Thursday, April 1, 2010

Deaf is only 5 percent of me

I am prompted to write this post by a conversation I had with my son tonight. I am going to be frank about it and it may offend some people but it is honest and just the perspective of a 12 year old kid who is not jaded by the politics of being deaf. In fact he is so at home with himself it does not surprise me when I see what he has to say about the subject. The funny thing is it makes me nervous to post it because you may think poorly of my son but I feel it is valuable. My son on the other hand stands behind his belief but would hesitate only because he wouldn't want to hurt someone's feelings.

The conversation started with a question I asked him about cochlear implants. I wanted to know if the kids at camp had any problems because of their implants. He told me no and then that lead us to the first time he saw one when he was little.

His said when he was really young he saw a girl had one and he thought it looked like a steering wheel of a car. He didn't understand why a girl would want something like that on her head. Later he saw another and he asked the kid what it was. The kid popped it of with a flourish and shocked my son not offering any clue to what it was. He was laughing telling me this and said later he got it when I taught him about it.

So this all spins around to a topic my son has strong opinions about. No, not implants, about that he doesn't care either way. The topic that drives him nuts is ASL poetry. This is an subject he happens to be interested in . He has been mentored by very talented Deaf adults and enjoys this art form for its beauty and clever execution. He is also a good ASL storyteller and has respect for the art of ASL. He sees it as a way to entertain and at times to provoke thought.

*note I have condensed and translated to the best of my ability. When reading this remember he is a dance and theater student so it is quite the performance*

He starts out telling me it drives him nuts how many young poets are so self pitying and dramatic. He shows me a comic example, face creased with pain his flings his arms in dramatic over acting and signs "deaf", slowly swaying from side to side using the usual phrases we have seen." Caterpillar to butterfly, lonely , confused, find ASL, my heart broken , confusion then light". He slowly and so dramatically falls to the ground.

He then gets up and tells me ,

" I don't get it since when is Deaf a big deal? Why do we all have to stand around being so upset and using it as a way to get people to feel sorry for us? I am only 5 percent deaf *meaning his deafness is only 5 percent of who he is*, it is just a little problem. I do whatever I want and it has nothing to do with being deaf.

We need to put some art back into kid's poetry. I wish these kids would study the craft and move beyond all of this drama. "

* at this point realize he has not had to go from being oral to sign, we have never really put much emphasise on his deafness, he has never been bullied, left out or had problems communicating with us so his comments are not cruel but just real and valid from his experience*

" I want to see more interesting topics and it wouldn't hurt to make me laugh once in a while. I get so bored with all poor me stuff.

I think if we want to focus on Deaf it should be funny or to fight for our rights with strength when preforming"

That is the part of our talk tonight that I wanted to share. There was much more and I will leave you to guess how I followed up with him on this or what my opinion of his comments were.


  1. This must have been such a proud moment for you. What a terrific young man your son is. He will grow to be the most confident and successful man - and his deafness will never stand in his way. I am moderately deaf and I have never let it stand in my way either and still dont. Please pass onto your son that he made me and I am sure a lot of other deaf people proud! No self-pitying here!! xx

  2. To answer his question about why being deaf is a big deal -- Your son is blessed to have a mom like you, who supports him. Not all deaf people have this privilege, which is why poetry of the kind he was wondering about exists. :/

  3. Ah. This strikes such a chord in my arty little heart!

    When I was studying writing (long ago), a seasoned writer told me that I'd never be very good unless my life was filled with conflict and drama that could inform my art. Further, the art would never be very good without the kind of drama that begged for pity and sorrow. While his position may have been true for him, it wasn't for me. (And, thank goodness for the other seasoned writers and teachers with differing opinions!)

    There are a few reasons why I think he was wrong, too. First, this guy had no idea about the tradgey and drama of my life (plenty, trust me). Next, I don't believe there is a formula for good art (e.g., dramatic tragedy doesn't equal good poetry, fiction, collage, necessarily). Also, it seems to me that the best art comes from a place of personal truth (even if style/structure is a bit contrived).

    Each of us is subject to our own complex mixture of personality, history, physiology, tradition, context, and so on. We are all so very different, with a few commonalities to link us and shape our small and larger communities. If your truth isn't tragic and dramatic, your art won't be either. So, does that make it less important or art-like? I don't think so. But, I do think art suffers when we don't inform it with our personal truths -- be they heroic, filled with joy and possibility, sorrowful, angsty, contemplative, and on, and on.

    How wonderful that your son has found his truth already! How wonderful that he is strong in finding and expressing his authentic self. This is a gift unto itself (to his credit and your's and your hubby's!).

    Also, I can just imagine what you told him. I bet you said something like this: It is important to respect the truths of other artists (after all, there is something human, truthful, and of great value in drama and tragedy, too). However, respect doesn't mean embrace. That is, we don't need to adopt these truths as our own when they aren't our own. (Plus, I bet you felt a huge amount of pride -- your son is so self-aware!).

    In the end, each artful message is like a color (or a value within a hue) that expresses something within a much larger context of human experience and life. Our own colors deserve just as much sunlight as anyone's. After all, our own journey is as valuable as anyone's. The thing about our own journey, though, is that it is made special because it is -- in the end -- ours.

    My feeling about it all? To each their own!