Welcome back to Worldbuilding Wednesday! This time I figured that I’d talk about my heroine for Second Chances, Kimberly Hale. I think she’s a neat character and well, she has a lot more in common with me than most of my other characters do.
You see, she’s hard of hearing, just like me.
I know I’ve mentioned it once or twice but for those who don’t know or who missed it, I have a partial hearing loss. My left ear hears perfectly normally but I have an approximate 60% hearing loss in my right ear. It’s completely conductive, meaning that hearing aids would likely give me near-normal hearing, but I’ve never gotten a hearing aid. I’ve never even seriously considered it, frankly.
*grin* I can hear people asking why.
Well, basically, I don’t feel I need one. In general I function quite well despite not being able to locate sounds and hear people in loud places. My hearing loss doesn’t affect my job, driving, home life, or entertainment.
It does however directly affect my experience of the world. When I talk to someone I tend to pay closer attention to them than other people might. It can be exhausting, frankly. And I’m easily startled. Just like a person with one eye has a hard time with depth perception, I have only one ear and I have difficulty locating sounds. You really do need both ears to tell where something is coming from.
There are a thousand little ways that my hearing loss affects me each and every day. It’s inevitable, if largely invisible for other people. So when I decided to write Second Chances it felt very easy and yet very hard to give Kimberly the same hearing problems I have.
I rarely tell people in my daily life that I’m hard of hearing. It doesn’t seem like something they need to know unless they’re persistently speaking too quietly or the location is exceptionally noisy. I just adjust my life and actions to accomodate what I need. So writing a character who has my precise impairment felt a heck of a lot like exposing myself to the world.
Kimberly startles every time someone walks up behind her. I do that too. She doesn’t quite read lips but watching people’s faces is absolutely vital to making sure she understands what they say. Me, too. There’s a scene about 1/3 the way through the novel where Kimberly and her friend Tammy Dobson go to an art fair together. It’s held in a Grange and the music is very loud, uncomfortably loud for Tammy.
It washes into white noise for Kimberly.
That’s sensory overload and it’s something that I’ve experienced many times. The most memorable time it happened to me was a Kobo taiko drum show that my husband and I attended at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA. It was a glorious concert that we both enjoyed enormously but once the sound of the drums reached a certain decible level it was pure white noise. I might as well have been listening to a radio tuned between stations. My husband, on the other hand, heard every single note. Ever since then if I go to the movies or concerts I bring along earplugs. Paradoxically they work very well to dampen the loudest sounds enough that I can hear them without washing into white noise.
There’s more, of course. Ringing phones continue ringing in my and Kimberly’s ears, sometimes for hours or days. She has an adjustment to her environment that I dearly wish I could have: there are lights in each room of the Second Chances store that flash when someone opens the front door so that she’s less likely to be startled. When Kimberly turns on a radio she prefers softer, less jarring music like Classical over Western or Rock. You see, really loud music or excessively high pitched music can be painful when you’re hard of hearing.
I built Kimberly’s responses around my responses to the world. Sometimes when I read over what I’ve gotten done so far I feel kind of uncomfortable with that but I doubt that I’ll get rid of Kimberly’s hearing loss.
It’s so very rare that I see a character who has a hearing loss like mine. Or any sort of hearing loss for that matter. I love that Hawkeye from the Avenger movies and Marvel comics is written as hard of hearing. I wish there were more characters that I could see myself in this way.
So yes, Kimberly is very much like me in many ways, as uncomfortable and as wonderful as that is. I’m hopeful that as I continue writing I’ll be able to give more representation in the novel. Certainly I will in the subsequent novels I plan on writing once this one is done. I don’t know that I’ve done a perfect job with Kimberly’s hearing loss but, well, there is no such thing as perfection. Everyone’s experience of a disability is different and I chose to base Kimberly on myself.
I think that’s enough for today. I think next time I’ll talk about Kimberly’s store or maybe the setting for the majority of the story, the Old High Town district, because it’s based on an area in Kalispell, MT that I knew growing up.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this. Please do ask questions if you have any. I like sharing my world building but writing these takes time away from writing stories that I could publish. Thus, it would be greatly appreciated if you would consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these columns. Thank you very much!