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On Auditory Processing Disorder 
30th-Apr-2004 04:10 am

(Update: I guess this provides the best context. Read the entry and at least the first six comments. And maybe also the NYT article, except I'm sure it's behind the pay wall by now.)

I'm replying to this comment.

It's not that bad.

The hearing test suggestion came from certain college roommates of mine who were heavily into Firesign Theatre and other such things. One night we had gotten back from seeing "Catch 22", this being about a week or two after seeing a Tom Stoppard play...

... and at some point in the discussion I made the mistake of revealing that this sort of thing really doesn't do a whole lot for me. That is, yes, the play/movie/skit in question was quite funny in places, but overall it was almost completely incoherent. So much stuff happening at once and it's all a confused mess, and I really didn't see why people are holding this forth as some kind of masterpiece.

My roommates were suitably aghast. How could I not recognize that "Catch 22" was, of course, the most brilliant piece of cinema of the 20th century? And I was like, "Look, it made no sense. Which is to be expected since they're telling the story from the point of view of a guy who's going insane. I mean, I guess that's the point. War is hell and all that."

Which they thought was a completely trite summary; which perhaps it was.

But then they proceeded to explain all of the various scenes. What exactly was going on in the bomber ("Pilot to bombadier. Wait, I am the bombadier.") Who that woman was in scene 23 who came at Yossarian with the knife and why. And no, Yossarian wasn't going insane; his putting the rubber boat in the water at the end was the only rational thing he could do, because of the other guy who had made it to Sweden that way ("What other guy who ...? Oh right, I'd forgotten about him..."). And about 27 other things that I had totally missed. And it wasn't just a matter of my not having read the book beforehand, because, of course, neither had they.

The Tom Stoppard play ("The Real Thing") was even worse. At no point did I have any idea what it was about. It didn't help that the dialog was going at around 90,000 words/minute. If at any point you lose the thread of it, well, too bad for you. Usually in such a situation, I can still get a reasonably vague outline of what's going on, but here I was hopelessly adrift.

Even with really basic questions like who the characters were, what was motivating them, I was just losing:
"No X and Y weren't married. X and Z were married. Y was married to W.... Oh wait, you were probably thinking of the first scene."
"Yeah, X and Y looked pretty definitely married in the first scene. Problem is, I couldn't quite figure out what happened after that. Where they broke up and why..."
"Oh.... um.... that first scene was play-within-a-play."
"They were acting. It was a performance."
"You didn't catch that? Well it was kinda subtle, I suppose. I mean they're sitting at a table and then there's a picture of an identical table on the wall behind them, and you're supposed to get the idea from that."
"Well gosh, that would have been useful to know."
Apparently this should have been completely obvious and there were 20,000 other cues that I'd missed. Not surprisingly, because I had built up from that first scene a completely wrong model of what all of the various relationships between the characters were, nothing in the subsequent scenes made sense, and so it all fell apart.

As for the Firesign Theatre, they're just plain psychotic. I'll readily admit that they can be screamingly funny in places (Richard Nixon smoking dope: "Gee I could use a 20 pound bag of Oreo cookies right now"). But then they start playing all of their games with the tape loops and whatever other compression methods were available back in 1974... all for the sake of making absolutely certain that there are no less than eight things going on at any given time and not a single second of dead air anywhere in their final product, because of course that would mean that they've failed or something.

"And really it's quite strange that you keep missing all of this stuff. Have you thought about getting your hearing checked?"

Even after I came back the next day with the quote from the technician ("I have never seen scores like this. Your hearing is perfect") they remained unconvinced; clearly there was something wrong with me.

* * *
I actually did at one point rent "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" just to see if maybe it was just that one play where Stoppard was doing some kind of dodgy experiment in postmodern storytelling. But, no, it seems all of his stuff is like this. Every character speaks in fluent Machine Gun.

Even knowing the story of Hamlet fairly well courtesy of the high school English class in which we spent however many weeks tearing it apart, recognizing at least some of the various references, and having the VCR controls in hand so that I could stop, repeat, play at half-speed, or whatever, and I was still, "So what actually is the point here? Hamlet from R&G's point of view. I got that part. Now what?" Yes, there are some funny scenes but it seems like the basic message is, "I can fit in five times as many words and allusions as anyone else, and if you can't keep up, you must be a fucking moron."

Except this is apparently deemed to be brilliant wit, or something.
Or maybe nobody wants to admit that they're not keeping up.

* * *
I've always been aware that dealing with stuff in real time (the "thinking on your feet" attribute that is so highly valued in some quarters) has never been one of my strong points. Still I have trouble thinking of it as being anything more as a matter of people having their various strengths and weaknesses.

Consider one of the aforementioned roommates. We were in a lot of the same math and physics classes together. And as time went on and things got more advanced, the more time he'd spend off in the library doing the various problem sets. Huge amounts of time. I'll grant that the Fine Hall library was certainly a nice, quiet place to get stuff done. And to be sure, some of the problems were quite difficult.

But there was something more going on here, and somewhere along the way we finally got to talking about it. He was, in fact, rather puzzled that I seemed to be getting the same problem sets done just fine even though I hardly spent any time in the library at all --- I suppose I tended to put more of a value on changes of scenery, sometimes working in my room, or the computer center, or the basement of 1903 Hall, or wherever I happened to feel like it...

Turns out, in his way of doing things, if you don't know enough to solve a particular physics problem, what you're supposed to do is go through the reference books, read up on everthing in sight, see what folks like Fermi and Dirac have to say about it, follow the chain of bibliographies,... you know... do research. Enough of this and something will eventually lead you to the crucial insight you need.

And he'd apparently do incredible amounts of reading to try to get the right angle on a given problem. Which suited him, because he's one of these people who puts Evelyn Wood to shame ... remembers Every Last Fucking Word --- I was suitably astounded when, half-way through our junior year, he would recall the exact words of a completely inconsequential conversation we'd had from orientation week, two and a half years earlier.

I'm sure when he finally got to law school he completely terrorized the other students.

So here he is describing his methodology ... ... and I'm like, waitaminnit, why do you need to do this? This is a physics class. Everything you need to know about the problem is in the chapter we just read. All you have to do is sit there and think about it long enough and you'll eventually get it. That's sort of the point of how these textbooks are structured. I mean, yeah, these are rather difficult and for some problems I might indeed spend up to an hour or so staring at the wall before I finally got to the eureka moment, but....

... at which point he's just sort of picking his jaw off the floor, "You mean you just do them?"

* * *
To be fair, his way of doing things has certain advantages once you get past the point where everything is spelled out in textbooks --- to say nothing of what happens when you switch from math or physics or theoretical computer science to the more applied realms where the sorts of problems you can solve by staring at the wall without too much reference to what everybody else has done about them come up somewhat less often.

And he did go on to become a Rhodes scholar, UofChicago law school, and now has way the hell more of a career than I do, whereas I only managed to get to Cambridge and needed to bail after merely 8 years at Microsoft.

So I dunno quite who "wins" this.

But the notion that there's some kind of "cure" or treatment for either one of us I find quite absurd, though maybe that's just me being set in my ways...

30th-Apr-2004 08:46 am (UTC)
Are you extremely introverted? For instance, did you ever take the long form version of Myers-Briggs, do you recall what your I score was?
30th-Apr-2004 03:30 pm (UTC)
Are you extremely introverted?
I think I can safely say "yes" to that without needing to take any test.
30th-Apr-2004 09:18 pm (UTC)
Except that the "introvert-extrovert" may not mean what you think:

Introverts think best by themselves by processing ideas in their own minds. They can be tired out by too much contact with other people.

Extroverts, on the other hand, are usually energized by being with other people and often think best if they can discuss their ideas.
1st-May-2004 08:51 am (UTC)
Well, there's a huge spectrum of introversion. But some of the things you mention are common for extremely introverted people.
30th-Apr-2004 08:57 am (UTC)
I have some kind of weird hearing thing too -- I always need the TV turned up louder than everyone else, and if someone's talking while facing away from me, or in another room, I can HEAR them just fine, but I can't UNDERSTAND a fucking word. It's really frustrating for people sometimes because they essentially need to be looking me in the eye from not very far away to guarantee that I'll understand them. When I first started noticing this, I was paranoid that I was losing my hearing, so I went to have it checked, and I got the same results you did -- "Your hearing ability is off the charts. There is nothing wrong with your ears."

Then, about three years ago, I remembered the occupational therapy I'd had to have as a kid. I was born with a cerebellar defect that left me with truly awful hand-eye co-ordination and what they call "sensory integration", and my kinesthetic sense was either wildly inaccurate or else totally absent. One of the problems they'd spent a long time on with me was the problem of "finding objects on a cluttered ground," i.e. Where's Waldo type of games. I'm really bad at it. I was SO bad at it as a child that it would frustrate me to the point of tears. And I remembered that it was not a problem with my vision, it was definitely a neurological problem. So my guess is that I have the same problem with my ears as I do with my eyes. (Ironically, my vision is also extremely good -- 20/15 in one eye, 20/12 in the other.)
30th-Apr-2004 10:25 am (UTC)
and if someone's talking while facing away from me, or in another room, I can HEAR them just fine, but I can't UNDERSTAND a fucking word.

You too? Wow.

I have a hard time understanding song lyrics in rock music, too, though I think that's more a diction thing on the singer's part.
30th-Apr-2004 02:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, R. never seems to know what the lyrics are. He had a tape and we were listening to it fairly early on and I'm thinking "yeah, these guys sing some wonderful harmonies, but, um, it's all about how fabulous Jesus is, I didn't think he was all that religious"--that apparently hadn't quite blipped over the screen of his consciousness. Which is fine, it doesn't have to be all about the words, but then he doesn't get it when I sometimes listen to stuff that pretty much IS all about the words.
30th-Apr-2004 05:46 pm (UTC)
actually I've now decided that REM has the right approach to lyrics.

They have something there that fills in the space in your brain where you expect to hear lyrics, but there's no actual content there so you're not missing anything by not paying attention to it.
30th-Apr-2004 05:42 pm (UTC)
I used to think it was a diction thing, but then I see other people picking out the words right off and I go "buh?".

I'll also grant that I have a somewhat out-of-the-mainstream view on this in that I consider lyrics to be poetry, not music. Which is not to say that lyrics can't be an art form, they most certainly are by any reasonable definition of the term...

...but if you're going to ask me what I think about the music then you're clearly can't be talking about the lyrics.
30th-Apr-2004 06:55 pm (UTC)
which then leads to me saying things like "Rap isn't actually music", or more precisely, "the musical content of Rap is pretty much nil,"

which tends to piss some people off.
30th-Apr-2004 09:50 am (UTC) - Catch "22"
It is an incoherent mess of sorts as a book as well, and I would imagine much more so in a movie.
What makes it that way is that it is not told in sequence and if you don't know that ahead of time I can see where the movie would be absolutely confusing. Joseph Heller actually wrote in sequence then decided to mix the chapter order up. Which works great in a book as you have time to sit and slowly figure out what goes where. It also did a good job of starting at the point of well all these guys are bit off then letting you figure out what it is that made them that way. I actually enjoyed the book a lot, yes Yossarian was the sane one for trying to get away. The girl who tried to stab him is a hooker who got pissed at him or something and went over the edge and was trying to kill him but that backstory probably got dropped from the film.

As far as R&G are Dead I enjoyed it. But then to my ADD tilted head I like the quick cuts and rapid dialog. I got that it was more than Hamlet from their point of view. The opening of them riding and not knowing the past and the constant 'heads' had me wondering a lot. They are already dead and are in a purgatory of sorts. The players the then encouter and the coin finally lands 'tails' give them a chance to see the hows and whys of their death but they still don't seem to get it at the end though.
30th-Apr-2004 05:32 pm (UTC) - Re: Catch "22"
The weird thing is, I actually like movies with complex, unorthodox plots, where there are lots of seemingly inconsequential tidbits being tossed at you, out of order, that turn out to be utterly crucial later.

Classic examples to me would be "The Usual Suspects" or "The Sixth Sense". And I loved both of those films.

The difference, I think, is that in the latter cases the director kept the pacing under control, so that even though there's a lot happening, everything you need to see, you actually get a chance to see so that when the denoument comes and stuff gets pulled together, it's really all quite obvious what's going on and should have been all along, except that it wasn't.

And that, to me, is the mark of a master filmmaker/screenwriter, i.e., when someone can pull that off.

30th-Apr-2004 05:59 pm (UTC) - Re: Catch "22"
Well I have yet to actuall SEE Catch 22.
I did love Memento which is a movie you have to absolutely pay attention to in order to figure which story line is going which way in time.
I haven't seen 'The Sixth Sense' but from what I heard from cow-orkers I was thinking "Wait... The ending suprised you when had all these clues you were talking about just now, any of which would have given it away for me." But then again maybe I have seen too many B films and can pick up on those sort of things pretty easily now.
30th-Apr-2004 06:52 pm (UTC) - Re: Catch "22"
I'll also note that this was 23 years ago. It's possible that my opinion of the movie would be quite different were I to see it again today --- some combination of going in knowing what to expect and my verbal-overload threshold perhaps being a bit higher now than it was then.
30th-Apr-2004 10:51 am (UTC)
I had somewhat the same reaction to Firesign Theater (impossibly dense, only about 20% of it got through) but I figured that more and more would become clear with repeated listening. Most music is that way for me-- in fact the stuff I get the first time often tends to bore me after a while, but my favorite stuff ends up being the music that made me go "huh?" at first. But my Firesign tapes were stolen from my car in Berkeley before I got a chance to listen more than once...

I saw Firesign Theater live in Seattle once, though, and it sucked. You only get once chance to listen, and we were in the nosebleed seats so it was hard to hear even the parts where only one person was talking. Most of the crowd loved it, but I figured they were just the type of fans to have memorized everything already (although there was some clearly new material too).
30th-Apr-2004 05:15 pm (UTC)
to be fair, they do produce their records with the intent that they'll be listened to over and over.

And also to be fair, I'm a big Wagner fan, and no way would I ever expect anyone to show up off the street, see Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, etc... and pick up on everything that's going on, musically or otherwise. Figure the guy spent 20 years writing it all; you're just not going to.

On the other hand the opera folks (or at least the non-snooty ones) are pretty good about things like providing subtitles, program guides, etc... so even the firstimer won't be totally lost.

I guess what bugs me is with something like a theatre play --- and a lot of modern theatre seems to be like this; I don't see this anywhere near as much in movies --- where you have something that essentially is a one-off production where you really are expected to be able to take it all in the first time. And then they hit you with the firehose.
12th-Jul-2004 07:14 pm (UTC) - OMG
I wondered down here from looking up the update on Emma's appendicitis (get well soon!)
I'm now trying to pick up my jaw from the floor as I have just read about *me* in your post.
I'm also ADD, I've been diagnosed for about a year and barely starting to deal with it...but this...this auditory stuff sure sounds like a description of me...
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