Leading the Bison Charge!

Monday, November 26, 2012


I'm generally not a fan of change.  My motto is "If I don't think it's broke, don't fix it."  Even I, however, welcome change in certain situations!  I am at the end of a weekend in which both Saturday and Sunday were marked by a "Hello" and a "Goodbye".  Each was bittersweet.  Saturday was more bitter... though that particular change will undoubtedly have some sweet results.  The "Goodbye" was completely unexpected.  Sunday's change was more on the sweet side, but a bit bitter also.

Saturday, I went to pick up Zims.  We went to her aunt and uncle's house and she retrieved a loan check she had mailed to the address.  She got a bit of a surprise that I may have to mention later.  We then picked up Asia and headed to Chantilly, Va where Zims finalized the purchase of a Honda CRV.  A new beginning that was only necessary because her white Ford Taurus wagon came to it's unfortunate end in an accident.  The wagon is irreplaceable!!!  I know the CRV will earn it's own set of memories.  It's just hard to say "Goodbye" to the wagon!!!  More about the wagon in an upcoming blog post.

Many of my signer friends know I've been volunteering with the Gallaudet University athletic training staff since August.  I jokingly refer to myself as the "watergirl" because much of what I do revolves around keeping our athletes hydrated.  It's not about my specific role, but that I get to be in a Deaf environment and around athletes.  I LOVE IT!!! I don't HAVE TO do it, I GET TO do it!!!  Today, I was offered and accepted the opportunity to continue with pay!!!  It's part time and the pay is low, but SO WHAT!!!  I don't want to sound unappreciative, but it is a bit bitter.  Why, you ask?!?  
Because there is something so freeing about doing something because you love it and for no other reason!!!  Don't get me wrong, I DO look forward to being an official Gallaudet employee!  I plan to apply for the Hearing Undergrad program in fall 2013, anyway.  (Most people go to school at a university, THEN work there.  You KNOW I gotta be backwards!!!)  I DO wanna work there.  It's AWESOME to be offered pay for something you happily did for free.  It IS sweet, however it's a bit bitter also.

WHAT A WEEKEND!!!  TALKIN ABOUT MIXED EMOTIONS! Yes, I have realized for quite some time that change is inevitable...and even good sometimes.  Personally a car accident led me to go on a missions trip which led me to join a small group which led me to meet Kari Olney who became my good friend and ASL teacher.  It changed the direction of my life and I will take what I have now over my car in a heartbeat...though I LOVED that car!!!  I DON'T want this to be a downer!  My point however (I do try to occasionally have a point) is that it would be insincere to pretend that even a sweet change can't be a bit bitter.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


"Sign, Nita sign".  If I only had a million bucks for every time Zims said that to me!  (Everyone says they want a nickel or a dollar every time something happens.  BIG NITA is going BIG!!!)  This chick is on my back when I start talking around Deaf* people!  Here is the story that inspired this post.

It was early May and a group of us were on campus celebrating with a friend who had been a part of Gally's interpreter development program for the last year.  She was now moving on and we were sending her off.  As I recall, I hadn't actually offended (spoken) that day, but Zims took the opportunity to scold me anyway.

The festivities were not quite underway yet.  A few of us were sitting at one of the tables.  We were in the picnic area behind SAC.  Not sure how she jumped into her verbal lashing.  (Ok, it wasn't that bad, but I gotta give her crap.  It's just how we communicate with each other.)   I DO remember her saying that when we sign, everyone is happy.  (I don't think that applies to MY ASL, personally.)  When I speak, some people feel left out.  Then she demonstrated. She used our friend Asia who was sitting at the table because we needed a Deaf person to test this on.  She asked me a question verbally and had Asia try to read my lips when I answered.  She couldn't figure out what I said,

One could say that maybe for some reason it's hard for people, or Asia specifically, to read my lips.  I've also seen in different resources that even the best speech readers can only pick up about 30% of what is being said.  I don't wish to (or feel qualified to) get sidetracked by these points.  (See, I can contol my ADHD...occasionally.)  Z made her point loud and clear (no pun intended).  It's relatively easy for me as a fairly new signer (3 years) and a slow ASL learner to resort to speaking with someone who also speaks, whether they are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing, when I am in a group that includes Deaf people.  I HAVE gotten better.  At least when she's around cuz she hasn't scolded me again.  The temptation, however, remains. 

So, Z is right.  Not just for cultural and communication considerations, but also for the sake of improving my ASL.  As much as I LOVE signing and more importantly connecting with the Deaf Community, ASL is difficult, often awkward, and sometimes downright frustrating to me.  I must IMMEDIATELY follow that by saying it is ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT!!!  I'M ALL IN!!!  I need your help here.  Don't let me backslide in this area.  Hold me accountable.  When I am in a group that includes Deaf people, please DON'T TALK TO ME!!!  At least when Zims is around...And if I DO slip up, please DON'T TELL ZIMS!!!  (It's all in love, Z!)

*For the sake of this blog, I am using deaf in a strictly physical sense as in deaf or hearing and Deaf in reference to deaf people who communicate primarily or exclusively through ASL.  I DO realize that this is an oversimplification of those terms.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


So, I did it!  I took the plunge.  No, I didn't get married.  Don't worry, there's not some guy who is condemned to suffer through my quirks and ADHD for the rest of his life...yet.  I mean I signed the song during church. 

I did a duet with Kari.  One of my friends was going to record it on her phone, but arrived just as we finished the song.  Kari and I arrived early so we could practice.  I realized that I wasn't prepared.  I knew the signs, but I didn't know the words well enough.  Who'da thunk my English would be more of a problem than my ASL?!  I'd met with Kari Tuesday when I picked the song I would perform and we practiced a bit.  The words were easy so I figured rehearsing right before service would be enough.  I think I planned to be able to look at the screen for the lyrics.  Now that I think about it, that was the WRONG attitude to have, anyway!  I should've done my best to prepare.  I think I did ok.

 A couple people congratulated me afterward.  I think Vondell had the most honest comment.  He said, "You looked like 'What am I doing up here?'"  So, I fulfilled my promise.  Even though I did it on the last day of 2011, it was a beginning, not an end.  See, the "sort of" in the title means this is just one step.  I know I will be challenged to do more.  One comment led me to start learning ASL when I asked Kari if she wanted to play basketball someday(see "Beginnings" post)  and opened my eyes to a different world.  One comment led me to take it to the next level (see MY BIG MOUTH post) and who knows what's next?!

Sunday, July 29, 2012


So, I admit it, I HAVE A BIG MOUTH!!!  No doubt it has gotten me into trouble.  Ever promise something and then wonder how it slipped out?!  Let me break it down.

It was the 2nd Saturday in November and the deaf people who likely would have come to Ebz for church were all on the Alpha retreat.  Elissa Macias had interpreter duty.  But there were no deaf people there!  She had to interpret anyway cuz the interpreter is on the sermon video.  She told me I could sign the songs if I wanted.  I refused but said I would sign ONE song in the month of December.  Not sure how those words escaped my lips.  My theories are that either she has some mind control powers or that she spiked my drink.  I'm open to suggestions of other possibilities.

It's New Years Eve just past midnight, the last possible day to fulfill my commitment.  The service starts in just under 17 hours.  I am planning to do a duet with Kari to the Newsboys sont "I am Free".  I couldn't have picked an easier song.  I must thank Kurtis for his song selection!  I asked Kari to join me in a duet because it has a call and response thing goin.  It's NOT because I am too nervous to do it alone.  At least that's what I tell myself...  I will lead and she will follow.  It's also fitting that I do this with my teacher and my Deaf Mom.  She will join me as I take this next step.  Everyone has been supportive: Kari, Heather (yes Crazy Golfer Chick from my "Those Kind of People" post), Esther, Julie, Elissa, Karen, Laura etc...I have given Kari the opportunity to release me from this obligation but she refused.  I'm actually not nervous, but a bit excited and looking forward to the challenge...for now.  I know my "friends" will continue to challenge me and I am GRATEFUL for that.  (Don't tell em I said that.)  Let ya know how it goes.  If I'd only kept my big mouth shut...By the way, Elissa showed true class and professionalism as she interpreted with excellence.  Or maybe that was just her mind control power that made me think that...

PS Interestingly enough, we had no deaf people in service today and I did NOT commit to signing any songs.  Maybe, I AM actually learning to keep my big mouth shut.  DOUBT IT!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Failure to Communicate

Ok, so I've got this problem.  Actually, it's just one of many.  For the sake of this story, I will just focus on one.  Maybe I'll save the others for a well-qualified professional therapist.  Anyway, the problem is a language barrier.

See, I started learning ASL just over 2 years ago.  I became conversational pretty quickly.  I often think my friends only understand my sign cuz they have the spiritual gift of interpretation.  That being said, I can usually make my point...and sometimes even understand others.  But what about when my friend is hurting?  Will I let my broken ASL be an excuse not to be supportive?!?  I was in that exact situation.

I saw a friend (I'll call her Lisa for this story) crying in a situation that should have been happy and festive.  I was leaving and another friend (I'll call her Christina) who rode with me was coming to get her coat from the car when we noticed Lisa crying.  When I asked her what was wrong, I only understood enough to ascertain that it was about two of her relatives.  Christina gave her a hug.  After Christina retrieved her coat, she said she would stay and talk to her.  Then I left.

Why didn't I offer to help my friend?  Part of it is my broken ASL.  Part of it is that I'm not particularly comfortable with those situations.  I take pride in supporting my friends, usually through chauffeuring or my wacky sense of humor.  I want them to feel comfortable talking to me...as long as they don't cry.  I firmly believe that the true test of friendship is helping your friends when they are down.  When I texted her later that night to apologize, she said she saw the concern on my face.  Maybe I didn't disappoint her, but I disappointed myself cuz I didn't uphold my own standards!  Even though I left her to be comforted by someone who she knows a lot better, has much better ASL, and is better with those situations, I failed.  Actually, I just didn't try!!!  I have a hard head and usually don't learn quickly from my mistakes.  I hope I've learned this lesson though-not to let a simple language barrier stop me from being a friend!!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Those Kind of People

"Zims, what's wrong with your people?", I asked an unexpecting Heather Zimmerman a few days ago.  "My people, who are my people, Nita?", she responds.  "Hearing people", I reply.  I then recount the story which happened literally no more than a minute or 2 before I called her.

It was Saturday, March 31st and I had just finished volunteering with 3 friends at the 6th annual National Walk for Epilepsy which took place on the National Mall.  Michai is the one I know least well.  I have only actually met her a few times.  She is a big Louisville fan and was no doubt devastated when they lost to arch rival Kentucky that night in the NCAA Final Four.  She even got a cardinal painted on her face at the walk.  Next up is Heather Suhr or the Crazy Golfer Chick as I prefer to call her.  Her interests include: sharing the Gospel with primarily the underserved Deaf Community, Teddy time, and defending golf as a "sport".  She claims she doesn't talk trash, but has threatened me with her golf clubs on more than one occasion. (Check out her comment on my "Beginnings" post.)  Gotta say, I LOVE eliciting that response from her!  Last, but not least is Asia.  She is the Cool Crazy Chica or just Chica for short.  (Ok, so I've got a thing for nicknames.)  I can't believe I met this chick for the first time just over 3 weeks ago.  I find myself constantly using the word "AWESOME" in reference to her.  She's incredibly sensitive and a very talented artist.  She was heartbroken earlier that day when I told her not to worry about coming after she woke up late.  I thought it may not be worth it at that point and didn't want her to feel like she disappointed me.  She texted Zims who then called me saying Asia was really upset and wanted to come.  So, I texted her and told her to come on.  Good thing she texted Zims!!

So we had just turned left past Union Station near the taxi line when I saw a man I recognized on the other side of the street walking in the opposite direction.  He said, "I didn't know you deal with those kind of people."  I knew EXACTLY what he meant, but I asked, "What kind of people"?  He said, "deaf people".  (I guess this was the first time he saw me sign.)  I said, "They're my friends."  He said, "That's good, though."  I'm not sure if he was trying to save face or pat me on the back.  Maybe both.  Regardless of my ASL skills (or lack thereof) and my understanding of Deaf Culture (even less), it's only natural for me to hang out with signers.  Everyone I invited to volunteer that day is a signer.  Even more so than my passion to build bridges between hearing and Deaf people, I invited signers because they are my FRIENDS! This is the story I related to Zims minus the descriptions when I asked her what's  wrong with her people?

When this guy saw us signing and said he didn't know I "deal with those kind of people", it would be like telling a baller, "I didn't know you deal with athletes."  I don't "deal with" them for one.  They are my friends.  For two, they are not "those kind of people".  Yes, they are all deaf.  But I love them for who they are, not because or despite the fact that they are deaf!

Zims was, of course, taken back a bit by my asking her what's wrong with her people and saying her people are hearing people.  She said the only hearing person she knows is me.  I think she was taking a jab at me saying I was "culturally hearing" on the sly.  Anyway, my point, and yes I DO actually have one, is that what is usually meant as a compliment to me for my involvement with the Deaf Community (or really mostly just hangin with my friends) is usually a slap in the face to deaf people.  And worst of all, they may not even realize it at the time!!!


Monday, June 18, 2012

"Thank you" "You're welcome...to my coffeehouse."

ASL and English are two very different languages.  This become apparent quickly when the native user of one tries to learn the other.  I learned that ASL was a separate language long before I had any interest in learning, however learning a new language inevitably includes errors and hopefully learning from them.

 I learned the sign for " welcome" about 2 years ago, during the first semester of my sign class. ( I think we were learning church signs during that class cuz I also remember learning the sign for "usher". )  The sign for "welcome" is also the sign I used for  "you're welcome"  as in a response to "thank you".  (Go to lifeprint.com to see the sign for "welcome" and an explanation.)  That is until one of my Deaf friends, Matt, who is a regular at the coffeehouse I work at called me on it.  He tried to explain why it was wrong, but I didn't understand.  On a later date, I asked him to explain again why it was wrong.  He said the grammar was wrong.  He said the sign meant " Welcome to this church or my home."  He gave me some options like the thumbs up or the sign for "fine", but said there was no official sign for "you're welcome".  But I had already developed a habit.  At first, I continued to do it, then remembered afterwards.  One time I signed thank you to him and he replied "welcome".  I think he was mocking me!  I can take a joke.  Kari, happened to be there teaching ASL to a student when we had this conversation.  He got her attention and scolded her for teaching me the wrong way.  She laughed...I  think out of guilt.  To be honest, I'm not sure if she taught me this as the sign for "you're welcome" or just "welcome".  Anyway, I'm sure I signed this as the sign for "you're welcome" for at least 1/2 dozen or a dozen other customers at work and no one corrected me before then.  Maybe some of them missed it because I was behind the counter.  I would think the regulars at least saw it at some point.  Matt himself didn't correct me before or when I relapsed after.  I DO appreciate him correcting me because I was eventually able to break the habit.

I try to make it a point to connect with the Deaf Community by asking them about ASL and Deaf Culture.  I think that's the right attitude for a new signer.  But veteran signers, PLEASE, don't hesitate to correct us newbies when we're wrong.  If we are really new to ASL (such as myself), use your better judgement to know when to correct us, cuz we're gonna make A LOT of mistakes.  I know you are grateful for this insightful commentary.  To that I say, "You're welcome"...or something?!?

PS For the record, I actually wrote this late 2011.  Since then, I have learned that sometimes this sign IS used as "you're welcome" although technically that is not the official meaning.  It is one of the ways that English has influenced ASL.

Monday, June 11, 2012


It's often been said that a great thing about America is that anyone can become president.  It's also been said that an unfortunate thing about America is that anyone can become president.  Easy internet access, countless free blog sites, and freedom of speech likewise make it possible for anyone to have a blog...for better or worse.  Enter me.  I felt it was just time to share my ASL/Deaf Culture journey with my friends and other signers. 

 I guess I should  tell you about the very beginning of my  journey for those who don't know.  One day a man and a woman who loved each other very much...actually let's fast forward a few decades.  It was the summer of 2009 when I met recent Gallaudet grad, Kari Olney through a small group.  I learned that she had played basketball in college.  (Gotta say, there is nothing like the bond between two athletes that share a love for the same sport.)  I suggested through an interpreter that we play some day.  She agreed.  Now if you've been around me for at least 2.4 seconds, you know I LOVE trash talk.  I like to give AND receive it.  Blame it on playin streetball growin up and being the fifth of seven siblings.  As time passed, I realized I couldn't talk trash to this chick.  That's an ESSENTIAL part of the sport!!  So when she offered an ASL class at our church starting in September of that year, I took it.  Yes, I actually started learning ASL so I could learn to trash talk my teacher when we eventually played ball.  (Good thing she didn't ask us why we wanted to learn ASL.  She knows now.)  I didn't know how quickly I would learn ASL (slowly).  I didn't even think I would enjoy it (fell in love with it).  We have played ball a few times, the first being about a month or so into the class.  We LOVE to compete against each other.  I still don't know much true ASL trash talk.  I'm sure I'll get there one day, but no rush.  I'm enjoying the ride.

I hope you enjoy this blog and look forward to your feedback.  Share it with your signer friends regardless of their ASL levels.  Whether we are Deaf or hearing, a new signer or born into a signing family, we share one language...or at least we're workin on it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

The first time we played.  I WAS the teacher!!!

Thanks to Heather Suhr and Yuri Wijting for suggesting the title for this blog.