Recently, my husband and I bought a house, and fortunately, there aren’t too many repairs to complete before we move in. One repair that had me worried due to the possibility of mold was a loose shower wall. You know, when you push on it it feels like there is space between the shower wall and the house wall.

I decided I would look on YouTube for answers, because folks sure are helpful and creative when it comes to DIY projects! I located a slightly intimidating video but felt I could do it myself. I only need a few supplies: masking tape, packing tape, Gorilla glue, newspaper, a syringe (the kind with no needle!), a screwdriver, and a brace made of wood.

However, as I excitedly told my husband about what I found, he started to take over my project. What gives!? I think he assumed that because this was a handyman task that I assumed he would do it, conforming to expected gender roles. And while this is not the norm in our family, we’ve never owned a house and are trying to feel out who we are and what we are responsible for within this new ownership space.

Because I felt like he was being kind and then didn’t process my feelings, I pulled into myself, which stirred up some helplessness. Of course I couldn’t do it, of course he would do it, why would I think I could do it? Then, we addressed the issue between us that we hardly knew existed, because the shower wall was sitting there with no one fixing it.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

It was my idea, and I shared information. I did not ask for help, but he tried giving advice and assistance regardless. Thus, I felt incapable. After we had a conversation, my husband encouraged me to fix the shower by myself while he mowed the lawn. But I couldn’t seem to do it! I could see him outside, and my feelings were shy.

So, I waited until Monday when he went to work to drive to the house and fix the shower without him knowing. I didn’t have the nice brace from the YouTube video, but I found some old wood in the garage and stacked up a plastic tote and some old notebooks to really make a wedge. And it worked!

And afterwards, guess what I felt? Empowered. And so this is how my bathtub taught me more about learned helplessness and empowerment. If we, even with the best intentions, assist someone who has not asked for it, nor have we asked if we can assist and are willing to accept “no” as an answer, we are taking away an opportunity to let that individual — like me! — develop personal strength and fortitude.

Last day of Interpreter Technology Class

Here I am! The last day of Spring semester 2022, and my final project is to submit this website to my professor. I created eight videos, organized my certificates, crafted greetings in both ASL and English, and tried to make an overall pleasing experience for visitors. Now that I have more free time, I’ll add blog posts with original content, too. I hope you’ve enjoyed the book reviews in the meantime.

So what have I learned through this experience? Even though I first created my book blog Grab the Lapels in 2013, that doesn’t mean I am a website pro! I forgot a lot of the initial set up for a website, which means that my book blog is basically running on automatic while I add content. Not only that, but WordPress is constantly updating, so if users aren’t paying attention, they can be left behind.

The point of this tech class in which we make a website is preparation for our final semester in the interpreting program, when we hope to attract clients who think we’re ready to do an internship with them. Currently, I know my videos are not ready to convince anyone. I’m still trying to get my facial grammar correct while being expressive, too. It’s a sort of rub-your-tummy-pat-your-head game that I’m working on and am determined to do better with practice.

For instance, in my last YouTube video I sign about my my love of books and how I started Grab the Lapels, which led me to making friends all over the world. However, I don’t look terribly excited about my favorite hobby. Woops! Instead, I look a bit forced. My professor said it’s appropriate for interpreters to look serious, but in casual situations they can be more relaxed. I know my video is for interpreting, but the content is more relaxed, so I’m not sure!

I do know that there is a whole summer ahead of me during which I plan to continue attending Deaf meetup.com groups, watch lessons on LifePrint, and cross my fingers that the local Deaf community have more events in person. I want to come back in the fall even better than I left — sort of like the Girl Scout motto!

Plus, because interpreters are lifelong learners and I’m not doing an internship for another two years, I have plenty of time to make new, better, sharper, more concise (and accurate) videos.

Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice by Jessica White

“…remember disability activist Stella Young, who coined the term ‘inspiration porn.’ People with disabilities aren’t put on earth to inspire other people; we’re just trying to get on with our day in a world that ins’t designed for us.” — Jessica White in Hearing Maud

— thoughts by Melanie Page, originally published at Grab the Lapels

Understanding Culture

Don’t you love when totally different aspects of your life, for one shining moment, overlap and you see a connection? This happened to me recently. I wrote and published a book review of Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston, an African American. The author is most famous for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, but she was also an anthropologist studying under Franz Boas. He helped change anthropology when he and his protegees looked at cultures and didn’t rank them as superior or inferior to Western culture, nor did he believe race is biological. In order to write Tell My Horse, Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti to immerse herself in the culture and learn about Voodoo as an anthropologist.

In the comments of my post about Tell My Horse my readers and I volleyed back and forth, asking if it’s possible to really know or understand another culture. If culture is a “way of being,” can we understand alternate ways of being? Did Hurston truly see Voodoo culture at its purest, or did the Haitians and Jamaicans leave parts out, misinform the American, or even lie to misdirect her? Simply by examining a culture as an outsider, we change the results of our research. In fact, Hurston finds herself comparing Haitian and Jamaican culture to America.

How does this tie to ASL? Much of my interpreting homework lately has been studying Deaf culture. Not only what is the “way of being” for Deaf people, but a host of factors. Is the Deaf person African American, Asian American, Latino/Hispanic, or from an Indigenous culture? Though my textbook* has not (yet?) covered the Deaf LGBTQ community, there are many ways a person’s culture shifts.

So, connecting back to Tell My Horse, I’m wondering in what ways Deaf culture appears to me as I interact with the Deaf community vs. what the members are like when hearing people are not around. To my knowledge, the key factors are to learn about a culture before engaging with it to avoid embarrassing faux pas, be respectful and defer to the Deaf person, and always be mindful of the privileges I have that create an unfair power dynamic.

Have you studied culture? What is your culture?

*So You Want to Be An Interpreter? An Introduction to Sign Language Interpreting for Deaf and Hearing Students to Become Professional Practitions, 5th edition, by Janice H. Humphrey, William F. Ross III, LeWana M. Clark, and Joseph Featherstone. 2020.

Interpreting and Flexibility

When you have General Anxiety Disorder like I do, you want everything to be thoroughly known, understood, and planned ahead. People like me prefer to plan, put things on the calendar, and if we feel confused and anxious, we study and research far beyond what is asked of us. On the one hand, people with GAD are reliable, knowledgeable, and great at organizing. On the other hand, I’m learning that interpreters need to be flexible! So, now what?

My experience demonstrates that I’m actually good at flexibility because I’ve planned out so many scenarios in my head that I’ve already imagined what an alternate situation looks like. I’m great in emergencies, whether it was that cheerleader who broke her leg at the camp I was working at, or the man who had a heart attack while driving and rolled his car in front of the coffee shop I was sitting in.

But when we say “flexibility,” we often follow it up with “we must roll with the punches.” That negative language (“punches”) perplexes me, but I never thought about it until this semester. The first week of the spring semester went as planned, but then my ASL professor’s child was sick. Then the professor was sick. Then the child was sick again. Then we had a huge snow storm that led to school closures, so she stayed home because her other children had Zoom school and her internet wouldn’t allow her and her children on Zoom all at the same time. Eventually, my class was permanently switched to online/asynchronous.

This past week students in my interpreting class were told the professor’s immediate family would gather to assist with end-of-life care for a family member in a couple of weeks. I marked the days she needed off on my school planner. But then late at night we got an email stating she needed to leave now and class would be cancelled for three days. The event was unplanned because it was unexpected.

To call these situations “punches” feels wrong to me, because it is not me who is faced with the hard choices. I simply have to be where I am needed when told and determine ways in which I can enrich my learning on my own time, making the most of my education. Thinking of my professors and their families emphasizes how very human we all are. We’re people, in it together. Because we are encouraged to see all college professors as prestigious authority figures, deserving of the utmost respect — perhaps even putting them on a pedestal? — it’s hard to view them as humans. And yet re-framing my own instructors as people has made me feel more collaborative in my own learning, more flexible in my thinking, and softer, more understanding in my heart.

How often do stop to think about an individual and truly acknowledge that they are a human in a deeper way beyond acknowledging a biological fact? Do you consider their home lives, cultural background, and how much we ask of them?