Category Archives: India

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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love and bombs

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DISCLAIMER:  The following post is a reaction from reading countless Facebook posts and Media online.  I didn’t actually get the chance to have signed or spoken dialogue with people, or to hear any radio shows etc, that would allow me to phrase my words in a more compassionate manner.  One of my best friends has also reminded me that being deaf does cause my access to information to be slightly different than the average person.

I haven’t changed my opinions below exactly, but I would say them differently in hindsight (wouldn’t we all?).  I’d like to just say that I felt the way that I did because of my own personal fears and in reaction to posts from people who are filled with anger and desire to kill after such an event.  I had real fears that the Boston Marathon bombing could potentially start a war if people didn’t keep their heads on straight.

So, I’d like to preface my post with this, instead of deleting it, because I do feel that if you are able to read my words with compassion of your own, that you might see the point I’m trying to make is that we as humans should love each other, not bomb each other, and all bombings are tragic—but each one is also an important time for people to come together and help one another.  I have been really touched by some of the ways that local people are taking that kind of action, and my heart goes out to everyone involved.

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I feel the need to admit here that the bombing at the Boston Marathon did not surprise me and it didn’t fill me with sadness.  I don’t know if it is because I realize there are countless bombs going off, every week, around the world, and to fill myself with sadness every time it happens would certainly make for a depressing life.  Or maybe it is because I’ve seen real poverty in various cities of India and Kenya, from dying dogs to humans suffering from leprosy on the roadsides.  I don’t actually feel desensitized as much as I feel like I understand our society.

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Humans are so intense at times that we confuse ourselves with the outpouring of our rambling thoughts and emotions.  We fear death, we fear each other, we fear ourselves.  I think fear is the culprit here more than anything else.  If we don’t help each other when we are able to, it’s usually because we are afraid of something, whether it is catching someone’s disease or opening ourselves to a stranger, or we are just caught up with self-preservation.

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Something we are missing when we try so hard to protect ourselves is that we are the same as everyone else – not the same, meaning, we aren’t all unique and beautiful and ugly in our own particular ways – but EQUAL.  I see dogs as equal to humans, because I honestly believe that dogs are better humans.  Dogs help remind me to cool my own anger when I’ve been hurt; to turn from pain, and instead of lashing back out against someone, my dogs have reminded me to give them love.

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Love is just as powerful as a bomb, and once more people realize this, maybe there will be less bombs.

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For now, though, I’d like to end this with the post my partner put up on a social networking site (okay, on Facebook…), because what he is saying needs to be thought about and heard beyond “Facebook”, because too many Americans are feeling such outrage, anger, and pain, but honestly, I am sitting here thinking, “Why NOT America?  Why should only places like Iraq, Kenya, India, Thailand, Pakistan, etc, etc, get bombed?”

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Here is the post:

“My heart goes out to the victims from all over the world who were affected by the bombing in Boston, USA. I will continue to think of you, Boston, as well as other cities that have suffered none too distant attacks of this nature. Baquba, Iraq. Jurf Al-Sa, Iraq. Bagdad, Iraq. Khalis, Iraq. Mullazai, Pakistan. Madre Muerta, Columbia. Taloqan, Afghanistan. Yathrib, Iraq. Kirkuk, Iraq. Rural locations in India. Rural locations in Afghanistan. Rural locations in Pakistan. Damascus, Syria. Josefina, Philippines. Landi Kotal, Pakistan. Mubi, Nigeria. Hawija, Iraq. Wajir, Kenya. Loti, Pakistan. Mukalla, Yemen. Taloqan, Afghanistan. Dujail, Iraq. Mogadishu, Somalia.Fallujah, Iraq. Garma, Iraq. Sitamarhi, India. Abu Gharaib, Iraq. Madalla, Nigeria. Jos, Nigeria. Gadaka, Nigeria. Damaturu, Nigeria. Tank, Pakistan. Mussayab, Iraq. Parta, India. Sapele, Nigeria. Peshawar, Pakistan. Tambon Al Yer Weng, Thailand. Karachi, Pakistan. Hangu, Pakistan. Tambon Katong, Thailand. Geedam, India. Mosul, Iraq. Ban Klang, Thailand. Rural locations in Somalia. Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Chandanigahapur, Nepal. Orito, Columbia. Salarzai, Pakistan. Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. Raman, Thailand. Ban Ton Phai, Thailand. Essai, Pakistan. Quetta, Pakistan. Dibis, Iraq. Rural locations in Chile. Jamrud, Pakistan. Tathong, Thailand. Khan Bani Saad, Iraq. Landi Kotal, Pakistan. Boya, Pakistan. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Locations in Senegal, Kenya, Russia, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Indonesia, Greece, Italy, West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Germany, Honduras, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Turkey, Portugal, Congo, Mali, Ecuador, Myanmar, Ukraine, Indonesia, Sudan, Kazakhstan… I wish I could add more to the list, but I only have time to review one and a half months of statistics. Let us always keep those hurt by these heinous acts in our thoughts, and learn to love each other just a little more.”

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I concur with the above and I share it with you, because I haven’t taken the time to research and I cannot myself name all of those places.  But they should be named and lamented along with Boston.  Because the world is much bigger than just America.

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I’ve recently had my first child and many people seem to think I should stay here in my birth country, but I don’t agree.  I don’t plan to stop traveling, or put off traveling, because I want to raise my child knowing places like India and Africa as closely as his birth country.  I want him to know other cultures, other languages, and to return to America and share that knowledge.

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If we feel like we know each other a bit better, I can only hope that loving each other will be easier, too.

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a broken thing

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I was sick this morning, so my partner took our son out somewhere.  I was planning on curling up on the couch and eating breakfast while drinking coffee out of a mug that I got in South India back in 1999.

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The mug was made in Auroville, the International Community where I spent more than a year of my life.   I volunteered there, helping stray dogs in the community and within the neighboring villages.  The woman I worked with, Ann from New Zealand, was like a mother to me.  She taught me how to give homeopathic and other natural medicines to the dogs.  We also fed them leftover food from Auroville’s solar kitchen, and I gave the animals love, because Ann was too busy sometimes to do that.  She also gave rabies shots and treated distemper and other diseases.  I worked with her for months at a time, in 1999, then again in 2001 and 2005.

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In 2005, Ann died of colon cancer while I was there in India with her.  It was one of the most intense and depressing experiences of my life.  The world (and the dogs) lost a beautiful, amazing spirit when it lost her.

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I left Auroville (and India) the day after she died, and since then, I’ve only returned to North India.  I have journeyed to New Zealand twice since Ann’s death, to spend time with her mother and meet her sisters.  I’m so thankful to be able to know them all, and one day, I do hope to publish my story of my time with Ann.

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This morning, I knocked over that mug I’ve drank from every morning I’ve spent in America since 1999.  I cried and screamed.  I shattered a plate, because I needed to break something less important to me.  I played out the experience over and over in my head, trying to understand WHY I broke it, WHY it happened, HOW I could glue it back together.

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It’s just a mug, right?  Sure, it was crafted by an artist’s hands, and it was a beautiful mug, but things break in life.  They shatter.  And sometimes we need that catharsis to remind us of the things, the often intangible things, that are REALLY important.  Like the work I did in India with the dogs, and the love I have for Ann, the love I have for her family.  My mug reminded me of that, but the mug wasn’t a dog.  It wasn’t Ann.

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Sometimes, telling the story of an object we lose can be a way to release that object into space.  Let go.  We’ve all broken something, haven’t we?  If you’d like to comment on this post, I invite you to tell me a story of a broken thing, and what it meant to you (or at least, write the stories of your broken things for yourself, it can be therapeutic, I promise).

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Balancing Between, an Introduction

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This was the Introduction of my still-in-process poetry collection currently titled: Balancing Between: Deafness, Death, and Other Journeys.  I’ve cut it from the manuscript itself, but it’s a fitting first blog post to introduce you to me, Kristen Ringman:

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As a younger writer, I wrote in the context of dreamed philosophies yearning towards the natural world I felt humans were losing more each day.  Like a proper teenager, I wrote about things I often couldn’t even touch.

Now, as my ears have spent many years deafening, my writing has found its way back to my own body.  I’ve explored sweltering countries like India and Kenya, fallen in love with their red soil, their roads that cut through fields like a scar, and the way I suddenly felt at peace beneath their banana palms or banyan branches.  I’m always more at home in foreign places.  I’ve watched loved ones die of one cancer or another, and whether it was in India or America, the cancer reared its wild head like a lion that knew it would never be tamed.  Humans still stood by, powerless to such bodily invasion, holding words or scraps of tissue in their palms.

These experiences I have swallowed, along with the taste of lovers, mangoes, and hot chai, have all shaped my writing as a form of navigation through the margins of the world.  I’m always caught between cultures, between words read on lips or hands, between my desire to please myself and my desire to please someone else.

Writing is my way of drawing the right lines between myself and other bodies, lines that are as red as the roads in India or Africa, and just as deaf.  Writing the things I have touched.

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