Friday, August 12, 2011


I will be the first to admit: in the mornings I am an angry, biznotchy, growling, lumbering, scowling, barbed, volatile creature of hatred. I don't wake up well, I never really have. Something about the land of dreams sinks its claws into me and fights, fights to let me resurface unto reality.

I wake up slow. I use multiple alarms. I always hit the snooze and I hate, hate, HATE noise. It's not even noise so much as voices. I hate listening to people talk in the morning. Give me at least an hour before you so much as say "Good Morning"! Something about it just grinds against my brain and mashes every snarling instinct in my nervous system. It's not flight for me, it's FIGHT.

Needless to say, with as exuberantly talkative at my beau is at ANY given hour, this is a problem for us.

I recently published "Thief" about a mute boy whose best friend is deaf. They communicate in sign language. Oh, to know sign language... it's so... silent!

When I wrote "Thief" I tried to do some research into sign culture. I've always been interested in signing. I even tried to sign up for it in college. (Fun fact: my college only allowed you to take beginner's sign unless you actually had a close relative who was deaf. I don't. The waiting list for beginner's sign was still two semesters deep...) If I take a class, I don't want it to be half-assed... I want to learn everything I can. Just taking beginner's sign seemed sort of a waste to me.

So for my research I signed up with a huge deaf/signing culture message board. I introduced myself, said I was doing some research into signing culture and had some questions.

Then the internet crickets came out.

When I finally received a response, it was sadly to a link that was all about what non-hearing people hate about "hearies". I found many of the things there to be inflammatory and even hurtful. This was my greeting into the deaf culture? I was quite upset. I ended up mailing the moderator and asked to take my post down, then I excused myself from the message boards.

They say you catch more flies with honey. If you want someone to understand you, you have to be accepting when they start from ground zero. My students in Japan said some shocking and almost blasphemously incorrect things about America. I kept my patience and explained the error, and I tried to laugh off as many of the incidentally hurtful things they said. If someone kicks a rock and accidentally hits you, punching them in the face isn't going to solve anything.

I really despaired about signing for quite awhile. I'd made a few brave forays into the culture and seemed to keep finding locked doors.

Recently, Andy (the beau) asked me to go see Harry Potter (part 2) in the theaters with him. I read the books, at about a rate of 1 per day. They were alright. I wasn't terribly impressed. I can respect they brought the world of books to many kids, and applaud them for that. I would probably have sufficed on Sparknotes. Sadly, I found the movies equally as lacking. They just didn't hold any punch for me. But I took his desire to see the movie, and I struck a deal.

I would finish watching the movies (4 total more to watch, at that point) AND see the last one in theaters with him, if he would learn sign language with me.

Now, I understand it can take about a hobojillion years to learn sign language. But I felt like it took a hobojillion years to get through all the HP movies.

A deal was forged.

We add about 4 new words a day, via a set of 500 sign flashcards we obtained at a Border's funeral for 30% off. We also bought an ENORMOUS sign dictionary (ostensibly for when the cards are finished?).

We're up to somewhere about 50 words. We practice every card (current plus the new 4) every day. We've settled into a routine:

1. Pick new cards, at random.

2. Try to guess what the signs on the cards mean.

3. See the meaning of the cards, read the text of how to sign it, read "related" words".

4. Someone says a word and you have to produce the sign. It gives us some good practice because it's almost like "translating" the word into movement.

We were also doing an I-sign-you-say backwards translation, but doing both took up a lot more time and with an increasing number of cards/words, we just say-and-sign-quiz.

It's slow going. It will take us about a million years to learn sign language. But the important thing is: we are doing it together. With increasing numbers of words, we can put together some simple sentences. We can communicate small things via sign. We have opened up an additional line of communication and set aside time to spend with each other (that is very important).

And maybe a small personal favorite thing... the more we learn, the more I look forward to a nice, voiceless morning.


  1. Way to go, turning what could be a weakness (hating voices in the AM) into a way to spend more time with your beau!
    Were you able to reflect any of the anger you found in the on-line communities into your Thief protagonist? It's a refrain I've before, unfortunately.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. It was hard not to be angry at the onliners, of course, but honestly I felt more hurt. And confused - this was the welcome someone who honestly wanted into the culture receives?

    As far as Mason... he's a pretty good-natured kid. But definitely there were limitations in communication and he felt the frustration of people who just didn't understand how he had to live.