15 June 2011

So I've recently started watching Switched at Birth. Kind of embarrassing since it's a teen-centered drama and consequently a bit...well, dramatic, but one of the characters is deaf and so I've been tuning in. [--edit: it's getting harder to tune in to those ridiculous story lines, and I have a BIG problem with shows like this that portray teens dabbling with sex; they are creating the impression that it's normal and almost inevitable that teens will dabble and that it's a part of growing up. In fact, it's the opposite; real maturity comes with self control and the willingness to defer what you want until the appropriate time (marriage)]

I've been fascinated by the Deaf culture since high school, when I took American Sign Language in tenth grade. One of our assignments for the year was attending Deaf events (by the way, "deaf" is the physical condition, and "Deaf" is the culture). Kris and I would go to Silent Dinners at various local malls and try to converse using our stilted, halting, ever-uncomprehending ASL. Then in my year off from Grove City College when I attended Tidewater Community College, I took another year of ASL. My teacher was deaf and classes were immersion-style. My brain would hurt afterwards! I'm pretty sure my optic lobe had never communicated so intensely with whatever part is responsible for comprehension. Using a language based not on sound but on gesture is a new way of thinking and perceiving the world.

I remember one time when I was attending a Deaf church, I was introducing myself to one of the congregants. I finger-spelled my name and braced myself when he spelled something back. I'm terrible at understanding finger-spelling...come to think of it, I'm not so good at understanding spoken spelling, either...but those who are proficient in ASL spell with such fluidity, it's hard to distinguish each letter, much less string them together into a word. I signed "AGAIN?" and he repeated the word and then repeated it again at my puzzlement. "?-?-L-E-?-I-E. V-?-L-E-?-I-E" Ohhh, rats. He was confirming my own name.

Back at GCC, I resumed my participation with the ASL Club with weekly meetings, silent dinners, and chapel performances in which we would sign worship songs like "Before the Throne of God Above," "Better is One Day," and I can't even remember the others. Unfortunately, all I have to commemorate those performances is this picture:

In my defense, I had a 103 degree fever at the time (which, among other things, apparently prohibited me from assessing the fit of my khakis with a critical eye).

My love of signing lead me to sign to worship songs in church, which caught the attention of my English professor's wife, which lead to my little gig teaching ASL to ten first-sixth graders every Friday afternoon. It was such fun! I loved coming up with each week's unit and covered things like the alphabet, introductions, family, food, and activities. Our ongoing project was learning to sign the song, "Thy Word." They had it down by the end of the semester.

Fast forward to today, when I sign very little. I'll watch vlogs and sermons in ASL occasionally, and I'll gloss songs during church at times (for a beautiful gloss of "Here I am to Worship," see my high school teacher's interpretation here). But right now most of my contact with ASL, deafness, and Deaf culture comes through literature and television programs like Switched at Birth. I've mused on sign language before and have a few posts in draft form about various books I've read about deafness and Deaf culture. If you want to read more, I recommend Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, and Deaf Like Me, or watching Kathy Buckley, a hearing impaired comedienne and motivational speaker (I love No Labels, No Limits!). These offer glimpses into an American culture that subsists alongside and often within the hearing culture.

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