Monday, December 31, 2007

Greatest Moment of the Year.

In my silent past, I have been surrounded by people who can hear water dripping, dogs whining, and bacon cooking without a second thought. My sad reality of it all came to full fruition that no one in my repertoire of acquaintances is able to understand that to me, those sounds just simply did not exist. I felt like I was the lone poodle watching the world absorb sounds while I was pathologically incapable of doing so. I can’t tell you how I longed to talk to someone that knows what it is like to wake up to the sun, lay down to the moon and all the minutes in between missing what we miss. For a deaf chick that has a habit of running her mouth has grown up in what some people have called the “hearing world,” I never found a hearing person who could relate to me and my quirky ways of getting through the day. I have been called weird countless of times and I acknowledge that since I eat pizza with a fork, put potato chips on my hoagies, and I swallow gum. Ironically, I have almost NO experience with the “deaf world” and what little experience I did have I was shunned. When deaf people can talk, there seems to be a common theme that people like me are deaf to the “hearing world,” and hearing to the “deaf world.” Where do we fit in? We don’t. Personally, I feel that there is no such a thing as a “hearing world” and a “deaf world” because it implies that the world is divided by a common denominator, which is a contradiction unto itself. Last time I checked, we all walk on the same terra firma, witness the same solar rotation, and feel the same splash of rain on our face. I don’t define the world I live in as a white or black world, or a Christian or Jewish world, or a Wal-Mart or Target world, so why would I lend to reason that a hearing and deaf world exist? I feel the world is my oyster and I intend to crack it open. I just needed to meet other people that have cracked theirs and I did just that. On November 26, 2007, I entered a classroom surrounded by familiar lily-white walls with one purpose to meet Michael Chorost and Josh Swiller who conducted a reading of their respective books, Rebuilt and The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa.

As I was waiting patiently for the date of my cochlear implant surgery, I picked up Rebuilt and could not put it down. His book was populated with such witty descriptions and technical aspirations about deafness that truly made it a pleasure to read. He offered motivational support and in a sense virtually patted me on the head to be patient. On December 17, he underwent another successful surgery to receive a second cochlear implant after Let Them Hear Foundation persuaded Aetna to revise their policy to include bilateral cochlear implantation. It was a long fight for him to get the chance to run on dual processors. I can only envision that his next book will be revolutionizing the viewpoint on bilateral implantation.

When Michael started the reading, he clearly demonstrated the host in himself. His ease and elocution with public speaking is astounding. As he guided the audience through the moment that he suddenly lost his hearing, his tone acquired a sense of ardent staidness. At first, he thought it was the battery because when that goes, you immediately feel disconnected, but usually another battery will fix you right up. A proper metaphor is radio playing a song and it abruptly stops. In Michael case, no battery in the world seemed to work, neither one of his aids worked, and finally neither one of his ears worked. He was stripped of what precious hearing he had in a matter of hours. I can relate to this dreadful moment as I went in an operating room hearing fine, woke up hearing nothing but my own heart beat that started a flood of rampant emotions that he captured flawlessly in his book. I was thoroughly impressed by the fact he can hear questions and respond to them, one by one, without hesitation his answers flowed in a dignified manner. It is one thing to see words forged one character at a time bound in a book but when there was a time I thought I would never hear anyone speak again, it was truly a memorable experience to be hearing him that day.

Allow me to introduce Josh Swiller, a native New Yorker who has been deaf since he was four. He is barely over thirty and already has a glossary of accomplishments and prodigious experiences. He attended an Ivy League college and went to Gallaudet University where he learned sign language, but he felt lost no matter where he was. He has no shortage of experience in the world because he has been a carpenter, a salesman, a journalist obviously, a Zen monk, a raw food chef, a teacher, a forest ranger and last but not the least, a volunteer of the Peace Corps. I must point out that it is pronounced COR like the beer, apparently, the ps are silent. The Peace Corps shipped him off to Africa with a two-year supply of hearing aid batteries to teach a village located in Zambia how to dig wells. His book has no shortage of feverishly gripping details of the state of deprivation that Zambians accept as their every day life. I was mentally teleported me to a foreign land of fervent heat, impoverishment and rampant diseases but in the end, He found a nook that became his oasis where deafness did not matter.

Until that night, I have never spoken to him but Josh began his reading by cracking a few jokes, which was the appetizer of his jovial personality. He comes from a large family where he and another brother were deaf. He injected knee-slapping banters about growing up with five brothers all throughout the reading. The more he talked, the more I could see that his candor is completely uninhibited, what you see is what you get. Just like his book, Josh articulately guided us on a compelling journey of courage, friendship and most of all self-discovery. The first word that comes to mind is brave. He embodied courage in every sense of the word. To be willing to have your passport stamped to penury in Africa is bold but I understand the need to seek a much simpler way of life. To be deaf and willing to sacrifice a language that you have always known for a new dialect from scratch, in my mind is a daunting task. I cannot understand English half the time and accents are my ultimate adversary, except for a suave Latin man. For him this turned out to be a blessing. To face what he faced, to hear what he heard, to share what he shared is truly inspiring. In the most remote location of Africa, he finally felt at home.

To be able to someone talk to someone who understands this silent path with all the trials and tribulations that life throws at us was the greatest moment I experienced this year.

Gentleman, for that I thank you.


Michael said...

Aw thanks! (blush)

Sam said...

What a nice long sentimental story. Happy New Year!

VBnBama said...

I can't wait to get Josh's book The Unheard, it's on my birthday list! I love reading your blog, number one you are very intelligent and I love getting a "heads up" sort of since my kids are deaf being brought up hearing as well. Hope you had a happy new year! Keep posting, people are reading!

Laurie said...

Amen! That is so cool that you got to meet Michael and Josh in person. I, too, read Michael's book before my CI and have Josh's book on my nightstand waiting to be read.

I have reserved my spot for the HLAA convention in Reno and 'hear' we will be roommates! Can't wait to meet you in person!

Happy New Year from Tennessee!

Anonymous said...

Hi Abbie and Happy New Year! Thanks for your input earlier on Ethan's World, it really helped. I appreciate your perspective so very much.

This was a great post! I read and loved Michael's book when Ethan was a baby and now I have a new book to add to my reading list. I have lived in Swaziland so I'm very interested to read about his experience, especially from the deaf point of view.

Cheers to 2008!

Anonymous said...

Hey Abbie!
(thanks for your comment on my blog!)
Best wishes to you for the new year! Read your last post now... Nice piece of writing!!!
I like the fact that you, just like me, have found inspiration in Mr. Chorost and Rebuilt.
The other story is on my wish-list :-)
Look forward to keep reading your blog and get to know you better!!!
We have the "lost between deaf and hearing-thing" in common... I recognize myself so much it's eerie... :-D
New years hugs from Norway!

Jeff said...

Hi Abbie!

Nice piece. That big gaping zone between Hearing and Deaf is indeed a strange land. I never considered myself deaf, but likely would have had to change that tune if there were no CIs.

I am so happy for you that you had the opportunity to meet the authors of those excellent books. I read them back to back. They go great together since they are so completely different.

Anonymous said...

Your not alone on your description of hearing and deaf world, I have been there most of my life. But now you are not alone, you all of us with you! We may hear some sounds, we may not hear some sounds, but together we accept each other and we assist each other on this awesome journey.

thank you for your wonderful writing. At times I feel as if you just pulled out my feelings from my head. Wish I could find the words like you.


Xtreme English said...

great post and photo. i hope many young people are reading your blog and will feel inspired to get a CI themselves.

Abbie said...

Wow, I want to thank you all for your wonderful and encouraging comments!

You really should read Josh book since most of you read Mike's book. Unleash your imagination and it is like you are walking right next to him.

(Laurie) You heard right my dear, we gonna roomies :)

May everything you hear this year be heard through your heart!

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully expressed. It is indeed meaningful to read the works of others whose challenges and frustrations in life mirror our own. What I liked most about Rebuilt was its unspoken-yet-resounding encouragement to take risks, pursue goals, and do what it takes to thrive in life. Yeah!

I've already clicked your amazon link to place an order for Swiller's book -- looks very interesting and I'm looking forward to reading it. (I also have "The Brain that Changes Itself" on order which I hear is quite good; I understand it contains a chapter on the ways the brain responds when sounds produced from a cochlear implant is introduced.)

What a delight it surely must have been to meet Chorost and Swiller in person. Perhaps you can write yet another entry with more details about the day you got to hear them speak... ?

Shari said...

I'm going to have to put the book you read on my list. (It gets long and hard to check off when I'm taking classes.) Some books take more precedence over others.

I can relate to the "where do I fit in". Not quite deaf, but also not quite sighted.

Thanks for stopping by.

Here's to a happy and healthy 2008. Hear, hear. :)

Kim said...

Hi!! I've always meant to tell you I love your style of writing. What you wrote in the first paragraph of not being part of the Hearing or Deaf worlds-- I LOVED that. Do you submit your blogs to DeafRead? I wish you would, they need to read you. :-)

By the way-- I changed my address to Long story, but I decided it reflected a more upbeat representation of my deafened self. Happy New Year! Kim

Geo said...

Happy New Year Abbie! Thanks for making me laugh while I am going through this journey. Your blog is a riot... print it and publish it.

Kim said...

Hiya-- I hope this is OK. I noticed you were listed as a blogger on DeafRead and it's been bugging me that your blogs were never picked up, so I complained because I felt that maybe they were unfair to people with CI's. It looks like there was some kind of technical problem, and you're going to be in there now-- all the time maybe. I complained that Jen's blog wasn't being picked up either. I'm such a whiner. . .

Abbie said...

KW, its more then ok!! I was wondering the same thing why my post weren't being picked up! I sent them an email a while ago inquiring why and sadly I received no response. Then you reminded me again with your comment this morning so I went back there to check and nada, zilcho, zippo (why can't my mailbox be like that?). So I thought maybe I have to submit each blog post (rather silly thinking but you never know) and I did that this morning and still nothing. Thank you SOO much for you taking the time out to make sure that we are heard!

Unknown said...

BEAUTIFUL POST! I love reading your blog because it is full of inspiring insight and plain old love. Happy New Year! Big hug, Jodi

Kim said...

JJ checked into it and saw that you were inactive for some reason, so he asked Taylor who runs the site. Here's his answer--

So, the short answer is that if a blogsite is inactive for a long period of time the blogger needs to “reactivate” it with I’d shoot an E-mail to the person who runs the “bionic Woman” blogsite and ask him/her to reactivate their site by sending an E-mail to .

I hope that this is a satisfactory answer?

BTW, I also checked out “…a work in progress” (thanks for pointing out where it was), it also seems inactive.

If you enjoy reading these sites via your RSS reader, E-mail the authors and ask them to activate their blogs again on (I remember that I had to do so even for my own blog “It is what it is” because I let it die down a bit).

There has been some in-fighting on DeafRead with accusations that they haven't been fair in posting deaf blogs.

TIF said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, you totally hit a chord with me; what you said about hearing vs deaf world definately sums it all up on how I feel and the way I live! Very inspiring. I'm just in awe. Congrats on meeting the gentlemen! I'll check out the books soon.