Tuesday, February 8, 2022

ASL is SO Much More Than Signs

It was a sublime day yesterday. I was out sweeping in the courtyard bright an early, and before going on the dog walk with my friends. The sun was lovely and warm on my skin; yesterday was the first day I walked without my head covered by my hoodie. It was glorious to be outside and feel such optimism. 

Then I went into the village to shop for food and came home to cook the fish curry I’m serving for dinner tonight. I always make it a day before because it tastes so much better on the second day. I had some for my dinner and was very pleased with this batch. 

Once my cooking was done and I’d finished swooning over the taste of it, I was back outside in the yard, cleaning up the courtyard and scrubbing the hot tub. Cleaning the tub is no simple task. Chemical salts build up all around the waterline of the tub, and the tub is huge—it seats eight. It takes forever to get the buildup of salts removed. I made a good start. 

It was a truly fabulous day! It was 14° all afternoon. Heaven! And it’s so much nicer to look through the French doors beside my desk (that need cleaning) to see a tidy yard! But I did no ASL all day Monday; by 3:00 I was knackered. It felt so good to stop and relax before my weekly session with Michelle at 4:00. 

I love my coaching sessions. We’re far more comfortable with each other, Michelle and I, and she’s had a great influence on me. 

I think I wrote here about the politics of the sign for “because.” And I’ve encountered six different signs for “sweater” online.  Even in my course! Each unit of my course gives me a shitload of new signs to learn. Each word on the list is hyperlinked to a video showing me how to sign the word—in videos produced by the company with whom I’m learning, StartASL.com

Each unit also has a comprehension section. I watch a video between two signers. And recently the company taught us a sign in the vocabulary section and then used a completely different sign in the comprehension section. I go to the Internet and see what other sources say, and that often leads to further confusion.

These differences were what Michelle and I talked about today, and I learned something both valuable and interesting. It’s clear to me now that signing is a very individual language. Spoken English isn’t the same across Canada. Have you been to Nova Scotia? There are regional differences to Canadian English, and continental differences create accents. Where we live, we are surrounded by people who speak like us. 

In ASL, everyone signs differently, because sound comes in for emotion—sounds of breathing in different ways, panting, and forcing out sounded air with a punch to one’s own chest. There’s tapping and slapping, too. But more than that, there is body language and facial expression. Signers are silent actors. They’re Olympian Charades players. Yes, they use standard signs, but they are personalized by the signer.

Deaf friends and families have their own personal conventions. Between them will be one language, but signers outside that intimate circle, will have differences. That’s why comprehension is so, so difficult.

Imagine this: Being deaf and arriving to visit Tom, having just left your lunch with Annie and Jeff. Tom asks you how your lunch date was, so you want to report on it to him. This is what I’d do: I’d fingerspell ‘Annie,’ and then tell Tom something about her, like what a gorgeous sweater she was wearing and ‘presenting’ my sweater and then, slightly turning to my left, presenting Annie’s. Then I’d fingerspell ‘Jeff,’ and say something nice about Jeff as I turned slightly to my right of centre. 

From then on, throughout my lengthy and compelling story about our lunch, I could point and/or turn to use the direction to clarify about whom I was talking. It’s called ‘indexing.’ It’s how you convey “his” or “her’s,” “him” or “her,” etcetera. It’s how you indicate pronouns; they aren’t signed.

Describing relationships is also mighty interesting. The upper half of the head is used to designate male gender, female is the lower face. The position of the second finger of your dominant hand is consistent in signs about emotions.

We talked about all this yesterday, and the magical thing about having her for a coach is that she tells me what the conventions are here in Western Canada That’s really valuable for me.

I feel so lucky that I love the learning I’m doing. It requires no discipline at all, to get me studying every day. It’s likely going to slow down a little when the good weather hits, but perhaps not. I only want a couple of hours a day. I’ll have my new iPad to learn on soon, to take on trips if there’s Wifi where I’m going.

Last evening, I enjoyed guilt-free relaxing after a productive day. And today will be the same. I’ve to make a tart this morning, but the rest of the day I’ll be focused on cleaning the tub and doing some ASL. I’d love to finish the tub today and to order the water for tomorrow or Thursday. (I won’t be using well water.)

It’s depressing to look at my gardens and the former lawns. A good part of the lawns died in the 42° heat of last Summer. They never made it back to life. Only my former Wasteland looks good because I seeded it last Fall. But I’m done with re-seeding and trying to maintain a lawn, as lovely as they are to the eye. Instead, I’ll likely plant more shrubs to add colour to the yard and leave the land to itself and see what happens.

Suddenly, I’m busy. Suddenly, I have a glut of things to do. The forest shite all over my yard screams at me for attention. There’s days and days of work to be done. It’s only half an acre, but half an acre is huge when you’re old and single. And then there’s ASL and reading. Once I finish this Penny novel, I’m not reading again until Fall.

Chris and Frani are due shortly after 4:30 this afternoon.

I wrote that my speech was better on Sunday. Well, yesterday it was dreadful. Talking to Dwight was rough and I had a seizure when I met my friends to walk our dogs. Now I can use grammar, but my speech is r-e-a-l-l-y s—l—o—w. I sound, to myself, like someone I knew once, who had CP and talked like I do now. It’s an ever-changing landscape, my mouth, and it always will be maybe.

But now I’m writing more about signing and a lot less about speech. It’s certainly making life a lot more interesting and, at times, intense for me, this FND.

Last night I watched Bending the Arc on Netflix. I haven’t liked a movie as much as I liked this one, in a long, long time. It’s a documentary about some extraordinary people brought together by one man: Paul. It’s uplifting, it’s hopeful, it’s honest, it’s compassionate and its miraculous what they do. There isn’t a person on earth who shouldn’t, couldn’t love this film.

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