The Evolution of Sound   Leave a comment

If you’ve ever heard someone speak rapidly in another language, it is  an
 exercise in learning inflections. The rise and fall of their
 intonations, the dull tones and light breaks between emotional
 outbursts, the flat replies of sarcasm, and the half-grin sounds of
 witty replies. These are all distinguishable in one way or another,
even if you can’t understand what they are saying.

For me, life in Japan has been like this evolution of sound. Things came 
all at once several months ago, a stream of unintelligible sounds and data that rocked my mind. When people spoke, it was a stream of sound, 
roaring like an unchecked river, uncollected and untamed, brutal to my
unaware mind. As time passed this roaring became a light trickle, and
every now and then, standing on the banks, I would see the riverbed 
beneath the stream, moving so slowly I could even reach in to pick out
some rocks. These breaks, or trickles, represented the moments my mind
 learned a few cultural tricks, or a bit of language that allowed me to
breathe easy.

Then there would come a moment of pain. A moment of frustration wrought by
 the inability to express myself to communicate with another adult, like the feeling of
 helplessness in a doctor’s office as he explains things in a stream of
 sound. They crash, they rage.

Eventually, I could hear words. The stream was no longer unintelligible. When 
people spoke, even rapidly, I could hear what they were saying. The 
meaning of course, was lost. But that rush, the sense of despair with the
 coming of the flood, was gone. On television commercials, in the train or 
walking on the street, I could hear snippets of conversation…





Even when people chat near me, I can hear what they are saying, though I am
 not at the point where I can understand everything. To previously escape this Japanese 
stream, I would wear headphones, hide in my apartment, and watch all 
the English media I could handle. My mind buckled under the pressure of my inability to understand what was around me. But 
now, it seems, I am starting to breathe. When the people around me
 talk, little lifebuoys pop up through the stream coming from their
 lips, little things I can hang on to as the days go by. I can use more
words and light expressions, and sometimes, in brief moments, there is
 no stream, and I am standing in an empty riverbed, with nothing but the 
smooth stones underneath to keep me company.

Maybe the day will come when I am in this riverbed all the time, when I will
need no lifebuoys to keep me up as I face the raging torrent that is 
the Japanese language. When that day comes, how will I breathe? how 
will I think? I do not know. But I can already see my feet, bare and
 damp, stepping on the smooth stones, feeling the slightest hint of dirt
 between my toes. I will smile.

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