I will be the first to admit that I have selective hearing. It is a survival tactic that everyone has to some degree or another. Think about it – all the people around you – each going about their lives and talking – all that chatter soon fades into a buzzing drone of background noise, not unlike the muzak that is played in the thousands of stores across the country. You never notice the music’s presence unless the song that they are playing is incredibly annoying. Ditto with your fellow human beings.
My selective hearing is always “on” when I run rehearsals – which surprises many people. After all – a group of people working together and you are in charge of blending their skills. Think about it from my side. You’re in charge of twenty or more people. Each one of these people has a different opinion on what we are doing and what we should be working on. Each one of them wants to be heard. Each one of them wants to be acknowledged for their contribution. Add to the mix, a director with their own opinions (which are important cause they are paying you), the administrative team’s problems and the technical staff’s issues and that’s a lot of people talking. I learned long ago that if you listened to everyone and tried to please everyone – you’d slowly begin to loose your mind. Solution? Only listen to those whose opinions count with you. Now you can’t just go up to the others and say, “Your opinion doesn’t count so don’t talk to me.” Although I have walked into a rehearsal or a classroom and banned the entire group from either A: asking any questions, or B: using my name (Debbie this, and Debbie that, over and over). Most of the time, for the peace of the group, it’s better to come up with some acknowledgement to the people that you are not listening to. I nod my head and mutter “Uh huh, uh huh.” The person that is talking at me feels that I am listening, I’m understanding what they are telling me and best of all – that I am agreeing with them. They are pleased – they go away and I can continue working. It works.
I also have selective hearing when I’m focusing on dancers. Yes – I can walk and talk at the same time but let me be clear in this world of multitasking – I cannot focus on what you are saying to me and focus on someone else at the same time. Not 100% and that’s why I’m good at what I do – I focus 100%. Talk to me later, talk to me after I have finished my job. If I say “Uh huh” to you – it means I’m not listening. Come back later when we both have time.
One day in the middle of rehearsal, Cecilia came up to me and said, “I just took a bottle of sleeping pills so I’m going to go home to go to sleep.” I nodded and said, “Uh huh.” Cecilia left. Five minutes later I stopped in the middle of what I was doing. I blinked in confusion. What Cecilia had told me had just now entered my conscious brain. Did I hear her right? Was I imagining things? “Where’s Cecilia?” I asked one of the dancers. “She said she was going home,” she replied. “Oh my god!” I exclaimed running out of the rehearsal hall, “She’s taken an overdose of sleeping pills. We have to find her.” To make a long story short – Cecilia had not taken an overdose of sleeping pills but she was beginning a long period of threatened suicide attempts. Cecilia’s life had not been an easy one. She had been a fabulous and powerful dancer at one time. Then she had a serious accident, which left her paralyzed, and in a hospital for a year, attached to one of those flipping beds which immobilize the body. Her back did heal but never to the point where she could dance at the same level that she had once achieved. To make matters worse, her husband left her during her hospitalization period. Cecilia was still a good dancer but she had her good days and she had many more bad days when movement was painful. Now her life centered around teaching, being unable to keep up with the rigors of continual training and performing. She couldn’t let go of the past. She couldn’t accept her new life. She wanted to kill herself and end her misery.
Now that Cecilia had gotten my attention, my hearing was attuned to her suicide threats. Every time she threatened to kill herself, I reacted, dropped everything I was doing at the time and made sure that she didn’t harm herself. After a month, the whole routine was getting tiresome and old. I had reached my breaking point. I called Cecilia into my office and when she sat down, I opened my desk drawer and pulled out a small package of straight edge razors. I put them down on the desk in front of her. “Cecilia,” I said to her, “I don’t have time to go chasing after you every time you want to kill yourself. If you really want to do this – let’s do it now. I promise that I will stay with you and hold you to the end.” Cecilia looked at the razors and then looked at me and burst into tears. She didn’t want to kill herself. She just wanted help. She wanted all the pain of her past to go away. Cecilia’s road to recovery took some time but with the help of a lot of good friends around her (including myself), she began to embrace life again and to appreciate the contribution that she was making in present daytime. An unhappy postscript to this story. Cecilia moved to another city to teach in one of the better dance schools. I visited her and her joy at her new job was evident. She had a bounce in her step and the woman couldn’t stop smiling. Life was finally good. A month later she had another accident. She fell in her bathtub, was knocked unconscious and drown in the tub’s water. Her body was brought back for burial. It was one of the saddest funerals that I have ever attended. She had finally emerged from the darkness only to leave this world before she had the opportunity to experience all of life’s delights.