Holy crap. Did you just say I’m normal?!?

I first met my friend Ali about six years ago.  Ali is the volunteer manager for a Leadership Conference I participate in.  I marched right up to her at the end of the volunteer session and said, “I’m Jenny.  I’m deaf, just so you know.  I probably shouldn’t be on registration.”  The next year I told her, “Oh yeah. I’m the deaf one, remember?”  This was not the first or second time I made this bold declaration.  Eight years ago, before even applying to my job, I went to my now boss and said, “I’m deaf.  I don’t want to waste your time with an interview if you feel that this will be a problem.”  She later told me that it was my forthrightness and boldness that tipped the scales in my favor.

I do this all the time.  Mumbling store clerk?  Mumbling Waitress? Trouble on the phone when the other person has it on speaker?  “Oh, I’m deaf.  Can you please speak up?” I even do it at parties when I’m introduced to someone new.  “Just a heads up- I’m deaf so please look at me when you talk.”  Somehow, it’s become no big deal to me to divulge this information.

I spent so much time as a kid feeling like my hearing loss was something to be ashamed of.  It set me apart.  It made me different.  It meant I was “disabled”- I freaking HATE that word.  It made me work harder to be better, be smarter, be the best at everything.  This has made me strive to overachieve- and I do.  In the fourth grade, the kids in class called me “the walking dictionary.”  I’ve always had something to prove.  I hid my hearing loss as best I could.  After all, I was plenty attuned to the looks my mother got or the problems that she faced just walking out the door on a daily basis.  But me?  I was a chameleon. I could blend.

As is wont to happen, the older I got (and ironically as I lost more hearing), the less I really gave a crap what other people thought about me and I accepted that my hearing loss was a part of me and that it really didn’t matter.  It seemed that I was being blasé about it and just mentioning it as an, “oh, heads up!” sort of way made it no big deal.

This morning, Ali (I’m now her second in command) and I were attending a breakfast leadership seminar led by none other than the enigmatic Vernice Armour, the first African American female fighter pilot.  Vernice asked us to take a minute and jot down our goals/aspirations, etc.  So, I wrote the usual “Open my own fabric design company,” and “Start a small business branding consultation firm (er…I also wrote, “STOP PROCRASTINATING.”).'”  The last thing I wrote? “I want to be an example for others like me, be an advocate and work to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing world.”

Ali (such a snoop!  Kidding, Ali. 😉 ) saw what I wrote and at the break she asked me about it- about this gap and why I felt that I had to bridge it.   She went on to say that she always found it interesting that I label myself so quickly, especially when it’s something so invisible.  She pointed out that technically, i’m moderately hard of hearing and that I could probably just tell people that I was sometimes have a little trouble and might need to ask them to repeat themselves.  She was genuinely curious- she wasn’t being judgmental or negative.

I told her that it felt like something people should know so that they’d know why if I didn’t respond.  I went on to say that on some level, perhaps it’s also about me saying, “See?  The stigma isn’t always right!”  So many people I know have never come across someone my age with a hearing loss.  I’m an anomaly.  I’m their first live impression.  All they know is what they’ve heard or seen on TV, etc.  That stuff? Not always good.  Hell- the school curriculum probably still teaches kids that Helen Keller was called, “deaf and dumb.”  When I’ve told people I’ve had countless, “Are you kidding?!” reactions.  I’ve been accused of lying.  I’ve gotten, “Wow!  You’re not what I expected!”

Then Ali said a few things that blew my mind.  She pointed out that by labeling myself (it didn’t even really hit me that I was labeling myself!)when people would otherwise not know meant that I was setting myself apart right off the bat.  She told me that she doesn’t see me as different and that to her, I sometimes just need things repeated.  That was when she dropped the bomb- “To me, you’re normal!”  I’m pretty sure my eyes were huge at that point.  I don’t think i’ve ever considered myself normal- not as a child of profoundly deaf parents and certainly not as a hard of hearing person.  But, what if I am?  What if I’ve been limiting myself by defining myself in such a way? What if I’ve been using that as a default setting so I can “check out?”  What if I stopped answering the question “What is it like to be deaf/hard of hearing” and starting answering the question, “What does it mean to be me?”  My hearing loss is a very small part of who I am.  It is not the sum of my parts.  Maybe I am normal?  Relatively speaking, of course.

I will always be an advocate for deaf and hard of hearing people.  How can I not be?  I will continue to  make jokes about my hearing mishaps- it makes ME laugh as much as it makes other people laugh.  I will continue to share my experiences here.  I am not now and will never again be ashamed of my hearing loss.  But darnit, this is food for thought.

Why even the small stuff can and should be unforgettable.

I won’t offer some trite “sorry I’ve been M.I.A.” crap, because, well, it’s been a great summer and I’m not sorry.  Nor am I so conceited that I think anyone’s been chomping at the bit for me to post again.  I am at my best when I write because I want to. Not just to put something up.  So, without fanfare, let’s proceed.

There are some stories that become legendary- that we tell over and over, perhaps embellishing them a bit over the years and taking liberties. Sure, I remember that when I was in first grade, I bit a kid (Totally justified! Maybe. Not.). I remember when my friend Adam told me he spit in my apple juice (LIAR!) and made me throw up in the school cafeteria when I took a sip and saw bubbles that looked like spit bubbles (tres humiliating). Yeah, first grade was a rough year for me. *****cue Barbara singing “Memories.”***

On a random note: I'm glad she kept her nose. Jennifer Gray should've taken a hint from Babs.

On a random note: I’m glad she kept her nose. Jennifer Gray should’ve learned from Babs.

Legends aside, there are those little, lesser known and sometimes never acknowledged again moments that happen day-to-day and while no less meaningful, can so easily fade into the background and be forgotten. Our lives are made up of sequences of single minutes- some more vivid in our minds than others, but altogether, the sum of our existence.

Someone I admire deeply has a philosophy about appreciating every single minute you are given, no matter what. She says (while giving tirelessly of herself) that our lives are finite and our time is too special to squander- it’s the most valuable thing we have. I find myself wanting to live by these words, especially when I find myself wishing away days when I have something to look forward to on the weekend, when the work day just won’t end, or I stand in a particularly long express line, noting that the person in front of me appears to be stocking up for a nuclear Armageddon. Then I think to myself- it will never be August 29, 2013 at 4:30 (or whatever) ever again in the history of the world. It seems so silly, but it helps me slow down and appreciate it a bit more.

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So, as I went into the New Year, I didn’t really make resolutions. New Year’s resolutions make me insane- I like to do things no matter what time of year it is, but I decided that I wanted a way to remember the day-to-day stuff. I’m talking about the things that make my days a little brighter- both big AND small. I reasoned that in the grand scheme of how I experience joy, laughter, something profound, or simple enjoyment, it doesn’t matter how significant or insignificant seeming something actually is- who cares what it is if it makes you happy?

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So, I started the memory jar. Not a new idea, I know. I’m not claiming I’m the genius behind it. Anyway, I trekked to West Elm for a suitable vessel, I gathered up what felt like a meeeellion paint chips (when you’re smuggling them out of Lowe’s and Home Depot in stacks, it feels like a million, trust me), some gel pens (don’t do this- they smudge. Get a sharpie pen- there. I just saved you about fifteen bucks.), and “the jar” was born.

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A fun outing? Something crazy/funny/ridiculous/monumental happens? “That goes in the jar!” It’s actually become a mark of pride when someone gets in the jar (don’t worry, GG- you’ll get in!). Major kudos to my dear friend Pauline, who simply DOMINATES. Also making appearances: concert tickets, museum tickets, fortunes from fortune cookies, a couple of especially meaningful cards, confetti from the Pops Fourth of July Rehearsal, and a few other little trinkets.

MoMA ticket, Mumford and Sons Ticket, cards...and a little  recounting of an embarrassing ski incident...

MoMA ticket, Mumford and Sons Ticket, cards…and a little
recounting of an embarrassing ski incident…

I can’t always keep up with things. I have a running list in a mini notebook waiting for transfer to the paint chips, but it’s really fun to look back and see what’s happened over the year, look at the little things that I would have otherwise forgotten, relive it, remember where I was and laugh. The time it takes is well worth it to make those little moments unforgettable and reminds me to appreciate and reflect on things I may have otherwise forgotten or taken for granted. Well, that, and many of my friends have DIRTY senses of humor.