No, I haven’t gone deaf. Instead, I moved to China and my Mandarin level is still at WDYSAMM (What did you say about my mother?), so I mostly speak using my feet and legs. Unfortunately, my limbs are useless when it comes to my listening skills.
Like many other writers, I’m an introvert who enjoys listening to other people’s conversations, or at least, I remember enjoying that.
Buses, trains, and their stations are perfect locations for overhearing the conversations of strangers. I would listen and soak in every single detail of the story I was exposed to. Later on, if the conversation was moving enough, I would try to build some stories or conclusions from what I’ve heard and remembered. Some conversations had such a strong impact on me that they hugely influenced my writing and even ended up in my novel.
Listening to other people’s conversations was my drug. Now, I can’t do it anymore and I miss it badly. Even on rare occasions, when I spot a group of expats, I can’t hear them speaking because we bluntly stare at each other expecting the other person to greet us, just because we are foreigners. But, that doesn’t happen often, at least not in my case.
Many writers would suggest to go out and listen and observe. It always seemed trivial to me because that’s something I did naturally.
Now, when I’m unable to do it, I see the importance of observing. I guess that saying is true:
You’ll start to value something the moment you lose it.
My ability to read body language, facial expression, and intonation improved greatly, but they are useless without the meaning of the actual words; they’re just a piece of the puzzle.
Learning Mandarin would help me a lot, but that’s something I don’t have the time nor will for.
Cherish the ability to observe and listen. Go out, sit on a bench at the train station, or have a coffee at Starbucks and hunt for these stories just because you can.