Ever since I saw ASL listed on my university’s course catalog, learned that sign language was actually a thing I could study, I’ve been captivated by it.
You can communicate with your hands! You don’t have to worry about shouting over the din of a hectic crowd, or grinding out words when you have a sore throat. You can have an intimate conversation with your loved ones that’s at once hugely visible and completely impenetrable to non-users. You can take one of humankind’s greatest tools — the hands — and use them to express yourself: frankly, poetically, absurdly, intellectually…whatever mode suits you at the time.
But the minute I stepped into my first American Sign Language classroom, all of those reasons for learning it melted away, to be replaced by the one that grips me to this day:
My first teacher, Daniela, lit up my life. She was unendingly sweet, hysterically funny, and the greatest communicator I’ve ever met. It didn’t matter that I had just waltzed into her classroom with no knowledge of the language whatsoever. When she signed, I understood exactly what she meant.
Daniela taught me that the Deaf (capital D for Deaf culture, lowercase for physical deafness) have an amazing capacity to make themselves understood. From precise, grammatical ASL, to regional signs, pantomiming, writing, combinations of sign and spoken word, drawing…whatever it takes to get their message across, the Deaf can do it.
The least I can do is learn ASL, so I can meet them halfway, and get to know more of these fantastic people.
I studied ASL 1 & 2 at UMass Boston, where I was trying to get a degree in linguistics. Turns out, linguistics gets hideously boring the farther down the rabbit hole you go, so I transferred the heck out of there. It was a commuter school anyway, which sucked when it came to having a social life, and I absolutely despised my roommates (at least for the first year, and then they became kind of tolerable, but in one girl’s case, only because she was terrified of upsetting me again).
Then I went to Rutgers University, which was the BEST. Lived in Demarest on College Avenue — I will forever be grateful to my wonderful dorm. I wrote my honors thesis on trolling in Demarest, and I got Highest Honors for it. They are such great people: quirky, eclectic, talented, intellectual, loyal, and full of dorm pride.
Only problem with Rutgers was that there were no sign language classes! Ack. So I spent those intervening years learning Spanish and getting a degree in both that and Cultural Anthropology, before I finally had a chance to study ASL again.
Now I’m all signed up (harhar) for classes at Camden County College, which start this spring semester! I couldn’t be more excited. I got credit for my classes at UMass, so now I’m jumping headfirst into ASL 3. Once I earn a certificate proving I can communicate effectively in ASL, then I can take the sign language interpreting program. That’s the dream.
What’s even better is that once a week I get to hang out with a group of about a dozen Deaf people and a smattering of hearing folks! Already, I feel this amazing rush of good feelings when I see my friends there, young and old. My ASL isn’t perfect yet, but hey. That’s why I go.
This blog, as you will quickly notice if you dig back through to my first entries, started out as a project to learn how to belly dance. But alas – it turned out not to be my calling. Still, I had a lot of fun with it while it lasted.
Now I’m going to write about the things I really love: ASL, interpreting, Deaf culture, and all the kooky things that happen to me as I learn about these awesome folks.