Our guest today is Barbara Rogan, author of eight novels, most recently A Dangerous Fiction (Viking/Penguin), and co-author of two nonfiction works. Her books have been translated into half a dozen languages, featured by major book clubs, and optioned for film. After working as an editor at Fawcett Books, she founded and ran her own literary agency. She has taught fiction writing at Hofstra University and SUNY Farmingdale and currently teaches online at www.NextLevelWorkshop.com.
Writers eavesdrop, fiction writers especially. They have to. Eavesdropping serves a dual purpose, keeping writers in touch with the ever-evolving vernacular while providing field study in human nature. That’s why my recent diagnosis of “mild hearing impairment” gave rise to an existential crisis and, eventually, this essay.
The issue will affect every writer who lives long enough. Yet it’s rarely discussed in polite company, maybe because hearing loss is emblematic of the real taboo: encroaching old age. My essay begins with an appreciation of eavesdropping, then segues into the Forbidden Zone to consider the drawbacks and the benefits of WWO (Writing While Old), a topic I feel all too well qualified to explore.
Speak Up, I’m Eavesdropping
I put it off as long as I could. Covered up, as people do; smiled and nodded. Finally I gave in and went to an audiologist.
She sat me in a booth and covered my head with large earphones. I could see her through the window, taking notes. If there was a period of silence, I watched her face for clues. It was a test, after all; I wanted to do well.
Afterward, we went over the results. “Mild hearing loss,” she said cheerfully. “Comes with age. You probably don’t even notice it except when you’re trying to have a conversation somewhere noisy.”
I didn’t mind so much about conversations. One can always shout. But noisy public places are prime eavesdropping territory, and for a writer, that matters terribly.