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he MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grants were announced a few days ago. For those of you who don’t know what this is, the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur foundation gives $500,000.00 to 20-40 Americans who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” These Americans can be in any field and they can spend the money on whatever they feel like, no strings attached.
This year Carol Padden was one of the recipients! Carol and her husband, Tom Humphries, wrote several books about Deaf Culture, including “Deaf in America: voices from a culture”, “Inside Deaf Culture”, and two textbooks for learning American Sign Language. I have read many of her books and consider them some of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of Deaf Culture.
Carol was born Deaf to her two Deaf parents and she also has a Deaf brother. She attended a Deaf elementary school for a time before being put into a mainstream school. Currently, Carol is a professor at University of California San Diego and studies signed languages. She recently studied a new signed language in Africa that uses the actual body of the signer to indicate pronouns, as opposed to the area around the signer as in American Sign Language.
Carol is the first ever Deaf recipient of the Genius Grant. She says she has no concrete plans for the money yet, but will probably use it for creative research. “Maybe I have a few wild ideas I’ve been obsessing about,” she said in an interview “But they’re a little bit crazy. I’m not going to tell you about them until I can make them sound a little more rational.”
Not only am I excited that the field of Sign linguistics has gotten such amazing recognition, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. Congratulations Carol Padden!!!
aturday was horrifically hot and awful. It was over 100 degrees, and you could see the waves of heat coming off the macadam roadways. Instead of staying inside like any decent person would, I worked Deaf West’s booth at DEAFestival LA. Aside from the unbearable heat, I had an amazing time!
My shift at the booth was supposed to start at 2:00, but I hit the inevitable LA traffic. That, coupled with a 3 car accident on the side of the road, served to make me a bit late. As I pulled off the freeway, I saw with relief the little sign procaiming DEAFestival parking, and a blue arrow pointing the way in. Murphy’s law tends to work out so that whenever I’m running late, I usually get lost too. I was excited that didn’t have to worry about that today. I drove down a dusty road while a volunteer pointed me to park in a vast expanse of dustiness. There was a bus, shuttling people from parking lot to festival, so I retrieved my purse from the back seat of the car, straightened my new blue “Deaf West” shirt, and trudged through the dust to the bus stop. I was excited when I knew one of the volunteers helping people park! She also volunteers at Deaf West sometimes. We chatted a little before I took my place in the shade to await the bus.
It probably took less that 15 minutes for the bus to arrive, but the opressive heat made it seem like much longer. My little Disney Heat Index trained self was telling me to drink water NOW or suffer the consequesces. Too bad I hadn’t brought any with me. As I waited, I caught snippets of conversation from the others waiting for the bus. I think that’s the first time I’ve understood parts of ASL conversation without trying too. Evidence I’m getting better?
The bus dropped us all off underneath a line of tall pine trees, next to another field of dustines. Blue Easy-ups stretched out in the vast expanse of brown dirt while people bustled here and there. I joined them, determined to rush around and find the Deaf West booth as quickly as possible. As soon as I joined the crowd, a woman stopped me.
“Hi! You work for Deaf West?” she asked, signing with a very student accent.
“No, I’m a volunteer.” I signed back.
“Are you hearing?” She asked me.
“Oh thank goodness.” She said to me in English. She wanted to know about volunteering at Deaf West. I told her that I considered it an amazing experience, that they needed people for just about everything, and that she could go on the website and fill out their form if she was interested. We exchanged names, and I went on my way.
I found the booth pretty quickly, in the middle of the middle aisle. Ty, the Deaf West representative was chatting with someone in front of me. “Hi!” I signed to him, ” I’m volunteering today. I’m soooo sorry I’m late!”
“Don’t worry about it.” He signed back to me, and I took my place behind the counter. The next two hours were great. I chatted with people in my bad ASL, handed out forms, asked them if they wanted to win tickets, explained the shows that were coming up, and all together had an amazing time. They even had bottles of water for us to drink so we didn’t get dehydrated! The other girl who was volunteering with me was an ASL 2 student, and she did so well!! I don’t know that I would have done as well as she did when I was in ASL 2. We made friends fast, and exchanged numbers at the end of our booth stint. Several Deaf people asked me my name, several more decided to tease me (which I always enjoy), and I saw a lot of funny t-shirts. “I laughed my ASL off” was one of the t-shirts I really liked, but my favorite by far was “Don’t Scream, I’m not that Deaf.” I also saw a LOT of people I knew milling about in the crowd. It was exciting to know that I was recognizing people and becoming a part of the community, slowly but surely.
When my booth stint was up, I wandered around for a few minutes. I decided several months ago that my dream interpreting job would be to work for GLAD (Greater Los Angeles Agency for the Deaf), so I was excited to see their signs. I took a bunch of fliers, figuring I would peruse them later. I also walked around to see if there was any ASL merchandise I wanted to buy. Sadly there were only two booths selling things, and they were things I really wasn’t interested in. The other thing I really missed was the TTY museum. Maybe they decided not to attend because all their antique machines would be outside in the dust. Aside from all the booths with Deaf themes, booths from the city of Los Angeles were there too. The Democratic party had a booth, the water district had a booth, and so did one of the candidates for city council. It was nice to see people who aren’t part of the Deaf community trying to participate. I commend them for trying, but it didn’t seem like many people were interested in what they were doing. To be honest, I wasn’t very interested in what they were doing either.
I had an appointment that evening, so after I strolled leisurely through the rows of booths, I took the bus back to my dust-covered car and went on my merry way. It was a great day! I think my ASL stood up really well to the challenge of explaining things, I got to meet neat people, and I got to spend time with the Deaf community. What could be better than that? Not a whole lot.
chool has already been in session for two weeks, but I didn’t get a chance to say anything about it because of my break. I think hell might have frozen over, because I was able to register for all of my classes with no problems at all. I have 12 units right now, and I didn’t have to fight tooth and nail for a single one! That’s progress!
It’s funny to me how semesters seem to divvy themselves up into themes. I’m taking American Sign Language / English translation, Critical Thinking, American Sign Language Structure, and Psychology. You wouldn’t think that all those classes would be about communication, but they all are. It’s strange to me how many of those classes have been helping me to understand the English language better. As my teacher says, you can’t learn about adverbs in sign if you don’t know what an adverb is in English first. As excited as I am to be learning more about English, I’m overjoyed about learning some concrete rules for sign. I feel like I really need that.
With the new semester starting again, I think the thing I’m most excited about is going back to the world of the living. I’m not chained to my job anymore! That means I can get out into the community, visit some really fun Deaf events, and use more ASL. Right now I have plans to usher for Deaf West, and also help out at their booth during DEAFestival Los Angeles. I’m really excited to see everyone again!! Hopefully I’ll also be able to attend other events, but it’s crazy to me how fast my time is filling up now that I’m free.
Here’s to my last year at Mt. SAC, and to lots of hand-flapping fun along the way!!