Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Sound And The (Visual) Fury

I found out something interesting about Gloria last week.

While we were at the neurologist's office, waiting for Eli's appointment (seriously--was that only six days ago?), I was having a difficult time. The waiting room was very crowded, and there was a baby that needed some kind testing that required her mother keeping her up for 24 hours straight (or more). This poor kid, of course, was screaming her head off.

There was a second kid, older, who had some sort of mental disability. Physically, he looked entirely normal, but he shouted and shrieked in a high-pitched voice that was incredibly unsettling.

"What's wrong with that kid?" Eli asked.

"I'm not sure," I said, "but this is a good example of why kids with mental disabilities get treated differently or get picked on. Sometimes they act in ways that make people uncomfortable, but it's not their fault--they can't control what they're doing. So think about that when you see someone with a disability that makes you want to avoid them. It's hard to live in a world where everyone avoids you."

Eli sat and thought about that for a little while, then they called him in for his ImPACT testing, which takes about 30 minutes. Gloria and I sat outside in the waiting room.

"I'll have a nervous breakdown by the time we get out of here," I said. "The noise is driving me crazy."

"Noises don't bother me," she said. "Visual things are what I can't stand."

"Oh, I know," I said. I put my phone down on the table next to us, then adjusted it a fraction until its edge was parallel with the table edge.

She laughed. She does this around the house, adjusting the angle or placement of objects with surgical precision.

I'm the complete opposite. I could walk into the living room with a bank of strobe lights going off, and I would never even notice. When it comes to visual things, I am generally detail-blind. My brain gives me just enough information (usually) to avoid running into things. Past that, I'm usually thinking about several things at once, and noticing my surroundings would just be a distraction.

We painted the living room a while back, and both Eli and I wanted yellow walls. And they look great--to us. To Gloria, though, it's a visual apocalypse, so much so that I've agreed to have those walls repainted. I know that I will rarely, if ever, notice the new color.

The one thing I do notice visually, which drives her crazy, is when she puts new things on the walls. I'm always half-kidding her that when she puts something new up, she has to take something else down.

This often does not go over well.

When it comes to sounds, though, I'm even more sensitive than she is visually. That's why the barking dog behind our back fence drives me insane. INSANE. It's why I wear noise-cancellation headphones at night to go to sleep. It's why I absolutely, positively cannot sleep in a room with a ticking clock.

Gloria likes to leave radios playing in different rooms of the house. There's something welcoming about it, to her. To me, though, it's noise.

I thought about this yesterday, and I wonder if these differences are determined by sex. Are men more sensitive to audio disruption, with women more sensitive to visual disruption? Or does it just vary by person?

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