Monday, October 28, 2013

Evenings with an Author: Gerald Shea at The American Library in Paris

The American Library in Paris presents Gerald Shea this Tuesday October 29, 2013 at 19:30.

Shea, a lawyer who has lived and worked in both Paris and New York, will speak about his memoir,
Song without Words: Discovering my Deafness Halfway Through Life. Like Helen Keller, he lost much of his hearing to scarlet fever when he was 6 but only discovered and was given an actual diagnosis at the age of 34. (Shea devotes a chapter to Helen Keller in his memoir.)

In an interview with Caroline Leavitt (novelist, screenwriter, writing instructor for UCLA's Extension Writer's Program and Stanford online), Shea beautifully describes life before and after his diagnosis:

"As my world grew quieter, losing high frequency sounds but keeping many lows, I wasn't conscious of it, and thought that everyone else heard words as I did, but was much faster at understanding them than I was. I have always been, I think, a happy person, and became, instinctively, an excellent lipreader. When I didn't understand, which happened often, I would laugh, or change the subject, or even sing. Music and laughter take you a long way. So I always had lots of friends, though as a child I had my angels and saints too, as I write in the book, whose voices, of my own creation, of course, were beautifully clear to me. 

"When I was finally diagnosed at age 34, at Columbia P&S, and Dr. Chang fully explained what was wrong, I was devastated. I thought back, immediately, during the seconds and minutes after I fully grasped what my life had been, to all that I had lost: the words, the ideas, the opportunities: all that lost time as Proust put it in writing of memories. And yet, I always thought, still do, that I have, and have had, a full life.

     The most moving element of my discovery, as I write in the book, was that day out in the country when I rediscovered the sounds of nature, the crickets, heavenly crickets, and the birds, the rainfall, the footsteps, the breaths, the wind, the water, the merry bubble and joy of my life as a young child. They are like Proust's madeleines, except they had been absent for almost three decades. They were a remembrance of things past, and on that day and thereafter, beautifully, miraculously it seemed, present again." 

(Being one who also suffers hearing loss, I truly wish I could hear Shea speak on the subject and on his memoir (no pun intended.) I strongly relate to his discussion of hearing things other than what was spoken and of how very much is missed. I sometimes describe hearing loss as being able to hear the sound of the voices but what is said comes across as a foreign language with nothing actually being internalized. Or of hearing things completely different than what was expressed.  I frequently go home from events, lectures, author readings trying to calculate what percentage I actually heard. If someone who knows and loves me is sitting next to me through the event, they are frequently subjected to missing segments while being asked to repeat what was just said. Without meaning to, we daily and repeatedly test the patience and stamina of our loved ones. Most people who know me have figured out that if I've just smiled and nodded but not answered their question, it's because I didn't hear it. If not, they simply think I'm being rude.)

Since I can't be there, I will definitely be reading his book.

If you're in Paris, go hear Gerald Shea at The American Library in Paris tomorrow night.

(Excerpt via CarolineLeavittefille blog with Caroline's permission)

American Library in Paris  is located at:

10, rue du General Camou
(Just off the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower)
75007 Paris, France
• Tel. +33 (0)1 53 59 12 60

Tues-Sat: 10h-19h, Sun: 13h-19h.


  1. This sounds like a wonderful book and reading it myself might help me better understand some of what my mom went through. She lost hearing in one ear due to Scarlet Fever when she was a child -- I'm not sure how old. Her other ear was fine so we would always cater to that one. And one was always aware of the lipreading! He sounds like a remarkable man.

    As I get older, I notice changes in my hearing -- not huge but enough to miss things here and there, saying "What was that?" more than I wish. I suppose it comes with the territory. But I know what you mean about the smiling...!

  2. I have wondered what sense that I could live without. I don't know. What a loss it would be without music. My husband is very hard of hearing and so is my daughter, from too many bouts with ear infections as a babe. Mine, too, is slipping away. Guess age takes many things from us. Sounds like a great lecture to attend.

  3. I love what you read and how bookish you are. Just sayin'...


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