In my twenties, I was a typist for a novelist who not only had the misfortune to suffer from severe carpel tunnel, but was also profoundly deaf. The deafness had contributed to her divorce, and she holed in up in her parents’ summer house in rural Vermont. Once a professional musician, she cleaned houses before landing a teaching job and turning to writing children’s literature to make a living.
Sitting side by side with me, she dictated her novel.
One morning, an unfamiliar alarm rang out in her study, so piercingly loud I instinctively bent over. I heard nothing but that sound. Fearing it was a fire alarm, I stood up, panicked. Then I saw the novelist, sitting in her chair, was mystified by my actions. She was entirely oblivious to the noise. To her, that alarm didn’t exist.
A red flashing light on her computer power surge system warned that the power had gone out. I shut down her computer. I explained what had happened. Then I stood there, rattled — both from the physical shock and from my glimpse into her immense silence.
Here’s a line from Susan Orlean’s The Library Book:
… oh my God… do you think there are any conservative librarians?