When I was a little kid, I was fascinated with sign language. I remember finding a pamphlet with all the letters in ASL (American Sign Language) on it and practicing until I learned the alphabet. I would have loved to have practiced with someone, but I never interacted with a deaf person before. Except for seeing it in the movie with Marlee Matlin in “Children of a Lesser God,” I had so little experience with the culture and it wasn’t until I was in college in a sign language class, that I actually met my first deaf person. He was my professor, Larry Forrestal, and he was just awesome.
Professor Forrestal was deaf and didn’t speak. The entire class was conducted in sign language and whatever he felt like writing on the black board. I remember only hearing him speak once. It was later in the year and he called out someone’s name when they were walking away from him and he couldn’t get their attention. Dumbfounded, we all stared at him and signed, “You Can Speak?” He shook his head no, but gave a sly grin. I bet he could speak, but he chose not too.
Another funny story: One day, we met in the evening for a study group and we were walking with our professor through the Student Union to our meeting area. There was a huge party going on and the music was so loud, “I couldn’t hear myself think.” I saw Professor Forrestal “dancing and moving” along to the music and I signed to him “How are you dancing? You hear it?” He rolled his eyes, grabbed my hand and another girl’s hand and pushed us both to the floor. Here were the three of us, our professor and two of his students, sitting on the floor in the middle of this very active building and he’d pressed our hands to the floor so we could feel the pulsations from the bass from the music “loud and clear.” He also pointed to his chest and told us to just “feel it” and of course we could. We sat there for a while, just “listening” with him along to the music. It was a very big wake up call for me.
Sign Language and the deaf culture has fascinated me ever since and when I was writing a YA series, I decided to make my main character deaf. FLYING TO THE LIGHT is about a young deaf boy who knows about the afterlife and now people are after him for the answer. FLYING TO THE FIRE continues the tale seven years later and my main character’s life is suddenly turned upside down yet again. What I think has really appealed to people is that my character’s family primarily uses sign language to communicate with him and at no time is his deafness a disability. It is simply a part of who he is.
I just love that my interest as a little girl morphed into something so amazing and brought me to this spot. Have you had experiences with the culture? I’d love to hear. Please drop me a note on my website and join my e-newsletter. Just click for newsletter updates here and then click “Contact Me.”