One of the columnists I read regularly in the Chicago Tribune is Barbara Brotman. I enjoy her articles, but one from a few weeks ago brought me to tears. It was about a local Chicago woman named Marsha who is going deaf. She began slowly losing her hearing as a child, and now over age fifty, she is almost completely deaf. Even though Marsha has prepared herself for the inevitability of her situation, the loss of her hearing has been wrenching. With much dismay, she would observe people blasting music into their headphones, and wished they could understand how they were putting their hearing at risk. Marsha came up with an idea: Would it be possible to”hear” by seeing? She decided to find someone to photograph sounds she couldn’t hear anymore. The photographer she found wondered how this could be done. He had never seen or heard anything like it. But he thought that if he shot images in motion, one would remember the sound it made. For example, laundry flapping in the breeze, the strike of a match, a crackling fire, the hoot of an owl, or a dog shaking off water. When Marsha observes such images, her memory can picture the sound, even if she can no longer actually hear it. Then Marsha had another thought. If she could help other deaf people remember sound, then maybe she could also help hearing people treasure it. Marsha wrote a book proposal that was accepted, and now her “100 Sounds to See” is going to be published by HCI books in the fall. It will contain pictures of the sounds of everyday life, each described in a caption: the laughter of two sisters, the hum of bees, the sound of a nut being cracked, and a train whistle in the distance.
Since we are all foodies here, this incredible story turned my thoughts to the sounds of food. What would I miss listening to in the kitchen if I could no longer hear. Marsha mentioned the sound of a knife moving across a piece of toast as it is being buttered. I started making my own list. And then another. And then another. I couldn’t stop. There are thousands of sounds in a kitchen I would miss: eggs frying, popcorn popping, bacon sizzling, the whirr of a mixer, biting into a crisp cookie, peeling a potato, toast popping up, a steak put on a hot grill, chopping, the clang of pots and pans, or the crack of opening a fresh pea pod from the garden. I would love to hear what all of you would miss hearing in the kitchen. The list is endless, not just for food of course, but for everything in life.
As Barbara wrote so eloquently in her article, Marsha wants people to “listen to noise. Not the dramatic sounds of symphonies, but the soft, subtle ones that knit together in the song of life.” I cannot wait to buy this book. In the introduction of the book Marsha writes: “Now I ask you to listen to your world. Even just for a few moments, listen to your life.” I hear you, Marsha. Loud and clear.