favorite author is and I will still tell you that it’s Douglas Coupland. Through a series of pleasant circumstances that, I can truly say, felt like the hand of God pushing me towards a goal, I found myself being selected to present a paper at the first Douglas Coupland Conference and sit on the “Aesthetics” panel, chaired by Andrew Tate. I have told many of the attendees and all of the organizers that being able to simply be there was a dream come true… but to be honest, had you told me, a C student in the 8th grade, that I would one day be at an academic conference presenting my work to a bunch of scholars all of present to celebrate the work of Douglas Coupland: I’d have never believed you nor would I have dare dreamed it.

So, although I’ve said it many times now, I want to say again, in remembrance of 8th grade me: thank you all, meeting you was a pleasure, the conference was a joy, it really was a dream come true.

Notes on My Hearing Loss

I have “Profound High-Frequency Sensorineural Hearing-Loss,” a mouthful of a diagnosis that simultaneously sounds more severe (all those words!) and less severe (it’s not total deafness) than what the disability truly entails. Our ears perceive sound, lots of sounds, some on a high-frequency, and some on a low-frequency. High-frequency sounds are typically your consonants, particularly: “s,” “f,” and “sh.” If someone has high-frequency hearing loss, speech will sound less intelligible, more muffled… but the individual’s perception of volume remains unaffected, which results in a somewhat frustrating day-to-day experience. This kind of hearing loss is common amongst people who’ve experienced noise-induced hearing loss and can naturally occur as a result of old age.

My experience with this diagnosis and my path towards getting one is odd. I was diagnosed late—in my Freshman year of High School—and Dr.s and Audiologists I’ve had presume that it is either congenital or occurred when I was quite young. I’ve been told that the specific pattern of my hearing-loss, the line-graph that charts the sounds you can/can’t hear during a hearing test, is consistent with individuals who survived childhood cancer. I’ve never had cancer. Every five years or so I try to make a point to pin down how my hearing-loss occurred and open up a new avenue of inquiry but the result is always the same: I’m told it’s a mystery.

I don’t like mysteries. I like knowing things. I’m one of those people who, if growing impatient, will google the ending of a movie if I can’t figure out where it’s going. Performing a personal exegesis always seems like an exercise in futility, I mean really, how much of a person can be truly adequately explained? But I’d venture to guess that my particular distaste for the unknown stems from my experiences as a child growing up with an undiagnosed hearing disability. Back then, I was constantly unknowingly mishearing speech (my perception of volume was of course fine). This resulted in a heightened level of paranoia and a belief that people were constantly talking unintelligibly around me to either make fun of me or keep secrets from me… which in turn led to me having more than a fair share of panic attacks… and caused me to act out in ways that were, in retrospect, quite embarrassing. Upon receiving my diagnosis and receiving hearing aids, this problem became near-nonexistent. With my hearing aids, I can hear. I can know things. Nearly fifteen years later and I still haven’t really gotten over that joy.

But I can’t know my disabilities origin. At this point in my life I think I’ve come to terms with that. After all, does the specific origin truly matter? It would not change the diagnosis, the prognosis, or the course of treatment. With my hearing aids, life opened up, my schoolwork improved, and I’ve been able to participate in so many activities that, during my youth, were near-impossible: I got to go to parties, have conversations at restaurants, attend conferences—which, I wouldn’t have done as a kid regardless, but man those things are loud—and am no longer a paranoid ball of nerves. I’m working to gain a newfound love of mystery and wonder… which starts, I’m sure, with putting the phone down during movies and lettings answers come when they may.