More than you know


Fall, 2012.

I like daffodils and orchids and sunshine and bubbles and kites and colorful tights and nailpolish and chai tea and small braids and…”  The first paragraph of my online dating profile was a run on sentence list of things I liked.

My friend A, a semi-fearless traveler with a penchant for adventure, was appalled, and declared that it didn’t reflect me at all.  I believe she thought I was portraying myself as a Giggle Giggle Hair Girl to attract men.

I am not a Giggle Giggle Hair Girl.  Not that I have anything against them — when that’s their genuine personality — it’s just not me.  Not that I don’t giggle — I am quick to laugh; one of my favorite games is fake laughing until you real laugh.  But I am not so good with the clothing that fits and matches, let alone outfits with jewelry, scarves, shoes, and hair.  Hair.  I started cutting my own hair when I was college-poor, and I haven’t stopped, even though my method of gathering it into a pony and lopping at it with kitchen scissors is hardly refined.

But I digress.

A thought I was putting on a Giggle Giggle Hair Girl facade, when in reality I was listing out the things that made me excited, many of which admittedly had a whiff of Zoey Deschanel to them.  (Who tends to fit into another trope, but in the pursuit of coining mine, I will omit it here.)  OK, but I don’t want to live in a world where liking bubbles (seriously, go look at one) and kites (so magical) is relegated to the realm of GGHGs.


I have a secret fantasy of going door to door soliciting people to buy copies of “Death of a Salesman.” I can understand your happiness at reading “Death on the Nile” while on the Nile.

This, among other thoughtful, humorous comments, was in his first message to me.   So I naturally friendzoned him, in about as literal a way possible:

I’m glad you contacted me! We’re clearly meant to be friends.

He was too extroverted, I decided.  And I wasn’t crazy about the picture of him posing in front of flowers.

And then…then we skyped.  For five hours.  And everything changed.


I should have known when you didn’t want to be seen reading Calvin and Hobbes on the metro.

As I was coming out of a previous relationship, I joked with people about “I should have knowns.”  I had spent over a year in a relationship, convinced that we would work out in spite of personality, cultural, and value differences.  We would work through sheer determination.  I kept trying to do x, y, z.  And then I was just trying to try.

Relationships are hard.  Marriage is hard.  It’s what everyone is always writing about, talking about, getting counseling for, wringing hands over, ending phrases in prepositions with.

Love is a choice.  It’s an action, a verb.

I still believe all of these things.  But start with a good foundation.


I caught the happy virus last night

When I was out singing beneath the stars.

It is remarkably contagious –

So kiss me.

– Hafiz

We were long distance for over a year.  Upside: it forced us to talk instead of do activities side by side.  Downside: Sharing life over a screen is nothing like sharing life. Upside: We appreciated every moment we had together. Downside: This meant we were obnoxious to hang out with for everyone else.

…and  I remember telling his sister that we were only disgusting because we were long distance.  Not to worry. Things would change.

I know that if we stick this out that one day we will fall out of love and have to remember to fall back in again.  That date nights will have to be scheduled, that we will have to remind ourselves to hold hands.  Maybe we will have children and turn into sleep-deprived passive aggressives.  We might hurt each other and wonder if forgiveness is ever possible.  We might take each other for granted, stop communicating, dig into ruts.  It will be work, it will be effort, it will be choices.

But.  For now we are a shmoopfest.  We are a stereotype.  We look into each other’s eyes and philosophize about what it means to stare into another’s eyes.  (Trust me, you should be glad we found each other because nobody else wants this mess.)  We create lists of countries we will visit and countries we will live in.  We spend hours over a beer at a brewery.  We look at each other’s hands, and cook for each other, and chase each other, and laugh.  We laugh a lot.  We are very seldom hungry.


“I’m running a little late because I’m in a grocery store…I’ll explain later.”

He is buying groceries for a homeless man again.  Why do they always want steak?


I was single for the first 22 years of my life.  And I loved it.  Being single was a wonderful experience for me, and the only reason I would give it up would be to be with someone who makes me better than I can be on my own.  Who wants to join me in exploring the world.  Who wants to live and give and share with others.  Who takes my ideals and runs with them.

Who fits with me on an emotional, spiritual, physical, and intellectual level.


“If you could travel back and live in any time period, what would it be?  What about the early 1900’s?”

“That would be cool, but I don’t think it would be a great time to be a woman.”

He didn’t want a Giggle Giggle Hair Girl.  But he did want her 2nd cousin, the Red Lips 40’s Heels Girl.  I only wear heels at weddings and funerals. I am slightly tilted when I walk. When I apply lipstick, I get a pinkish glow over and under my lips, and bits of red on my teeth.

I didn’t want Creative Dreamer Man.  I wanted Mechanical Engineer C++ Man.  But then, I didn’t know that being with him would be like coming home.

The traveler’s curse


“Don’t ever tell anyone anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

– Holden Caulfield

My brother says we weren’t so much raised as traveled.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s in his unpublished book.  Sorry, Chris.)  And it’s true: one of my friends’ favorite pastimes is instructing me to give “the list” when someone asks where I’m from.  It’s rather a jerk move because when someone asks them about their day it’s not like I force them to list off their movements of every hour.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved it, the constant unknown, the exploration, the newness, tastes, smells, sounds of a different place.  I loved arriving at a new house, echoey and imposing, with empty rooms waiting to be chosen and filled.  I loved unwrapping our shipments and rediscovering possessions.  And I loved the people.  People from all over the world who became acquaintances, friends, family.

When someone asks about my childhood, about the moving, about the difficulty of packing up and leaving a place, I usually tell them I loved it but that it isn’t for everyone.  I don’t tell them about the indescribable ache when yet another best friend moved to a different continent.  I don’t tell them about my friends who found the moving depressing and semi-traumatic.  And I can’t tell them about what it feels like to have different places make residence in your body like so many unsolicited but vital organs.

Every memory, every move, every culture and friend and experience has infused my life with so much vivid color that I can’t help but write adjective-heavy blog entries extolling the virtues of the nomadic, international childhood.


Though I wouldn’t trade my childhood for the world, there’s still the “otherness” that follows me like a shadow — easy to ignore in the right lighting, but occasionally starkly contrasted against my life.  It is the otherness of feeling that I don’t truly belong anywhere, which is an acceptable feeling during the occasional existential crisis, but not something you want on a regular basis.  I will never be fully American.  Nor can I claim to be Omani or from any combination of the Middle Eastern countries I love.  But the otherness shadow is always there.  It’s there when I bring up the craziness of Egyptian roads and people stare at me. (If you’re from Africa, why are you white?)  It’s there when I smell shisha or hear Arabic or crave Lebanese food.  And it’s also there when I’m in these countries and know that I do not share their heritage, their culture, their language and customs.


Having friends scattered across the world is wonderful, but achey.  The friend who talked to you late in the night about nothing and everything.  The friends who infused your life with brightness when you were wandering alone.  The friend you constantly laughed with because your weird sense of humors hit just right.  The friend who shaped your ideas and challenged your assumptions. The friends you shared life with, eating, joking, failing at exercising, singing, adventuring.  The friend you haven’t seen in 10 years who welcomes you to stay and everything has changed but nothing really has.

These people, who were so essential in illuminating your life during certain years, become distant with distance.  They, who were so colorful, are now fading, preserved in memory, on Facebook, on Skype, but not tangible, daily relationships. But they are part of you, and the more you move, the more of them you meet, the heavier your shadow becomes, filled with not just places but people.  And these people are not content to be a shadow: they are part of you, shaping you more distinctly than a place or a move.  It is something, trying to keep up with all these pieces of yourself, trying to preserve memories, let them go, wade through bouts of nostalgia, and, above all, being thankful for all the love that has been in your life. Past, present, and future.


It’s fine.  It’s growing up.  It’s TCKs…and everyone else.


Georgia on my mind


The skies are big here, and if that sounds redundant or cliche, you are right.  But you are also wrong.  Because “big” is the best way to describe them — no need for gaudy language like “vast” “endless” “immense” — these are Georgian, straightforward, you’re-in-the-south, big skies.  It’s something I had stopped thinking about, the sky, something that had been pushed to the periphery of my thoughts.  But when it’s big, and cloudy, and changing colors and textures in front of you, you start to notice.


“When you said ‘Georgia,’ I wasn’t sure you meant the state.  For all I knew it was the country,” he says and laughs.  It’s true.  I’ve been bouncing between states and countries since college — and before college — and Georgia the country was equally likely, if not more likely than Georgia the state.

“What brought you here,” I am asked, quite frequently.  That or, “Where’s your accent from?” I think of my accent as a sort of pan-American affair with a dash of California and Connecticut.  Newcastory.  The occasional British lilt or expressions have mostly disappeared, though I did disturb my sister-in-law with my pronunciation of “basil” (“a” as in cat) this summer, and I can’t quite bring myself to say “foy-er.

It’s a little strange though, planting myself in the South after a year in New England, a year in Korea, and a couple years in Europe.  I wanted warm weather, friendly faces, hearty food, and, yes, big skies.  I got all of these, along with some minor culture shock: different grocery stores, different values, lots of college football talk, greeting cards that unironically praise George Bush.  Nothing too unexpected (I’m a little Texan), but I didn’t realize that people actually carry guns on them.  There’s a weird comfort in knowing that I can have Chick-fil-a any time I want — it’s like a blanket wrapped around my shoulders when I didn’t know I was cold.


During a couple of my preteen years, we spent our summer in North Carolina, hiking up mountains and surveying the broccoli trees that covered the hilly surfaces.  It was warm, but we still had a jacuzzi, which was, and is, the height of human brilliance.  (A huge bathtub with bubbles that you can share with friends?  Yes, please.)  We would drive into Georgia for the cheaper gas.  That was my only interaction with the state until this year.  That and becoming a secondhand Braves fan through my little brother, Lord knows how he found them — the Braves seem to have that effect on people.


There are Southern phrases that I can’t say in my accent.  They just don’t sound right.  Are you from not-a-southern-American-state?  Say “Bless your heart.”  See?  “Heart” has to be soft and drawn out, not the “ar” in a pirate “argh.”  Same goes with the name “Peyton.”  I can’t say it.  For some reason I manage “y’all” just fine, probably because I believe very strongly in the need for second person plurals.

I’m just enough out of Atlanta (40 minutes) to where the accents have a decent oomph to them.  One lady with a drawl said that she had traveled to a vacation spot in Maine, and a local had been so excited about her accent that he took her by the hand and walked her around, having her speak to people.


All of that to say — I’ve moved to Georgia.  I’m working as an itinerant teacher of the deaf which is crazy awesome and intense.

A world without deaf people?



“So…do you think with the increases in technology that we’re heading towards a world without deaf people?”

He phrased the question slowly, thoughtfully, with genuine interest written on his face.

I looked at the girls sitting next to me; two of my housemates who have been with me in the MED program for almost a year.  One of them, K, is profoundly deaf — she has a CI and communicates orally, but she is also fluent in ASL(American Sign Language)/SEE(Signed Exact English).  We exchanged glances, and then launched into a flurry of explanations and corrections.

Why there isn’t a solution for Hearing Loss

– There is no “cure” for deafness.  When a deaf person removes his device, he can’t hear anything.

-The etiology (cause) of deafness varies, but there will never be a world where these don’t exist, unless it is a world without illness, genetics, and — let’s be real — humans.

– Hearing with a device (Cochlear Implant or Hearing Aid), is not “normal” hearing.  It is using 4-22 electrodes to replace tens of thousands of hair cells.  The quality and clarity of sound is different, as is the access to sound.  A deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) person who is aural/oral will struggle with listening in background noise, will deal with auditory fatigue, and will not always have access to every frequency.  (Certain speech sounds are in higher frequencies, like “s”.  If you can’t hear a sound, it will be difficult to produce.)

– Not everyone is a candidate for cochlear implants.  Whether it’s biology (absence of auditory nerve), neural capability, or not a significant enough loss (severe to profound).  Also, even if a person is a candidate, there’s no real way to know how she will do.  There are predictors and factors, but there are no guarantees.

Change the question

Asking about a world without deaf people is, to put it bluntly, considered offensive.  You can ask about improving technology, improving sound access, improving services and educational opportunities for DHH students.  But don’t ask about life without deaf people — there is nothing wrong with being deaf.  In fact, there is a Deaf community with traditions, culture, and values, who sign and value their identity as deaf individuals.

Many people in the Deaf (capitalizing the “D” refers to culturally deaf people)  community resent the field aural/oral deaf education because they see it as an attempt to “fix” something that’s not broken.  The oral approach is also threatening because it takes away the future members of their small community.


After explaining these ideas, and dialoguing about our classes and the various methods needed to teach DHH students, my roommates and I walked back to the car.  It felt like our first opportunity to educate someone about deaf education, using all the information we had learned this year.  (Undoubtedly K has spent her entire life educating people about hearing loss, but it was even a first for her in regards to the amount of knowledge we’ve acquired over this year.)

What is a TOD?

I’ve learned a lot this year.  An unbelievable amount, really.  Naturally, it’s the tip of the iceberg — but it’s a sizable tip, and a great starting point for continuing my foray into the field of deaf education and the trenches of teaching.  I still have questions every day.  Every. Single. Day.  Like, a million.  Like, an annoy-my-teacher-and-classmates-because-my-hand-is-perpetually-stuck-in-the-air amount.

Deaf education is anything and everything but static.  It is a world of fluidity, of nuances, of “it depends on the student”s and “it depends on the circumstances”s.  Because, when it comes down to it, no two cases are the same.  The loss is different, the family is different, the resources are different, the neurological makeup is different, the IQ and aptitude are different, the district is different — everything needs to be tailored for each student.

And so, we are jugglers.  We are teachers of language, advocacy, academics, social skills.  We are educators, advocates, role models, referrers.  We are invested.  In the child, in his future, in her hobbies, in his social life, in her college dreams.

And, on a vaguely related note, we are pushers.

On Lent, Facebook, and Bill Watterson

I gave up Facebook for Lent.  I’ve done this for a few years now — I wonder what sort of dip in site usage Facebook sees over these forty days.  I wonder if whoever is in charge of retention at Facebook finds it worrisome that some users consider it as a vice on par with smoking or fatty foods.  Or maybe they are pleased at the idea of Facebook being an uncontrollable urge which, naturally, will be returned to after the forty days.

I enjoy Facebook.  I like sharing and interacting and having access to friends and family across the world.  But when I think about my values, about the type of relationships I would like to cultivate, the type of interests I want to pursue — Facebook is at best a neutral addition to my life.  At worst, it is a distraction from all of these areas.  I think Matt Steele discusses its potential for inauthenticity pretty well — “I can carefully curate my life to look like a shimmering stream of Hallmark moments.”

So I gave it up for forty days.  Because it was a distraction to school, to work, and to real life.  Because I have more meaningful ways to spend my time.  And on a similar/unrelated note (can we create a word for that?), I’m leaving some thoughts from Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes:

“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

And, if you have time, check out JK Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Commencement speech:

Teaching the Deaf — The deal with language

“Oh wow, that sounds rewarding.”

“Do you know sign language?”

“Ohh deaf education.  I thought you said “death” education.”

These are the three most common replies I encounter when telling someone about my current studies.  The third one is actually the most common, and usually followed by the first — apparently educating people about death is currently on the forefront of the public consciousness.

I’ve already semi-answered the “Do you know sign language” question in another post, but I’d like to answer it more fully now.

No, I don’t know sign language, but I’m (very slowly) working on it.  Earlier this month, in a fit of zealous optimism (the only way I can describe making February resolutions), I decided to learn one sign a day.  Which, living with a native signer, is hardly a difficult task.  I’ve learned some basic words so far, most of which can be used in polite company, and hope to get a few more down before summer.  The beauty of sign language is that a) it’s sort of sloppy, so sometimes messing up a sign almost makes you look more fluent and b) if you can’t remember a sign you can make something up and have a good shot at guessing it correctly.  Kind of like guessing Swedish words by using an English word with a weird vowel stress.

I’m currently reading “The Miracle of Language” by Richard Lederer, which is thus far a lovely read, if only because he references Roald Dahl and Lewis Carrol.  Language has always fascinated me — the philosophical idea of language constructing our reality, and the consistently mind-boggling realization that it truly separates us from animals.  I am blessed with the combination of having a terrible memory and being easily enthused about concepts and ideas.  This means that I am able to rediscover old thoughts and get equally excited about them every time.  Basically: every time I pause and consider the implications of language and the beauty and detail of our communication, I get excited.


The sign for “Thank you” is taking your hand, keeping it flat, and bringing it up to your lips and then moving it down away from you.  The sign for “Good” is essentially the same.  I learned these two this summer because most of the girls in my program have a signing background, and “Thank you” and “Good” happen to come up quite frequently.

All of this to say: though our program is oral, none of us are “anti-signing”.  We are being trained to teach students to listen and talk, but we still respect parents who choose sign for their children.  And our cohort is required to take a signing class from a Deaf teacher in order to graduate.

When I first started the program, I was easily distracted during lectures because my roommate (who is in the program) had interpreters in some of the classes and I would stare at them as they signed to her.  I was captivated by the expressive movements, the fluid hands, the theatrical faces; there is so much beauty captured in the physical expression of language.  One of the interpreters had actually become an interpreter because he had been in a class with a deaf student and was mesmerized by the sign interpretation.


I like words.  I like to play with them, toss them, use them to evoke thoughts, create images, guide minds, share ideas.  Yet it has only been during this semester that I have realized that I have stumbled from one wordsy profession (journalism) to another.  Basically: I’m being trained to be a teacher of language.

“A Teacher of the Deaf is a Teacher of Language.” One of my professors said this (about seven times for good measure), and I immediately recognized it as the crux of my studies that I had previously left unlabeled.  We talk about access, about speech, about acoustics and audiology and visual aids and vocabulary gaps — but what we’re really talking about is language.  Communication.  How can I — as a being sharing space with you — share with you how I feel?  I am hot, I am hungry, I have memories from after the age of four (but not before), I believe in souls, I like your hair, I shrink clothes in the dryer, I think about life too much or not enough or just the right amount.

Most of our relating — from the most banal to the deeply profound — is done through language.  And to most of us, it’s breathing.  We don’t notice it unless there is an interference (ie. navigating a foreign country).  Furthermore, to most of us, acquiring it is also breathing.  It’s instinctive, almost automatic: we hear language and eventually start repeating it and develop a natural fluency.

But deaf children — even ones with aids or implants — don’t have full access to sound, and therefore, language.  Depending on their hearing loss, they miss different frequencies (which means missing different sounds because each phoneme/letter falls under a frequency), and therefore their production of speech is altered.  They struggle to create sounds they can’t hear, or can only hear occasionally or fuzzily.  They miss incidental language, which is the language that surrounds us that hearing people internalize automatically.  Instead of having this automatic language stored, they miss it and develop gaps in vocabulary, in grammar.

Our professor told us about an 11-year-old boy she had to teach the word “fart” to.  He would say “excuse me, I passed gas,” which she said she appreciated for its politeness. However, as she told it, he was on a baseball team and there was no way she was going to let him go into the dugout and say “I passed gas” to a bunch of 11-year-old boys.


I did a three week externship at a school for the deaf in Seattle.  Like many oral-auditory schools, most of the classes had a couple of hearing peers.  While I was there, NBC Nightly came to interview the students about meeting Derrick Coleman, a member of the Seahawks, and the only deaf NFL player.  The students were all brought into a classroom and played with toys at various stations as the camera crew scanned the room and picked out children to interview.

The reporter, brown hair, big encouraging eyes, sat down and talked to several of the children.  The first few were shy and mumbly, and answered questions about Derrick Coleman’s profession with answers like “baseball?”  Then the reporter came to a table with kids playing around it.  He started talking to a little boy with mussed brown hair and an eager smile. The boy answered his questions articulately and clearly, so the reporter kept talking to him, asking him his thoughts.  And then:

“How do you feel, knowing that Derrick Coleman is a professional football player?”

The boy shrugged. “Good, I guess.”

“Does it make you feel like you can do anything?”


The boy, of course, was one of the typical hearing students.  Derrick Coleman’s success as a deaf football player had no personal relevance on his career goals.

When I tell this story, I laugh at the humor of the situation. But I also think of how eager the reporter was to talk to the boy after less articulate interviews.  How, even as he created a piece about deaf children, he unknowingly missed most of the deaf children in the room and talked to a hearing child.

That’s the thing about language.  It often means inclusion or exclusion.  I know which I want for my students — I just don’t always know how to get there.

In the meantime, attempting to sign language is a good reminder to myself of how hard it can be to learn a language for the first time.

On seasons.

I fell in love with The Fantasticks the first time I saw it performed by a nearby high school.  I was in high school myself, and it appealed to my notions of romance vs. cynicism.  Particularly the romance — and I don’t mean just the boy-girl stuff (though that was there too).

Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.


Remembering September in the deep of December.  This song; the ideas, the seasons of weather and life — they seem to surround me now, like when you learn a new word and then suddenly see it everywhere.

I know we aren’t in December.  But I feel it.  I feel it coming and I get anxious about it on a visceral level that surprises me because I am not an anxious person.  Not usually.  But there’s something about winter, about the dark and the cold and the long months after Christmas that bring out my materialistic side and make me wish for resources to spend half a year in the other hemisphere.

Fall is short.  It always feels rushed to me; one day the leaves are green on the trees, the next they are a million vibrant colors, the next they are lying brown on the ground.  I think it feels short because I love it.  And because darkness is around the corner.


I am a Sun Baby, I tell my boyfriend and he rolls his eyes.  Eye roll = truth.  Maybe it’s more than sun for me.  Maybe the warmth is home — my entire childhood spent happily sweating in deserts, squinting in the brightness, watching glasses fog up stepping in and out of the AC.  The heat an ever present backdrop to our treks around the Middle East, a comforting blanket at night, a blazing force by day.

There are hot and cold climate cultures, my friend tells me.  She explains some of the attributes of each, and it makes sense.  She is another Third Culture Kid, of Thailand, and she is perpetually cold, even during mild California evenings. I used to tease her about it, but now I’m right there with her, missing my sandy homes, my warm nights and toasty ocean swims.


This whole weather thing is, of course, one of those metaphors that I could take an extended dive into.  When going through a heavy workload or a difficult time, it’s important to look to Spring, and — if that’s not possible — use memories of September to get you through.  Before there can be rebirth, there must be death.  Winter isn’t so awful if you dress properly and have a positive mindset.  (Grad school isn’t so bad if you study and smile.)  There is great beauty to be found in Winter…


There is more to The Fantasticks than a nostalgic song and a young couple falling in love.  It follows the young love through testing experiences and captures a wider angle on the ups and downs of life.  The full picture; all four seasons.  A time and place for each event.