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Homecoming Weekend

Posted Nov 29 2008 12:28pm

Today I told my first joke in ASL. It was around the dinner table, and the students were discussing Homecoming Weekend’s closing party, called the “Bash.” I didn’t go to the Bash, because I figured my students might not want Mike the Professor around while they got drunk and fooled around in the mosh pit. (I hope they fooled around in the mosh pit.) But I did go watch for a few minutes while the DJ was warming up. The party was in a concrete garage next to my dorm, and I immediately saw why: they wanted to make the most of the reverb. For deaf students, Strauss waltzes don’t do it. What does it is shockwaves coming from sound bouncing off walls and colliding with itself.

They got shockwaves. World’s Biggest Amps, Cranked Up To Eleven. I could feel my esophagus vibrating. I bet for women, it did a great job of vibrating certain exquisitely sensitive body parts. For me it was strangely soothing, like having a giant cat purring against my entire body.

So at the dinner table, I signed, “I stood and watched the music. I think it helped my sinus problems.” And I got a chuckle around the table.

So I’m feeling proud of myself tonight.

The class I’m co-teaching with Josh has been going extremely well. The students are an exceptionally smart bunch. They write such good weekly essays that Josh and I argue with each other over who gets to read them this week. It’s great to have interpreters voicing what the students are signing, because it means that for the first time in my teaching career, I have full auditory access to classroom discussions.

Students we don’t know keep showing up to visit our class – we had five or six visitors last week – and Josh and I haven’t the heart to kick them out. It dawned on me last week that I’m having the best teaching experience of my life.

Also last week, I gave a talk titled “Cochlear Implants and the Future of the Deaf World.” I started with some worrisome numbers: Gallaudet’s enrollment is dropping, and more parents and students are opting for oral modes of education. “But I’m not going where you think I’m going with this,” I said, and picked up on something that James Tucker, the superintendent of the Maryland School for the Deaf, had said at a talk the day before. He’d pointed out that even oral deaf childen using cochlear implants had been interested in being part of the deaf community. “It’s human to want a sense of belonging,” he’d said. I suggested that deaf people could use emerging technologies to create new forms of communication and community, and in so doing, become innovators and pathbreakers in such a way that hearing people would look to them for inspiration.

What technologies? Here’s where I got radical: I showed some fascinating videos of computers picking up neural signals and using them to control machines such as prosthetic limbs. Perhaps, someday, I suggested, implanted technologies might enable people to exchange thoughts in a way that can barely be imagined today. Who better to take advantage of such technologies, I suggested, than deaf people, who are already familiar with implanted technologies and already innovators in creating languages like ASL?

As Josh said later, “It was like you threw a bomb into the audience, but in a good way.”

I suspect that people here think I’m crazy but interesting. That’s okay.

Elvis seems happy enough with life in the dorm, though I think he gets bored with spending so much time in my room. I’ve been letting him visit my neighbors now and then. One of my students lives next door and she and her roommate give him bits of ham. So Elvis is always meowing to be let out to make the rounds. “You want to go visit Aunt Kelley and Aunt Stephanie?” I say to him. “Okay, go on. Just be back by nine.”

Elvis, king of the dorm.

I didn’t go to the Bash, but I did put on my good suit and go to a party the night before, called the Ball, at a local club. I’d thought it was an all-university party, teachers and students alike. Wrong. I was the only teacher at the party, and the oldest person there by 20 years. But my students seemed to get a kick out of me being there. One signed to me, using grand, theatrical movements, “Sign is totally different from English. Forget English. Throw it in the trash.” I was struggling to follow him, but in a burst of inspiration, I took off my processors. It let me focus on the visual, and that helped.

Another of my students asked me whether I was enjoying my time at Gallaudet, and I said I was, specially now that I was feeling better after having been sick for months. “You complain too much,” she signed to me.

“I like complaining,” I signed back to her. “Complaining is fun.”

And then I explained, in slow, careful signs that sometimes I complain just because a large percentage of the signs I know are good for complaining. I want to say something, so I use the words I have.

“You’re lying,” she signed, pointing her finger emphatically at my chest. And that was that.

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