The Silent Child and The Shape of Water, or Why I Stayed Up Too Late Last Night

Those that know me know that I live a lot of my life straddling two very different cultures, languages, and groups of people: The hearing world and the Deaf Community. I was born into the hearing world – I have no Deaf parents, siblings, or indeed any family that are Deaf. I am a NERDA: Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult (as opposed to a CODA – Child of a Deaf Adult – or SODA – Sibling of…you get the idea).

I started learning American Sign Language when I was about 10-11 years old, from a Deaf friend of mine and fellow clergy kid. We saw each other at United Methodist events for clergy and summer camp, and she taught me to communicate with her – which, I learned when I was much older – was her idiosyncratic “dialect,” if you will, of ASL. But proper ASL or not, she taught me to think in three dimensions, to see everything as a picture rather than a string of words, haphazardly strung together and exhaled in an attempt to communicate. Whereas English is clunky and burdened with rules and auditory cues for intonation and emotion, ASL is streamlined. There is grammar, of course – it is a proper language after all – but learning it felt less like the verb sheets in high school Spanish and more like being let in on a magical secret. I can communicate with someone in another car with the windows rolled up. I can tell you that I am paying attention AND that I understand what you’re saying all with a twitch of my nose. Truth be told, I fell in love HARD with ASL (and all signed languages, really), and I haven’t bothered to get back up and brush myself off. Not to be maudlin, but while English is my first language and therefore (most of the time) the language of my mind, ASL is the language of my heart. I can say things in ASL that I physically, mentally, and emotionally CANNOT in English.

So, when I learned about the crowd-funded short film called The Silent Child, you know I had to learn more. I only wish I had known about it sooner! I fell in love with Maisie Sly, the actress that plays the lead role. To have that much ability and emotion at the age of six is extraordinary. If you can get a copy of it (currently on Google and YouTube here in the US, not sure about other parts of the world yet), DO IT. I was explaining to a co-worker this morning that Maisie’s character Libby is just like so many Deaf children here in the US and around the world who suffer lasting effects from language deprivation just because they are not allowed to sign when they are young. And before you come out from behind your sofa and shout at me that they need to learn the spoken language of their country of origin, there is no reason why the signed language of that country can’t be used in that respect.

I sat down to watch the Oscars not expecting The Silent Child to be another Children of a Lesser God, but had fingers crossed just the same. The nominees for that category were AMAZING, all in their own right – but when they announced the winner, it was like a victory for ASL. The writer and starring actress, Rachel Shenton, is a qualified BSL interpreter as well as an actress, and it was her passion for making sure Deaf children have the same access to APPROPRIATE language as their hearing peers that made this film possible. I bought it from Google Movies this morning and have watched it twice today..and to say it hits me in the feels is an understatement.

I can’t say as much about the Oscar-winning picture, The Shape of Water, because I haven’t seen it yet. When it first came out, the trailer was plastered ALL OVER MY FACEBOOK WALL because it has signing in it. “Is this a Deaf actress, Nancy?” “What do you think about this?” “Are you going to see it?”

At first, the answer to that was no. The movement now to fill Deaf roles with Deaf actors is very important to me for many reasons, not the least of which being it is a point where my two dearest loves (ASL and Theatre) intersect and overlap. So on first blush I was afraid this was yet another one of THOSE films and I pretended that it didn’t exist. That’s about as much as I do these days as far as protesting something goes. It was a monster movie, too, and those aren’t my usual genre of choice, so it was a win-win for me.

Until it wasn’t. The role was filled by a hearing actor because the character is mute, not Deaf. She signs to communicate expressively but hears to communicate receptively, and therefore a Deaf actress would have not been the right choice for the role.

I have other rants already prepared about only casting Deaf actors in roles written as Deaf rather than as a viable choice for any role in the name of diversity, but I will put that back in my pocket for now.

If I can get myself to sit through a monster movie, I will watch The Shape of Water now, not only because it won Best Picture or it has ASL in it, but also because it looks to be a visually stunning film – and that is part and parcel of the Deaf experience, isn’t it? Conveying emotion and story by showing rather than telling? On my list of to-do after watching this film is to stop feeling the need to correct everyone that is WRONG ON THE INTERNET about how Rachel Shenton could barely sign the acceptance speech at the Oscars last night or how the parents were vilified for making the choice to force the child to learn speech rather than ASL…but, for now, I’m going to take a nap. If you have the means, though, see both of these movies.  Hollywood is making small steps to bring more diverse stories to the big screen (Coco, Black Panther, etc) so I can’t wait to see what is coming soon!

Second verse, same as the… Nevermind.

Sometimes I am overwhelmingly glad that hubs and I did not have human children.
Students leave the building, Parkland High School.
Image courtesy of USA Today

Yesterday was one of those days. I cannot even imagine what the parents of the surviving students had to talk about last night when they got home – or the silence in the homes of the victims. My thoughts and prayers go out to the idiots who think that it is all right for a country with so many problems – often touted as the true causes of this kind of mass violence – to give access to weapons that can fire that many rounds that fast to anyone that passes a background check. I passed my astronomy tests in college but I am no astronomer nor do I have even a rudimentary understanding of physics. Keep your handguns if you must, this is the Wild Wild West after all. Keep your hunting rifles if you have to and you don’t have the skill to hunt with a bow. But for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY can we NOT just say, finally, that having a weapon capable of this kind of carnage is NOT OKAY?

Or, is it okay with you that these sorts of things occur? Don’t get me wrong, it is not an either or by any stretch, but I have to wonder. Dunblane happened in 1996. Firearm restriction legislation happened. Go and google how many mass shootings have happened in the UK since. I will wait.
And you, over there, waving your hand madly to add that once they took away the guns there were deaths by stabbing and that people are being run over by cars…of course, these things are happening. Our world is populated with horrible people and with very sick people who do horrendous things. That falls under that other category of issues that need fixing. Those types of events can be tied, I think, to violence being so prevalent in our culture. Those types of people are the ones being failed by mental health care in this country. But the numbers don’t prove that a knife or a car can take out as many people as quickly as an AR-15 – believed to be the type of firearm used in Florida yesterday. 
Y’all, I’m so left leaning that I’ve almost fallen over. I’m basically a socialist. This is not news to anyone that knows me well. I spend as much time being sad for the state of our world (yep, the whole world and not just the United States) as I do being afraid for the world. What happened yesterday is not okay, and there is international evidence to support the idea that if we could just stand up to the NRA and the other lobbies and restrict the KINDS of weapons available, we would be safer. Why is that such a hard thing to do?
30 mass shootings this year – 18 of those at schools – and we aren’t even two months in yet. How much is too much?

Of crowdfunding and its tenuous link to socialism

Willow’s Creative Process

I’m off work today because I have an appointment here in Greenville later, and of course, that means CLEAN THE KITCHEN and THINK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS that would make for great blog posts and/or new novels. Most of the time it stops there with the thinking, but not today. Lucky, lucky, Lettuce Readers.

I got to thinking this morning about crowdfunding. A good friend of mine and fellow Rennie/HOEF-er has posted a Go Fund Me for her precious boy, Rowan, who was hit by a car after accidentally getting loose. It could happen to any of us. It has happened to me, minus the car, when my three greyhounds got out the front door of my house – not once, but three times – before I learned that if you closed ANY door in that house the pressure would cause the front door to pop open if it was not locked. I know that terror. I cannot imagine the rest of it and hope that I never will. Please follow the link above and if you feel so inclined, donate – but at least give it a share.

I’ve actually been thinking about crowdfunding a lot because I’m staring down a summer without my bi-weekly allowance from the university where I work. Nine-month employees are required to sign up for that deferment annually, and somehow this past August it completely slipped my mind. My paychecks are a bit higher this academic year, but with each one, I’m reminded that I will essentially be living on what I can hustle through freelance interpreting gigs over the summer. I am investigating Patreon as a way to supplement what I’m earning via interpreting so that I can continue to work on my novels, but I’m not sure that it would work OR that I would be able to live with myself. (This is the point at which socialism comes in, in case you guys were wondering.)

To me, one of the basic tenets of socialism is taking care of each other. Sharing your wealth, sharing your food, sharing whatever you have with everyone else, regardless of what they can share with you in return. Socialised medicine happens when everyone shares the burden of paying for everyone’s health care, for example. We already practice some socialism here in the US – I pay a part of my taxes to support education, even though I don’t have children. Other people do, and those children will grow up to lead our cities and states and country, and I don’t mind helping them.

The idea behind Patreon is a simple one. In the past, creative types would find wealthy patrons to support them so that they could create their art. Now, instead of one wealthy patron, this outfit seeks to connect people who want to support artists of all genres with those artists. I first learned about it because of an artist that I like, Amanda Palmer (the link there is to her Patreon page). She was in on the ground level and has an excellent explanation of the difference between Patreon and Kickstarter on the page linked above. If you browse around the site, you will find just about any kind of artistic endeavor you could possibly imagine – most of which have at least a few dollars of funding. While this is a way for well-known artists to take the producer/middleman out of the equation, for some this is their sole means of being able to do what they love.

This would be the second point at which I bring up socialism. You like to read fantasy novels? I like to write them! Perfect! Not exactly. I am just starting out as an author/indie publisher, and I can already see improvements in the second and third books in the Nature Walker Trilogy when compared to the first book. I’m learning. I’m listening to my beta readers and editors. On the rare occasion when someone leaves me a review or contacts me to talk to me about how they found the first book (or my back catalog of dog books), I get feedback that I can use to become a better writer. All of this I do in my limited free time when my brain and my hands are not overwhelmed with work from my day job that pays for our house, food, car, etc. etc. etc. I just wonder how much better and more organized I would be as an author without the weight of the day job – and that’s what a program like Patreon could help me discover.

But the point of this post was not my financial woes, it was how wonderful I think programs like Patreon, GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and others of their ilk are in our society today. As an American, I was raised to look at socialism as an evil thing that took away my unique ability to DO IT MYSELF. These organizations allow others to offer help so that it isn’t all on me or other artists. I saw someone say on Facebook yesterday that you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have any.

Now, can I accept those bootstraps if they are offered? That’s another blog post for another day. 

All that and the (Goodreads) sync…

Cover design for Tempest: Fall of the Nature Walker
Concept by me, final design by Brian Collins
So, today is a big day. I mean, of course it is, it’s New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2018, but in my little corner of life, it is also Cover Reveal Day for the second book in my trilogy, Tempest, as you can see there just to the right of here. Once again, my good friend Brian, who is so very talented, has created a masterpiece out of my mucky concept. 
In revealing the cover, I am also committing to a timeline, something that is hard AND easy for me in equal measure. I know that I work better with one, and with a hard and fast deadline, but I also know myself. I am extremely impatient and I want ALL OF THE PEOPLE TO HAVE ALL OF THE BOOKS NOW rather than do what normal people do and release them on a schedule. In fact, in order to distract myself from fretting over getting Tempest into the eReaders of ALL OF THE PEOPLE, I distracted myself by writing a prequel of sorts, a history of Orana, that in its current state is just heaps and heaps of slightly coherent ones and zeroes, waiting in my cloud drive to be edited. And by edited, I mean ripped to bits and probably rearranged a bit. I’m pleased with it, but I’m the only one that has read it so far, so there’s that.
In linking my blog to Goodreads (if you’re reading me from there and the cover graphic looks wonky, I’m sorry), I am revealing a part of my self to (hopefully) a large group of people that don’t know me yet, either as a writer or as me. That’s okay, if not a little nerve-wracking. But here I am to reveal parts of both of those sides of me, anxiety be damned. 
The cover for Wanderer is being reworked a bit so that it falls in a bit better with this concept direction we have taken with Tempest, and that will be revealed here as well when it’s ready. If you are new to the Lettuce, please feel free to mosey around. There are large time gaps, I will warn you, and if you go alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the way back 10 years to where it started you will see a very different me in the posts. You may also want to head over to Our Daily Bryn, a photo blog of our life with our Irish Wolfhound, Bryn – who is the star of her own series of books (so far only a series of one, but I’m working on that), Clobberpaws.
So, happy new year, welcome to Brave Lettuce, and I hope to hear from you here in the comments or over on Goodreads!

Real Life Sheldon Cooper…Or Lucy without Ethel

It was nowhere near this cordial.

So, it’s Winter Break from Clemson (Christmas, Hannukah, Eid, Kwanza, etc. etc.) and I have literally not left the house since Monday, Christmas Day, when we went to Atlanta. This is a good thing, as I spend a great deal of my time Not Home and Commuting and At Clemson, so in a way, this has been a welcome break. The girls haven’t had to stay crated as much and I’ve gotten some long overdue cleaning done (more on Beetle later).

Yesterday Hubs came home early from work because he had pulled a pretty significant muscle in his back. He did what everyone on earth save me does in that situation – ibuprofen, hot shower, bed in that order. I was out here in the den with the girls (who had just come in from the yard, leaving the basement door open) when I heard him say (not shout) with absolutely no alarm in his voice whatsoever:

“Nancy, there’s a bird in the house.”

No alarm at all. I thought he was kidding.

“What?” By this point, I paused the episode of The Flash (I’m binge-watching in between housework, hence the HAVE NOT LEFT THE HOUSE IN FOUR DAYS I mentioned earlier) and he said it again, in the same calm tone like he was telling me we might have spag-bol for our tea tonight.

“There’s a bird in the house.”

Okay, y’all, I love animals. All of them. I do not love all of them being in my house. I also do not love birds in the same I NEED TO SNUGGLE YOU LIKE YESTERDAY way that I love my dogs or cats or cute little critters of many different species. I have a healthy respect for birds that borders on abject fear. Okay, let’s be honest, it is fear. The time my ex-husband took my hand while I wasn’t looking and led a cockatiel onto my arm I nearly wet my pants in public. I thought I was brave at a pet store in Keighley when I held an owl, but I really wasn’t. If you know me well and you have seen the photo of me and that owl, you can see that I was unable, in that moment, to move any part of my body except my eyes.

Also, if you are my friend Anne, aka Lucy to my Ethel or Ethel to my Lucy, you are probably already remembering the time that we tried to get a bird out of the rafters of the garage of your house when I lived with you after moving back from the UK. Why we decided to help a bird out of a garage THAT HAD NO DOOR with only a ladder, a broom, and a beach towel I’m not sure, but the results were pretty much the same as they were yesterday (only without any of those implements).

I came down the hall and asked where the bird was, to find Hubs still comfortably in bed (although sitting up at this point). “Out there,” he says, as though he is telling me where Beetle’s charging station is or which way to go to find the dog room. I looked into the dog room and there it was, a little bird of the chickadee/wren/finch body type and size, and it was sitting on the top of Willow’s crate. So I did what any normal person would in my case.

“What should I do about it?”

After a few wisecracks about not leaving it in the house, Hubs and I decided that I needed to catch it and put it outside. And when I said we decided that I mean he did and I continued to try to avoid screaming.

Did I mention that the girls were in the house at the time? No? Well…I managed to take the baby gate that keeps them out of the dog room and the one that keeps them out of our bedroom and put them at the other end of the hall to keep the dogs in the kitchen…because both of them were now staring down the hall at me. I think the hungry looks in their eyes were all in my imagination, but I certainly did NOT want to get in between them and a nervous bird.

The bird hopped and flew about in mad fashion and, as you (and certainly Anne) can imagine, I did NOT catch it in the t-shirt that I was waving around like an insane matador. Finally the bird had had enough of my shenanigans and flew into the bedroom. By this point, Hubs was out of bed and trying to help – he planned to catch it with his bare hands! It flew under our bed, which is unfortunate for the bird because I can’t tell you the last time I cleaned under there, so I pushed on the mattress. Another normal conversation ensued:

Hubs – “What are you doing?”
Me- “Trying to make mattress noises so that it will come back out.”
Hubs – “Mattress noises?”

I was about to explain that when you so much as LOOK at our mattress, the entire cheap bedframe (seriously, do NOT buy any furniture from Rooms To Go, it’s all cheap) squeaks, but I didn’t get a chance to do that because THE BIRD FLEW OUT ON MY SIDE OF THE BED. I hit the deck, Sheldon Cooper Style, and nearly shouted “Bird in the apartment! Bird in the apartment!”

I was not helping at all, and the poor thing went back under the bed for a moment. We had decided that we had to shoo it out an open door rather than catch it, and you should remember that by we I still mean Hubs. In a moment of sheer brilliance, I remembered that we had opened the windows in the bedroom the last time our AC went out and that one of them didn’t have a screen.

It was not the one I opened. Of course it wasn’t. However, I was able to get the screen pushed out just a bit and left an opening that was just exactly bird-sized but didn’t knock the screen out and crashing two stories down to the work site that is Hubs’s planned firepit and seating area. Back to shooing. The bird flew back out, I hit the deck again, and Hubs shooed it to the window where it escaped.

As soon as the girls came back in from the yard this morning I shut that basement door. I also locked it, though I know that birds can’t generally operate doorknobs. Better safe than sorry.