a day in Eyeth

There’s a legendary world in Deaf culture lore. It’s like Earth but it’s for people of the eye, so they call it Eyeth. (get it? EARth, EYEth) In this world, people listen with their eyes with the comfort of being normal, typical, just the way life is, unlike the heavily mediated existence of a Deaf person on Earth. Mediated through hearing devices, pads of paper, interpreters, lip reading, gestures.

I got a small peek into what Eyeth might look like last weekend. I jetted down to Louisville, KY at an unearthly hour in the morning on Saturday. When I got there, the biennial meeting of the National Association of the Deaf was wrapping its week-long meeting and they were launching DeaFestival, a day of arts and fun. My goal was to catch as much music and time with musicians as possible, especially with the Deaf rock band Beethoven’s Nightmare.

When I stepped across the crosswalk of the streets bordering the convention center, I crossed the threshold into a Deaf world. Everyone around me was signing. Every restaurant in the vicinity had a pad of paper on its counter, a few brave servers had learned some signs. I have been in Deaf environments before, like at the Deaf school. But this was different, like a small town, adults conducting business in ASL. There were interpreters and CART at all the events, but it was very much a Deaf majority.

At first I was a little worried. I have a hard time meeting new Deaf adults. As everyone has their own voice, everyone has a unique way they sign, and my receptive skills take a little while to adapt to a new person. Once I got into the groove, though, I found myself able to understand more and more, many different people and many different signing. And my job for the day was listening (LISTEN-EYES in ASL).

A break in the afternoon allowed me to approach the drummer of the band, “let’s talk.” He says “Ok.” And I’m whisked into a conversation about music with total strangers. He pauses in the middle “Are you getting this?” Just barely. A woman about my age said she’s never liked music, she never understood it, and it wasn’t fun to try to lip-read bands. Her friend said, “oh, you need to learn how to feel it. I love music! It’s like a drug!” She’s open to being convinced.

All afternoon I’m whisked around the vendor booths of the NAD meeting, following drummer guy who often introduces me to random Deaf people whom he may or may not know. Another woman was “forced” to take music classes in her mainstream education. (A mainstream education is something to be pitied in Deaf culture.) Many Deaf people haven’t had opportunities to experience music so it is nothing; others love it and over and over again I heard “Once you connect what you’re feeling with what’s going on on-stage, it’s amazing!” After a few hours I was exhausted, had an unanswered list of questions, but had met more Deaf adults than I ever had in one place and learned more about drummer guy (including the fact that he does not ever stop).

So I turned to the bass player, “let’s talk.” We sit down. It was 104 degrees under the tent. He tells me again how much they want to reach out to their Deaf culture with music. He said that things have changed more recently for Deaf culture. I assumed he meant post-Gallaudet protest of 1988. But he said, “No, since Obama.” This surprised me. I asked him if it was the captioning law Obama had passed, and he said, no, that now there is a greater sense of acceptance for Deaf people since Obama. I found it interesting how strongly he felt about Obama that he would put so much strength in this tide of change.┬áBass player also teaches in a Deaf school. He has middle and high school students and is experimenting with teaching them how to feel different sounds. Like “ear training” for the hands.

There are many more stories, but you’ll have to wait for the article. Much more to process.

 

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je pleure

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been working on an abstract for a conference. It’s supposed to be about technology, music cognition, and society. So I decided that now was the time to explore the puzzle piece of the cochlear implant in the story of the deaf musical experience.

I have written so many drafts of this abstract, each trying to get at the cognitive and cultural nuances of the experience. I met with a professor this afternoon to help me talk through it, and before i knew it, i was sitting there sobbing in his office talking about how I took Ellis to his first concert last Friday night, and how he hated it. (Nevermind the practical considerations: it was after 8pm; he’s 6.5 yo; and it was a recital for violin, soprano, and piano.) Part of me felt crushed, that I wasn’t going to be able to share music with him–that the CI wasn’t going to mediate that experience for him. It wasn’t the right music to listen with the balloon we brought.

This professor is very good at asking questions that break down personal barriers that I confront in the deaf music project. I cry. He offers me a napkin and some dried fruit. Then I get back to work, learning how to negotiate the personal and the researcher.

on vulnerability

A couple of weeks ago I uploaded a paper to dropbox. This paper is part of a seminar session at an upcoming national conference. We will all read each other’s papers, prepare responses, and, at the conference, spend the time discussing more than presenting. I’m excited about this kind of conference format. I think I will be able to learn more in this kind of a environment. Since I’m at an early stage in my research, I think it will be greatly beneficial.

What I didn’t expect is the sick feeling that’s been sitting in my core ever since. Vulnerability. I’m in a new field, offering somewhat new perspectives. I don’t know how the paper will be received. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about that too much. It’s just that, for the first time, I’m personally connected to my research material. I wouldn’t be in disability studies or deaf music at all if my son hadn’t been born deaf. I spend a good chunk of my research time crying. Not because I’m sad, because I’m overwhelmed by so much. I’m overcome. My work feels raw. I believe in my topic like I’ve never believed in a topic before.

It’s been two weeks now since I sent it off. I’m starting to feel better. The bundle of nerves is starting to soothe. It is such a strange sensation to me, to feel so personally connected to my work.