Monthly Archives: July 2013

magic, deafness, being divided, and dogs

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(what else happens in my life, besides the intersection of these things?)

I was speaking with a close friend and cousin today about magic: Not the witchcraft kind (not exactly), nor the sorcerer either.  How sometimes, things just all come together magically.  It’s not just the big things that do this, but the little things, too.  Like when I get just enough writing done to go for a run and then cook dinner, and the baby sleeps for just long enough for me to get everything done that I want to get done.  Days occasionally go perfectly.  And there’s so many beautiful accidents that happen in the world.

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I believe this happens when we are feeling particularly positive, flexible, and open.

When we have nothing against the Universe, and the Universe doesn’t seem to have anything against us.

I think this happens for everyone, though I’m sure there are exceptions.  But THIS—this exact feeling of:

Positivity.  Gentleness.  Awareness.  Friendliness.  Kindness.  Hopefulness.

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THIS is a GOAL for me.  This is something I try and wake up every day to feel, but of course, I might start days like this sometimes, and other times, I’ll feel an entire aversion to everything having to do with the morning (having to get up, make coffee, walk the puppy, feed the toddler, start working) from the first second I open my eyes (and those days usually go badly, from those first seconds).  Life happens in between these two opposite situations: the positive and negative things that revolve around us throughout our days.  And I think it’s hardest in the middle, divided between opposing reactions, opposing feelings, essentially stuck with a love/hate feeling for the whole world.

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Deafness does this.

Though more specifically, the kind of deafness I mean is, having spent the first decade or so of life hearing mostly-everything, and then within a decade, hearing a lot of noise, but no words, not anymore.

I hear a lot, but it’s a lot of “nothing”—groaning, yelling, car engines, boat engines, toilet flushes, crying, rushing wind, and my own voice.

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I wonder if that’s why I still do LOVE the sound of my own voice, and I love to give public readings or tell stories to my child in spoken English, even though I also sign stories to him in ASL.  I love the poetry slams and cafe poetry readings, even though, unless the poet gives me a copy of their reading beforehand, I can’t hear them.

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I love all these things, but I hate them, too.  I hate them because of the words I can’t hear anymore, and I hate them because they make me feel selfish, they make me feel disabled, and they make me feel divided (between hearing and deaf cultures, two vastly different entities that I didn’t even realize existed before I crossed from one of them to the other, and back, and forth, and back).

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So what do I do here in this middle ground—this place between the positive and the negative, the two cultures, the love and hate?  I’m not calling hearing positive or better, I’m calling it different than deaf, equally positive and negative on its own.  Just like Deafness.  There’s no path that is better, but being deaf in a group of hearing people feels exactly lovely and awful at the same time.

Lovely, because they are my friends or my family, and awful because they are speaking a language I can’t hear anymore—so it’s not like the English I can speak myself, it’s like they’re speaking Arabic or Mandarin.

I love all the new things I notice because I can’t hear anymore: like new outfits, the look of guilt or sorrow someone’s trying desperately to hide, new hairstyles or the way someone’s standing and what it might be showing of their deeper feelings, or the way the wind is moving over the water or through the leaves.

Some people might think it’s romantic and dreamy to be deaf, and sometimes on t.v., we are shown as this: a dreaming angel, eyes noticing everything and mind constantly thinking about “romantic” things.

And some people think its the most horrible thing in the world: “Oh, my God, you can’t HEAR ANYTHING?  I don’t know what I’d DO without my HEARING!  Oh my, can you actually drive a CAR?!  How do you go to a RESTAURANT?!”

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But really, my deafness often feels like, every day, I wake up and people have decided to speak a new language, and everyone knows it except ME, and by the end of every day, I think, “Maybe by tomorrow, I’ll understand more of it,” but then tomorrow comes, and it’s a whole NEW language all over again.

And honestly, some days I’m too tired to even TRY lip reading.  Or being in a group of people speaking this “new language.”

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And through all my changes, I’ve learned the language of deafness, which in this country is called ASL or American Sign Language, and I’ve learned that I feel closer to dogs than humans.  The language of dogs, their whining, their barks and groans, the way they roll on the floor or wag their tails, has not changed!  Dogs have always spoke this way to me, and they always will. It’s the sort of “constant” that’s a blessing in my life, something that helps me on the path towards being more positive (which is one reason I have Hearing Dogs).

I’ve also learned that some humans have a strong sense of community and generosity, and some do not.  (Or in another words: Not all humans are as sweet as dogs.)

The language of the wind has remained the same, too, though that dialect is the most exciting when you live on a sailboat.

And humans are the most interesting to me when I wake up in an “actually different country,” not America, and have difficulty hearing Hindi or Thai or Tibetan.  (I feel less disabled in India or Kenya, than I feel in my hometown.  Could this be WHY I’d rather be in India?!)

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It’s strange, what the body can remember of our history. (Read: Body, Remember, a fantastic memoir by Kenny Fries)

Or is it, when something dramatic happens that changes how everyone must relate to us and causes us to be a little more difficult to communicate with, it’s then that we see who our true friends and family are, and what they each will do to meet us in the middle ground, in this divided, blessed space?

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This blog post is partly inspired by my dear friend and previous advisor: Bhanu Kapil (read her blog), who I will see in two short weeks, on Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico for AROHO’s 2013 Women’s Writing Retreat!  If I am ever out of ideas for a blog post, I will read her blog.  It’s filled with “Prose Incubation.  Social Theory.  Dogs.” and so much more, from the everyday to the sublime.

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To those caught in the middle, however you might be divided: good luck to you.

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a rose by any other name

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I feel like I’ve been swamped by names lately.  Not by names themselves, but by references to the naming of things and by my own frustrations with naming the characters in my latest book.

Here’s some TV/music and literary references to names that I’ve been trying to get out of my head after seeing/reading them:

1. American Horror Story’s Second Season, Asylums, has a really annoying 10th episode where the nun who is stuck in the crazy house sings a song in her head “The Name Game,” in which everyone in the asylum joins in and sings with her.  She calls another character “Lana Banana” and I can’t get that out of my head – seriously, I keep hearing “LanaBananaLanaBananaLanaBanana” over and over.  (I’m thankful I’ve at least finished watching this season!!)

2.  The above example reminded me of one of my favorite movies/books of my childhood, Anne of Green Gables.  Anne was always a character I related to intensely, and I loved the way she talked about things (like names): “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk-cabbage.”

3. Anne was referencing Shakespeare in her above comment.  The real quote was from the play Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet; “

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So what am I trying to say here—besides exorcising the demons in my head that keep repeating these phrases?

I suppose I am asking a few rhetorical questions:

How important ARE the names we choose for our characters?

How important are OUR NAMES to ourselves?

How do we come up with the kind of names that people never get tired of hearing—like Romeo and Juliet, or Anne with an “e”, or Frodo and Sam, or Harry and Hermione, or Luke and Leia Skywalker, or Mal, Inara, River, Kaylee and Jayne?

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The names within popular literature or TV/movies seem like they’ve existed forever, and the characters we imagine or see on the screen wouldn’t make sense if they had other names.

So HOW do writers come up with the perfect names?

And should we stress over it?

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The only answer I can really give here is, yes, I stress over names, but when I focus on the story, and try out a name for a while, I feel closer to the character.  Sometimes, I do change a name while editing, and for a long time that usually means I’m uncertain about WHO the character IS anymore—and sometimes I want to go back to the previous name, and sometimes I’m torn.

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I don’t think this ever gets easier for writers, even though some characters can have perfect names from the start.  Names are important.  Of course, they shouldn’t be a reason why Romeo and Juliet couldn’t be together, and they shouldn’t make us hate a character if we hate their name, but they have power, as in the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, and in the Earthsea novels by Ursula Le Guin, where things can be controlled when their true names are discovered.

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I’m sending this post out into cyberland as an ode to names and to the struggles we all have in the naming of things.

Good luck, and choose wisely.

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