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How I Learned to Embrace My Quirks

I'd like to believe I'm not alone in possessing quirks that can both unsettle and enlighten me.

My peculiarities seem to revolve around sounds made by people – not all sounds and not all people, but a particular few that I never consciously chose.

I first noticed this when I was ten, seated at our lunch table on Cameron Street in Regina, Canada – I experienced intense stress watching my father eat. The discomfort was unbearable, and the experience persisted throughout my adult life. However, I uncovered a solution – sitting beside him, rather than across from him, granted me the ability to manage.

Regrettably, this experience of unease isn't exclusive to my father; it extends to many others and seemingly chooses randomly among strangers and those who are part of my life. Unhelpfully, the quirk selected my wife to be among the chosen numbers. Let me quickly qualify – she eats gracefully and elegantly! Nonetheless, if I hear her eating in my left ear, stress surges. Yet, when she's on my right, it’s not so bad. If she was present, she would be quick to say that in fact, if I hear her eating anywhere within observation distance, and I am not eating, I go all fidgety, bouncing my knee, pacing, etc. I could add more granularity, but enough said.

Then came gum chewing, an irritation initiated by my mother and later extended to my wife as well as most other women and some men. Witnessing them chew gum exasperates me. In our marriage, the matter escalated to a point where we had a conversation to unearth our respective triggers and agree to `cease and desist`. My wife revealed that she felt annoyance when I cracked my knuckles. So, a deal was struck not to do the `annoying deed` in each

other presence. While this arrangement generally quelled the issue, the occasional deliberate gum chewing from my wife still irks me. Gum chewing triggers a prickliness that sets my skin tingling and my mind spiraling. Weird, huh?

Then there's slurping. Yeah, the slurping that is commonly heard in Japan.

Living in Japan, I've become accustomed to the tradition of slurping ramen, soba, udon etc. And it appears to me that the `slurper` believes in the notion that the louder, the better! I initially found it exasperating, but eventually realized that it's a cultural norm, and is the method by which to cool the steaming hot noodles. Upon that discovery, my distress when

hearing the slurping, lessened. UNLESS a foreigner joins the slurping chorus! “They should know better,” I am shouting silently to myself. Oh, and what drives me mad and causes me almost to pass out with exasperation is when ANYONE slurps spaghetti, NOOOOO! You can’t do that! The mere thought makes me prickly.

And the most recent example, of a sound from the mouth that not only irritates, I think it is the same for most, but also a fear that it will not stop, is snoring!

Snoring is a universally irritating habit, I know. However, given what you've learned about my idiosyncrasies so far, you'll maybe understand how serious of an issue this is for me.

As I write this, it's 3:58 a.m. and I've woken on a ferry, one hour away from the port. 2 weeks ago, I evacuated the island where my boat is moored due to a typhoon, and I am now returning via an overnight ferry ride. I love night-time boat journeys, particularly when I'm not the one at the helm! I sleep peacefully and relish the opportunity

Japanese ferries are particularly pleasing to me, primarily due to their affordability, as the cheapest ticket includes a narrow futon on an expansive tatami mat shared with numerous others. I claimed ‘mat/blanket’ number 46, which I guess means there are at least 45 other people already in the ‘sleeping room’. Although a small wall separates individual `faces`, the rest of the personal space remains open, making it easy to wake up accidentally ‘spooning’

your neighbor.

It was full and I should have anticipated the worst.


The lights dimmed at 9:30 pm, four hours after we departed from port, and I settled in for a restful night's sleep.

Initially, silence enveloped the room, but then the symphony began – first one, then two, and then more. Coping with those from the far side of the room would have been manageable, given my lifelong habit of wearing earplugs, but when the guy next to me started I realized I had to do something. Short of stuffing socks in people's mouths or perhaps less extremely, jumping overboard, I would stop at nothing to shut out the noise.

I mentioned that I sleep with earplugs. I started using them as a youngster when our family lived in a trailer. Earplugs gave me the sense of privacy I wanted and shielded me from the night-time noises of my siblings and parents.

But on this occasion, they did not do the trick. No matter how far I shoved them in and even resorted to soaking them in saliva, they failed to dim the abhorrent sounds coming from others, who deep in my irritated soul, I knew were conspiring to rob me of sleep.

My remedy was to resort to my phone’s playlist. To my dismay, however, I discovered I had only one playlist, and on that one playlist, a solitary song, and no hope to download more as we were well out of internet range. The one song turned out to be Elvis Presley's rendition of "Where Could I Go But to the Lord." I had to decide. Which is the lesser of two annoyances… the chorus of snorers or hearing Elvis sing over and over and over the same song all night long.

I decided to give Elvis a go.

Happily, my concern of a `looping` Elvis was unfounded. In fact, the opposite happened. The song not only effectively drowned out the snores, but to my surprise, its soothing cadence led me to drift in and out of sleep, in a rhythm that seemed in harmony with the ship’s movement forging ahead through gentle waves.

With each repetition of the three-and-a-half-minute song (I figure using simple maths, Elvis sang that song nearly a hundred times for me during the night) I came to quite enjoy every note, bar, chord change, and of course Elvis`s quivering vocals.

With each repetition, as I drifted in and out of pleasing sleep, I became more familiar with the first few notes, interesting chord changes, and the lyrical nuances of the song. They became friends of sorts and with each repetition, I looked forward to hearing them again. Like two friends going the opposite direction on a merry-go-round, I would greet them with a subtle smile as they passed by.

They also aroused memories of hearing my mother and sister, singing this song as a duet at church growing up. Which in turn made me think of my mother who recently passed away and my father who passed away over ten years ago.

Before I knew it, six hours had passed.

As I awoke to a quiet room, all snoring had ceased, and a tranquillity lay over the sleeping passengers like a comfortable blanket. I realized that although I wish I had none of my quirky and irrational irritations, I am grateful for the coping mechanisms that I have developed, as several hours of Elvis in a loop had turned out to be just the antidote for the chorus of snorers.

It is a night to remember for sure and now it is past 4 am, we are minutes from disembarking, and I feel rested and grateful for the snorers who sent me in search of a remedy that unexpectedly refreshed my body by granting me not only sleep but also nourished my soul. Now, in these final minutes on board, it strikes me how much progress I've made in adapting to my quirks. Formerly debilitating, these idiosyncrasies now offer unanticipated, cherished moments.

And as for slurping… Well, I just avoid ‘feeding troughs’, and when I’m with those who choose to slurp their noodles, I try to join in, with the aim of being louder than them. I rarely succeed but it is fun trying.


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