Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Whole New World

     Freshman year a whole new world for me.  It was my first year living, studying, and simply being with other deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) individuals.  Meeting anyone is exciting, unpredictable, scary, and fun.  At my college, there were people from all different backgrounds: cultural, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, academic interest, and more.  Sometimes when I met someone we would have a lot of things in common - sometimes meeting someone would be more like an intergalactic exchange!  And there’s a whole spectrum in between.  Always, I try to be respectful of other people and our differences and have found most will do the same for me.
     For the first time in my life, I was able to share my deaf experience learning in a mainstream environment with other people.  However, I soon learned that everyone’s deaf experience was different.  I was pleasantly surprised that I met some D/HH people even more enthused to network with other D/HH students, and I was unpleasantly surprised, disappointed, that I met people who shied away from me even though we both were D/HH.  I met and interacted with five people who were D/HH in one year.  
  • Two were like two ships passing in the night.
  • One became a very close friend who is actively involved in deaf advocacy groups.  It’s hard to keep up with him, but he is super awesome.  He is very open about his hearing loss and gives me tips on classes and professors - it helps that he is a year ahead and knows pretty much everything.
  • One was like me in nearly every way.  We both were mainstream, we both wore hearing aids, we both like learning.  She writes for the school newspaper and plays the ukulele.  I am very jealous of her uke skills, because I’m still learning!  But we are very good friends and might get together to do an uke jam.
  • The last was the disappointing one.  We spent a lot a time together in classes, shared equipment and swapped some stories about the D/HH life, but never got closer than that.  In fact, I might go so far to say as I felt the third avoided me.  Of course, there are tons of reasons why that might be, maybe we spent too much time in the same room, maybe we have repelling personality, maybe I’m paranoid, but I suspect part of the reason might have too do with our differing attitudes on hearing loss.  Although we were both mainstreamed, he wears a cochlear implant, which can vary the deaf experience a lot.  My impression was that he does not want to associate with a “deaf” label, whereas I do associate with a “deaf” label and am familiar with the Deaf world, at least the Deaf world in New Mexico.  I was probably one of the few D/HH people at this school to have any familiarity with the Deaf world.
     He’s not alone in trying to distance himself from being “deaf.”  Recently, I met another boy who also wore a cochlear implant, I was talking/signing to him and he immediately went into a defensive posture, “Oh no, I don’t know sign.”  I was confused, “That’s fine.  I’m mostly signing for me.”  He relaxed, but still seemed a little bit on edge around me.  Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to communicate with him after that, but I learned an important lesson.  
     Not everyone view deafness the same way (for many reasons, which I will not discuss right now).  Some people view it as an obstacle.  Some people view it as an integral part of them.  I view it as a part of me that makes me stronger.  It’s an important part of me, but it does not define who I am.  I am deaf.  I am also a future scientist, a baker, an Italian learner, avid reader, and procrastinator!  Who are you?

P.S. See you next year!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Wild Free Tune

     This blog started as an AP Literature assignment and evolved into an Optimist International Oration for the deaf and hard of hearing contest entry. This was based on sharing my deafness with my classmates, and one of the poets we were studying. I loved Langston Hughes's poems. One of his poems is "Beggar Boy," and it fit perfectly for the Optimist's prompt which asked how optimism helps me push forward:

Beggar Boy

     My optimism will help me press on to greater future achievements by helping me be persistent and explorative. Optimism has helped me get to where I am today, from my isolated early years in a quiet corner, to my next great achievements in life, where there are so many opportunities. Optimism will help me, even though pessimism is so much easier. I could very easily complain about my lot in life and ask for everyone’s sympathy, but I don’t.
     Many other people have become something beyond anything they could have previously imagined, despite many obstacles in their paths. They achieved their greatness through hard work and an optimistic attitude. Steven Hawking, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, and Langston Hughes are but a few. I aspire to be one of these people.
     I would like to share with you a poem named “Beggar Boy” by Langston Hughes. Hughes was a black poet, born in 1902 and died in 1967. He was one of the leading voices of the Harlem Renaissance, celebrating black culture through his poetry and writings. Both Hughes and I share a mutual feeling that the beggar boy in this poem could be something greater than a stereotypical beggar. The poem goes like this:
What is there within this beggar lad
That I can neither hear nor feel nor see,
That I can neither know nor understand,
And still it calls to me?

Is not he but a shadow in the sun
A bit of clay, brown, ugly, given life
And yet he plays upon his flute a wild free tune
As if Fate had not bled him with her knife.
     The beggar lad in this poem is by some unfortunate circumstances at the bottom of the social ladder. He wears raggedy clothes and sits in the sun. I could very easily be at the bottom of the social ladder, so easily that I liken myself to the beggar lad in the poem. My raggedy clothes would be the hearing aids that I wear everyday, and I would sit in a quiet corner of the world, afraid of exploring. But there is something in this beggar boy that “calls to me” – he does not just sit in the sun, he plays a “wild free tune” on his flute, just as I cannot just sit quietly in my little corner but need to engage the world with an active sense of curiosity.
     Both of us also have a sense of optimism that will move us forward in life. His is in his music; mine is in my curiosity. This is crucial for both the beggar lad and me, because the poem is not finished for us. Fate may have bled both of us, but wounds can heal. The cure for wounds of these kinds and magnitudes is optimism. His music will make him a renowned Broad-Way musician, because he practices with passion. My curiosity compels me to move from the corner, because I cannot achieve my full potential such as becoming an expert scientist, a brilliant inventor, an involved community member, if I sit in a quiet corner with a limited view. My optimism will help me press on to all these future achievements and more.
     Does optimism cure my hearing loss? No, it does not; but it does allow me to press on in mutual harmony with it, to accept my hearing loss as part of me and move forward without it hindering me. I am not at the bottom of the ladder because I am optimistic; I have moved away from the corner to present to you today; and I will continue to press on, to become whoever I want to be, because I have optimism at my side.

Thursday, June 30, 2016


     One time I was eating dinner with a few people I had just met in the dorm.  Everything was going as well as it possibly could - the food was good, the hall was not too noisy, and the people were exciting.  The boy next to me introduced himself and ask where I was from.  Unfortunately, I had just taken a big bite of roasted eggplant and was thus occupied with chewing.  Not to be deterred, he started guessing where I was from by state while I chewed the aubergine.  I shook my head for each wrong answer while also signing "no."  Finally, I gulped down the remnants of the eggplant and said, "No, I am from New Mexico."
     “Oh, that’s nice.  Am I talking too much?”
     “No, why?”
     “You’re making that sign …” and he showed the yapping gesture that looks similar to ASL ‘no.

     He had mistaken my signed "no" with the "talking too much" gesture.  An easy mistake, my "no" had gotten a little bit sloppy, but I explained to him that while I cannot talk while eating, I can still sign!  I then showed him the sign for “no.”  He said “Cool!” - he happened to know the ASL alphabet and we continued the rest of dinner talking about sign language.
     An interesting start to a good friendship!

How to sign "no"

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cleaning Mishap!

     When I was about two years old and wearing my old analog hearing aids, I thought my hearing aids were dirty.  I thought as logically as any two-year old can, "Hmm, how do people clean dirty things?  Why they soak them in water first!"  Luckily for my two-year old self, there was a glass of water nearby.  Perfect!  Off went the hearing aids and into the water they went!
     Toddler-me had no clue about the rocky relationship between electronics and water; she did not understand that hearing aids were electronics, or even what "electronics" meant.  Fortunately, Moms know everything - they know what "electronics" mean; they know about the rocky relationship between electronics and water; and they know that hearing aids should definitely not go into the glass of water!
     My mom rescued the hearing aids as soon as they fell into the water and dried them quickly.   Toddler Chloe was happy because the hearing aids were now clean, and Mom was happy because the hearing aids still squealed, a sign that they were still functioning properly.

P.S.  Since my mom is not only omniscient, but also somewhat of an anxious, over-protective helicopter, she did take the hearing aids to the audiologist to be sure all was well ... despite the audiologist telling her on the phone that the hearing aids were working as long as they were squealin'!

P.S.S.  Now I know how to properly clean my hearing aids.  Luckily! 

Two-year old me ready to clean some hearing aids!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Deaf or Hearing: It Doesn't Matter

      Ever have one of those days where you think, "If I was hearing, [insert dramatic situation here] wouldn't happen," or "If I was deaf, [insert different dramatic situation here] wouldn't be so problematic." I have thought, "If I was..." countless times, and each time, I tell myself to snap out of it. Immediately. It's not that these thoughts are bad or terrible, but they sometimes have the ability to make me feel depressed or disappointed in myself, all for something that I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER.
      Other people may wonder "If..." about me, like why am I not more hearing? Or more deaf? This is a pointless question. I could act like I hear, but there will always be some things that I miss. I could act like I am deaf, but I will not deny that I like to hear--especially music and my own voice. I was born in between two worlds, and I must make my in-between world habitable. I still do not know how to that yet...
      But the question, what if I was born differently, is absolutely absurd. Here's why--there is no possible way to know the answer. I cannot clone myself, restore or take away my clone's hearing, mimic exact identical environmental conditions, and accurately measure results. Even if that experiment could somehow happen, what would I do with the results? If both clones do 'worse' than me, than I should be happy where I am? Or if one or the other clone does 'better' than me, how do I use that result for my own benefit? I am not going to make multiple 'mini-mee's" just so that I can truly know whether I'll be better or worse off! It is however, entertaining to ponder this questions. So let's see what could happen if the above hypothetical scenario played out:
  • 100% hearing me: I would imagine her to be a fast-talking debater with a huge social outreach. She probably would be easily distracted in class, she can hear every word the teacher is saying wihtout using a microphone and she would be engaged in whispered side-conversations. She would excel in some classes, do so-so in other classes, and fail study hall (the reason is that she's too busy talking with friends). On the whole she would be a good student, a good conversationalist, but she has no connection to the Deaf world. She might never hear about the Deaf world, and think deafness is for aging people who just need powerful hearing aids to get by. As a result, she's not as empathetic with people. And she would not have a dog, no matter how many times she pleaded with her mom.
  • 100% Deaf me: Let's say that cochlear implants were not an option. Her parents start learning sign language, but also try to do some speech therapy. She is happier signing, so her parents sned her to a school for the Deaf. She has a huge support community and friends who also sign. Like hearing me, she can understand the teacher and engage in side conversations with friends, but with ASL. She is a good student, probably a math champion. Unfortunately, the deaf school is a boarding school. She still sees her parents on weekends and holidays, but she is gone for so long. She probably still would not have a dog, because she is away at school most of the time.
      Both "mini-me's" are good students with skills and strengths, but hearing me loses empathy, while Deaf me loses a tight-knit family, and both certainly do not have a dog (I think this last point especially is a deal-breaker for me). I have the best of both worlds--I am a good student; I am empathetic towards others; and I have a great family, which includes Oreo, the dog (Thanksgiving).
      My conclusion from my thought experiment: I like who I am!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Cheerleaders

     You are a freshman.  It is the home meet.  You just finished the C-team race, and you did well.  You feel well.  You feel great.   Now it is time to cheer on the Varsity team.  Your top five girls are fast, strong, and at the head of the pack.  You cheer your loudest for them.  You stay in the same spot for the last two girls.  The sixth girl ran by and not far from her was the seventh.  You cheer your loudest, but now your speech is deteriorating.
     The seventh girl ran by.  Your speech slipped.  Where there should have been two syllables, there was one.  Where there should have been a ‘z,’ there was an ‘sh.’  It was a nonsense sound, but it should have been a name.
     Two cheerleaders were near you.  They heard your slip.  They walked over to you – one put her arm around you.  They corrected you, cooing “See that girl over there.  Her name is –.”  Numbly, you nodded your head.  They were seniors, probably with good intentions, yet so, so mean.
     They continued cheering on their friend, but you were breaking.  You plummeted from high to low.  You turned so they wouldn’t see your tears.  You walked, trotted, ran away to a tree, a big, far-off tree. You sobbed in the safety of that tree.
     You needed a tissue.  The meet was out doors, and there was a line for the port-a-potty.  You tried to maintain a calm composure, but there was no hiding your red eyes, your puffy cheeks.  You grabbed a handful of toilet paper and left for the tree again, ignoring the next race, the spectators.
      A friend noticed you.  You couldn’t talk.  She hugged you.  When you calmed down, you two walked on the racecourse together, cheering on the last race.  You told her what had happened.  She said not to worry about it, the cheerleaders acted stupidly.   You could not take her words to heart, but thank God for that friend.  She comforted you at your lowest and helped you back on your feet.
     This was four foxtrot years ago! It's a true story.  I thought I had gotten over it, but when I was listening to another story of mean ol’ cheerleaders, all the emotions came flooding in.  The pain of my mistake was enough on its own, but the cheerleaders added to my guilt and turned it into grief and trauma.
     It was accidental on the part of the cheerleaders, but they did many things wrong that day.  They were complete strangers, even though we were part of the same, small school and all of us were in our school’s athletic garbs.   They dared hug me when correcting me on a mistake.  They patronized me as if I was a toddler, not even a freshwoman.  They did not know the long-term effect that meeting would have.  After that meet, I rarely called anyone by his or her first name, until a year ago.  At meets, at practice, I never used names, instead cheering on groups and using encouraging, but still generic, pep talks, until a year ago.
     A year ago, I decided that I was becoming too distant and I was too fearful to talk to people.  Names are very powerful, just remembering a name can do a lot for a healthy relationship, and I was refusing to say a single name.  That had to change.  There was a remarkable improvement in my social life once I made effort to greet everyone by name, to cheer on people individually, to talk to people.  The cheerleaders had a far greater impact on me, than anyone should ever have.

P.S. My mom told me after this event, "Don't let anyone take your mojo." I should listen to her more often.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Taiko Workshop

     Just a few weeks ago, my mom and I attended a workshop to learn how to play Taiko drums.  Taiko is a Japanese drum and super cool.  What I love about Taiko is that it’s not just about hearing the drums, but feeling it in your body.  The beats are so loud and powerful, I could feel it in the air and in my chest.
     I think drums are great for deaf musicians because they mostly depend on counting and rhythm and not so much on pitch, which I find the hardest part of being a musician. 
     Playing on the drums is just as cool, if not cooler, than listening.  At the end of the workshop, we did some improv; improv means playing in a group and watching each other for cues on beats and rhythm.  Because of our skilled student teachers, we all sounded pretty good even after only an hour of playing. 
     Drums are not the only instruments that deaf can play.  I believe that any instruments that can vibrate and be felt is playable without being able to hear.  I will expand this in another blog, but Exhibit A is me!  I play the violin, the viola, and the cello (and I’m learning the ukulele and piano), see Music to My Ears.

     Two examples of professional deaf drummers are Evelyn Glennie and Vaughn Brown.