Being Ecological | Ecological Being
(listen to the manifesto, read by the author)
Full of the usual equipment: auricles, ossicles, vestibules, auditory and semicircular canals, tympanic membranes, eustachian tubes, cochleas.
Right ear: full of dead nerves, very little sound, very low ranges. Label: profoundly deaf.
Left ear: full of dead nerves, but not as many. Full of mid- and lower-range sounds, but softer, sometimes further away. Label: severely deaf.
Left ear: also full of a hearing aid and its mold, case, algorithms, processor, directional mics, Bluetooth. Full of amplification.
Hearing: mono, unless right ear is also full of an ancillary aid that gathers sound and transmits it around head to other aid, where it is processed and all fed into the left ear and then to the brain..
Diaphragm, lungs, thorax, trachea, larynx, pharynx, glottis, tongue, jaw, lips, hard palate, teeth. All the tiny, twitching muscles that make the sounds for y and t.
But let’s call all of that voice.
Southern cadence but not much Southern accent. Much working class cussing.
Little to no deaf accent, depending on levels of tiredness or drunkenness. Then voice slurs.
Voice had speech therapy every day for six years.
Voice went to state speech therapist, school speech therapist, special ed room.
Voice is soft, but I experience myself as loud since I am always speaking directly into the mic.
Voice passes. Voice has passing privilege.
Voice is vital, since brain and hands do not sign.
Also full of the usual equipment: tibia, fibula, talus.
Right ankle: unremarkable.
Left ankle: bonus 16 screws and 2 titanium plates.
Left ankle: does not contain cartilage
Left ankle, label: advanced degenerative arthritis
Left ankle: locus of chronic pain.
Left ankle: Lives its life. Catches on its hinges from time to time. Can’t navigate uneven ground. Needs to rest every twenty minutes. Banned from weight bearing exercise. Loves the pool.
Left ankle: occasionally full of cortisone deposited in between the bones in a five-minute injection from a very long needle. The feeling is tidal, like water pressuring its way between tight stones.
Left ankle: has its own wardrobe of braces, all black. Comes with ancillary cane for right hand, both as support and as signal to others that this body moves slowly.
Prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, hypothalamus, pituitary gland, amygdala, hippocampus.
All in surprisingly good working order, considering that the doctors thought meningitis would leave me blind and mentally disabled in addition to deaf. Eyes see, albeit myopically.
Auditory cortex works hard.
Brain doesn’t receive all the words said and especially not all the words said in a large room. Brain does fill-in-the-blank puzzles all day long. Reverse-engineers meaning in real time.
Brain can do puzzles for a couple of hours. Then listening fatigue. Then headache. Then migraine. Then ocular migraine.
Brain needs listening breaks between every single goddamn meeting.
Brain also needs 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Sometimes 12. If sleep is insufficient, then brain starts triaging. Voice slurs, body falls down.
The ankle bone connects to the brain bone. Chronic pain shorts out processing capacity.
Brain needs 500 – 1000 mg of prescription strength naproxen daily. And an ankle brace if we go out.
Since the pandemic started, brain does not go out. Does not go campus, to store, to concerts. Does not travel.
Brain is plastic, like all good brains.
Brain likes the word neuroplasticity. It imagines itself as silly putty, as Plastic Man, as saltwater taffy. As an agile ninja climbing stalks of bamboo.
But under certain conditions, the neuroplastic brain eats itself. All that agility repurposes parts that aren’t working so much, gets them busy doing something else.
In pandemic isolation, brain listens less. Can’t listen so long anymore. Around an hour, a little more. Works harder that it should to parse accents.
What brain loses, brain hopes it can rebuild. But when. But how. But how long will it take.
Ears, voice, ankle, brain.
But people see ears. The ears are the metonymy.
My elfin ears, that people comment on.
My deaf ears, which nobody comments on.
My impossible ears.
My ears, filled with pressure
My ears, filled with ciprofloxacin ear drops
My ears, filled with plugs
My ears, filled with tubes
My ear, its hearing aid covered in tiny stickers
My ear, its hearing aid made of translucent purple plastic
My ear, its hearing aid made of clear plastic, to be a better cyborg
My ears, pierced, bedazzled, now with extra holes
My ears, with cheap earrings
My ears, filled with peroxide and cotton swabs.
My ears, suddenly visible from a haircut
My ears, shadowed like moss
My ears, sunburned
My hidden deafness
My obvious deafness
My curious deafness
My inconvenient deafness
My convenient deafness
My selective deafness
My feminine deafness
My ornery deafness
My rude deafness
My oblivious deafness
My sexy, sexy deafness
My animalistic deafness
My early deafness
My incurable deafness
My normal, everyday deafness
My deafness is a Rube Goldberg machine.
No, my deafness is an ecosystem and my deafness lives in ecosystems.
A storm gathers in the west, in the Rockies
Blows across the plains,
across the Great Lakes, their muskies and pikes and walleyes, their sunken ships
To Syracuse, where the snow starts in great flakes
The barometric pressure drops
Tendons, ligaments, scar tissues expand and contract
Fluid thickens and stiffens, sending the ankle into an arthritis flare
And neurotransmitters flow up my spinal cord
The somatosensory cortex, the frontal cortex, the limbic system all start to jitterbug,
Getting busy with pain, getting down with pain, tipping over the edge, rioting
Which shorts out out synapses
Which shuts down language processing
And your voice becomes foggier, recedes into the woods
While I choose the wrong words and slur just a little
Because in this particular, peculiar body
A westerly wind and some missing ankle cartilage make me deafer on any given winter day.
About the Author
Krista Kennedy, PhD., is a writer, teacher, photographer, and cook. They are the author of a book and numerous articles on rhetorics of technology, artificial intelligence, data ethics, and deafness. They are also interested in the ways we construct our relationships with technologies, whether contemporary or historical. Kennedy is Associate Professor of Writing & Rhetoric as well as a core faculty member in the Autonomous Systems Policy Institute at Syracuse University, and was recently NEH Distinguished Visiting Professor of Writing & Rhetoric at Colgate University.