25 March 2018

March for Our Lives

View from the old courthouse steps at the end of the march
So there was this thing yesterday, this public gathering, this demonstration called March for Our Lives. It was started by the Never Again MSD movement that was born out of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This is a group of high school students - kids - that have decided that if the adults are not going to act like adults and make sure that they are safe in their schools, it's up to them.

These are amazing kids, and the groups that have sprung up all over the country are made up of even more amazing kids. I feel like I say the word AMAZING too much, but in this case, it is warranted. Millions upon millions of people came out yesterday, all over my country and indeed, all over the world, to join with this group of kids - whose pain is still so raw - to say that enough is enough. They are asking the adults of their world how many more of them have to die before someone in charge does something to make them safe.

I came out yesterday and joined the March in Greenville. I have never in my life seen that many people crowded into the NOMA square at the top of Main street! Now, normally I am not a fan of large crowds, and I will admit to being trepidatious yesterday - there was a point that I found myself spending too much time trying to decide if a man nearby us, who was wearing a clerical collar, had something hidden under his blazer. That's how nervous it makes me - but yesterday was different. I wanted to surge up to the front of the line yesterday and surround those kids to keep them safe from the 2nd Amendment counter protest that we heard was going on just a few blocks down. That's been my motivation in this whole thing - to protect. I don't even have kids, y'all, but the thought of my niece, my friend's son, or anyone having to go through a lockdown drill at school just hurts my heart. It is so preventable! I wanted them to stay kids a little longer because if you hear them speak at rallies or on television, they sound so poised and intelligent - like the young adults they are.

They are often more adult than the actual adults.

But protection wasn't their bag yesterday. They led the march, heads held high, and passed by the...five or six?...2nd Amendment counter-protesters and kept on going. They held signs reading "Am I Next?" and "The NRA is a terrorist organization" and "Thoughts, Prayers, ACTIONS!" There was a rally at city hall, and it was peaceful - but forceful. I have never been so proud to live in my town as I was yesterday.

Tell me what democracy looks like? THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.

20 March 2018

Fáilte go dtí an taobh dorcha...

So this happened...
Welcome to the dark side indeed... for her, anyway. This is Ciaragh, (Kee-rah, the feminine form of Ciaran, which means dark in Irish) and she has joined our house as a foster, for now. She is 14 months old, and we are already terribly smitten with her. She is the spitting image of Bryn when she was that age. Actually, she looks more like Bryn at five months because she is so very tiny. A pocket IW! She is curious, sweet, submissive to Willow and so far completely in love with our backyard. She would stay out there all day, whittling sticks and digging to China if we let her. So...things here at The Lettuce have derailed a bit, but all is well: we are puppy-proofing as we go and generally getting to know this precious little muppet. I mean come on, how CUTE is that face?  More Muppet Shenanigans can be had over at Bryn's blog, Our Daily Bryn (as soon as I get caught up, that is). Also, be sure to watch for the next in the Clobberpaws series - I think Bryn's story just got a whole lot more interesting! As for Miss Ciaragh, she may be making her debut at GARF! Stay tuned...

14 March 2018

Writing a Writerly Post, Vol 1

They didn't know they were a cliché, clearly.
There's a theory going around that all Disney movies have one thing in common in their storytelling - dead/missing parents. Look at the ones that stand out in your mind, the classics: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty...at least Sleeping Beauty's parents died because she was asleep for so long, but it is still important. Look at current Disney blockbusters: Frozen's Elsa and Anna lost their parents at sea and Brave's Merida almost lost her mother to...being a bear. I remember when some friends and I sat down to finally watch Frozen, my friend Brian said that he already knew the plot: Introduce hero/heroine as a normal so-and-so, kill off parents, so-and-so becomes super somehow and saves the day. How mad was I when it turned out that he was right?!

Don't get me wrong, I love a good Disney movie. And that's why I started thinking about the post for today - I've seen a lot of them! But what really set me off on this tangent was a post on a writers group on Facebook that talked about the "overused trope in fantasy writing" of the hero/protagonist losing their parents, and how that spurs them on to greatness.

Well, of course it does! Revenge is a mighty motivator, as is just wanting to honor the memory of a parent or make that parent proud, even if it is posthumously. In my books, my protagonist is taken from her comfortable life and thrust into the great unknown to avenge the deaths of her parents. Overused cliché? Maybe, but let me tell you why I think it is so well worn (rather than overused): I think that it is a metaphor for life in general. A person can be the most well-rounded, confident, mature individual and live an independent and fantastic life, but as long as that person's parents are still living, that person is still someone's child. To see that relationship through to its normal and natural conclusion - with the parents living to an advanced age - provides time for the child to grow into the role that he or she will take on in absence of the parents: the "grown-up," if you will. To take away the parents before the child has naturally reached that point forces growth and maturity that may not be complete. It is that shock to the system, to the natural order of things, that makes some into heroes and others into villains.

Why wouldn't we take that and use it in writing? For the unlikely hero in a fantasy novel, what better jumping off point for the rest of the journey? Granted, that point has seen a lot of feet, but I think that what makes the trope well-worn is that every hero has the potential to jump off in a different direction. My protagonist takes up the mantle of revenge as a side arc, really, but it is a sub-plot that informs the rest of her journey. Other writers have protagonists that spend their entire story arc plotting and carrying out revenge for their lost parents. Every protagonist needs a catalyst to set them on their path - I chose the Disney route.

Now, if only I could choose the Disney route to see my books become movies...

13 March 2018

In which I may have to give up my nerd card...

I don't care which fandom you follow, this is funny.
Last night, Hubs and I were watching (finally) Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access. Initially, I had refused to watch since CBS was forcing us to pay to watch something that had always been over the air, but then the 7-day trial with Amazon Video became available. So we now have five days to watch 12 more episodes. Easy Peasy.

During the episode, it occurred to me why Star Trek was more accessible (nevermind the pay-to-view status of ST:D) and easier to fall into and get stuck than Star Wars was or would be. Don't get me wrong, I am a Star Wars fan. I don't acknowledge 1-3, and only marginally accepted 7. Rogue One (which is what...3.5?) and 8 renewed a bit of my faith. Chewbacca is my spirit animal. Han shot first. A woman's place is in the resistance. Etc.

But last night as I was watching this brand new iteration of a very familiar universe, I started thinking about why it was so familiar. It has to do with good storytelling, something Star Trek has in spades and Star Wars doesn't always (minus 4-6 as I stated earlier, which are perfection). It also has to do with being able to take a franchise, a story, characters, a universe - and re-create it over and over, adding to canon without re-writing canon. If you can do that as well as Star Trek has, then you can even re-write canon (the reboot of the movies) without sending millions of Trekkies screaming back into their parents' basements.

It could also be the familiarity of the Star Trek universe. It includes our earth. I said to Hubs last night that even though the Klingons at the beginning of the pilot don't really look as much like Klingons as they do like something out of the Underworld movies, I still have no trouble accepting them as Klingons because the language is right, the cadence of speech is right...and the message of Klingon First is right. The Starfleet uniforms change in small details, but at the end of the day, they are all still basically the same thing with different touches to indicate rank or discipline.

What does this have to do with anything other than me declaring myself a Trekkie? It's storytelling. It's world-building, even when the world already exists and you have to go a few million lightyears out into space to build onto what you already have. It's what I do as a writer, and I find myself utterly fascinated with the craft and the ability. It's bringing the galaxy far, far away into the realm of my possibility, while still taking me where no one has gone before.

Yeah, okay, maybe I will hang onto that card.

12 March 2018

Houston, Part Two and Three

Hobby Airport, Houston
So, yeah, Thursday was pretty bad. I stayed in a hotel that might have actually been in the middle of the highway, judging from the volume of the traffic noise. Miraculously, I did not end up smelling like hot dogs (seriously, what building material makes a new building smell like that?) but I didn't get much sleep.

I got up early and got myself breakfast, and then got myself over to the Marriot just in time for the first workshop of the day. I have to admit that I was not expecting much, but there were more people signing than speaking and that workshop was amazing. I got into my room at the Marriot which was CRAZY POSH and a little bit extreme, but no hot dogs or NASCAR so I was happy. If I had been able to have that room starting on Thursday night, I think that I might have had a better attitude.

Friday's workshops were great. Friday night's entertainment was great, and I'm so glad that I didn't talk myself into skipping it and having an early night. Saturday morning I had planned to skip the 8am workshop and just chill until time to go to the airport, but I soldiered on and had the chance to experience a great workshop on self-care for interpreters. Such good information!

I was positively floating by the time I got to Hobby (plenty of time to catch my flight) and the flight from Houston to Atlanta went off without a hitch. I found an Atlanta Bread in the concourse and had a (vegetarian) sandwich that I recognized AND a place to charge my phone whilst I ate. I rang Simon. I rang Mom. Everything was turning up Nancy. And that's when I did it, that's when I spoke aloud to the universe that EVERYTHING HAD WORKED ITSELF OUT and the rest of my trip would be FINE. And the universe responded, "Hold my beer."

I was at my gate about 7pm; boarding was supposed to start at 7:20pm. My boarding number was A5, so the chances I'd get a good seat were high. At 7:30, they told us that the flight crew wasn't on the ground from New Orleans yet, so we wouldn't be boarding until after 8:20 when they arrived with a view to takeoff being pushed back to 8:40. The woman in the Breast Cancer Survivor shirt across from me put in her headphones and started singing. The owner of one of the most adorable Westies I have ever seen put him back in his carrier and left - I assume the little fella needed the loo? I played games on my phone.

8:30 comes and the flight crew isn't there yet. A large crowd has gathered in the pre-boarding area and none of them are using wheelchairs, were elderly, or had a stroller with them. At 8:45 the flight crew arrived and only one of them decided not to look sheepish as they cut through the crowd and headed down the jetway to the plane. 8:50 and we are boarding. 9:05 and we are away. I'm not sure a Southwest flight has moved that quickly, ever, but I can tell you that the entire plane let out whoops and wolf-whistles and a loud round of applause when the plane touched down in Greenville at almost 10pm.

So all in all, I guess my problems weren't Houston's fault, but I'm not in a hurry to go back...roll on RID Region II in...oh man. Gulfport MS in July. Yee-haw.

09 March 2018

Well, howdy, Houston.

Yeah, I know that people don't really say howdy just because this is Texas. But to be honest, my first hours in this part of the Lone Star State have been so very weird that I first thought I'd booked the wrong flight and was actually in Austin, but that weird is a good weird. This weird is like a WHEN AM I GOING TO WAKE UP FROM WHAT IS CLEARLY A NIGHTMARE weird.

I don't think that it is Houston's fault though... To be fair, I'm not even sure that I'm in Houston proper. I flew into Hobby because the hotel where my conference is being held only runs a shuttle to Hobby - a fact that, in retrospect, should have told me loads about the hotel. But I will get to that in a minute.

I flew Southwest for the first time and after wrangling their wifi (good gracious, I've been here less than 24 hours and I said wrangling) mid-flight, I find that was the only complaint I have with them. It is definitely worth it to do what you need to do to be Passenger A 1-10 to board, and make sure you can check your bag, and it's really a pleasant airline for short haul flights. The seats aren't as comfy as the Delta Economy Comfort that my rear end has grown to love, but the flight crew was nice and it was a good experience...at least until the landing at Hobby.

We were coming in for a landing - literally, I could read the words on the buildings - and then out fo nowhere we started climbing again. Apparently, the plane on the runway to take off was not going fast enough so our plane couldn't land. I guess there is a first time for everything. Poor hubs was watching the flight online and said that it told him I'd be on the ground in ten minutes and then JUST KIDDING, we were circling. But we landed, and I made it off the plane, got my bags, all before my phone's battery died. JUST.

I followed the signs (once I wandered around till I found them) to the "Hotel Shuttle Pickup" spot and waited...and waited...there was lots of waiting. The couple waiting there with me probably wished that I would go away - it should be no shocker to anyone that knows me that I am very bad at small talk. I was two clicks out from going back in the airport to regroup and charge my phone when the shuttle for my hotel arrived. Back on the plan!

Sort of.  The couple I was waiting alongside was either on the phone or on the net from the airport to the hotel (which y'all, is like 5 minutes) and talking about transplants and stem cells and how someone whose name I didn't catch was "expendable...well, not expendable, but expendable." I tuned out at that point. Got to the hotel and they had given my room away. Now two weeks ago I rang the hotel to let them know that I would be there on Thursday instead of Wednesday - which made their website tell me that I had to start over and the hotel was sold out this weekend. The very nice woman I spoke to said she straightened it out, just took the Wednesday arrival off and send me a new confirmation email. The man who clearly could not have cared less had he been dead told me that wasn't the case and they were putting me across the street at another hotel for the night at no charge. Since that was NOT the point, I argued and told him I had a confirmation email. He told me it didn't matter, he did not have a room for me and here's the shuttle, come see us after 8am tomorrow and we will have a room for you.

Well, you can just imagine my happy face at THAT good news. So I come to the HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS - which by the way has not made me any more intelligent by my staying here - which has no restaurant. Did I mention I ate lunch in Greenville at 10:45 and was starving by that point? So I got the shuttle back across the street (which isn't a street, it's a HIGHWAY and very busy and loud) and tried to find the registration for the conference. The terribly unhelpful man that gave away my room answered my VERY REASONABLE question about the location of the registration for TerpExpo by saying that he only registered people for the hotel. What?

Still with me? BECAUSE THERE'S MORE.

So I'm wandering around, nearly in tears from hunger and frustration, feeling an anxiety attack building toward panic when I saw a line of people leading to food. I got in the line, but as it drew closer I found that the food in question was ice cream. There's another group in the same hotel - a church group from Waco learning about mission trips. And best of all, they brought all three million of their children. I got out of that line and wandered around till a very helpful member of the waitstaff from the hotel restaurant took pity on me, got me a table and a menu.

Two things about that meal: The hotel serves Pepsi products and "basil cream sauce" on pasta is basically pesto.

Made it to the registration table, got myself sorted out, and made it into the last workshop of the day. All in all, I'm not that impressed with TERPEXPO so far, and the registration issue was just one of the problems. What kind of interpreter conference has that much talking without signing? I think I've learned that these conferences are not for me, thank you. RID seriously has nothing to worry about in terms of losing folks to this circus. I hope it's better in other cities.

So after hours and hours of "this must be a dream" and "please, I'd like to wake up now," I am in my room across the highway and I feel a little better. Must be the pesto...because it isn't Houston.

05 March 2018

The Silent Child and The Shape of Water, or Why I Stayed Up Too Late Last Night

Those that know me know that I live a lot of my life straddling two very different cultures, languages, and groups of people: The hearing world and the Deaf Community. I was born into the hearing world - I have no Deaf parents, siblings, or indeed any family that are Deaf. I am a NERDA: Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult (as opposed to a CODA - Child of a Deaf Adult - or SODA - Sibling of...you get the idea).

I started learning American Sign Language when I was about 10-11 years old, from a Deaf friend of mine and fellow clergy kid. We saw each other at United Methodist events for clergy and summer camp, and she taught me to communicate with her - which, I learned when I was much older - was her idiosyncratic "dialect," if you will, of ASL. But proper ASL or not, she taught me to think in three dimensions, to see everything as a picture rather than a string of words, haphazardly strung together and exhaled in an attempt to communicate. Whereas English is clunky and burdened with rules and auditory cues for intonation and emotion, ASL is streamlined. There is grammar, of course - it is a proper language after all - but learning it felt less like the verb sheets in high school Spanish and more like being let in on a magical secret. I can communicate with someone in another car with the windows rolled up. I can tell you that I am paying attention AND that I understand what you're saying all with a twitch of my nose. Truth be told, I fell in love HARD with ASL (and all signed languages, really), and I haven't bothered to get back up and brush myself off. Not to be maudlin, but while English is my first language and therefore (most of the time) the language of my mind, ASL is the language of my heart. I can say things in ASL that I physically, mentally, and emotionally CANNOT in English.

So, when I learned about the crowd-funded short film called The Silent Child, you know I had to learn more. I only wish I had known about it sooner! I fell in love with Maisie Sly, the actress that plays the lead role. To have that much ability and emotion at the age of six is extraordinary. If you can get a copy of it (currently on Google and YouTube here in the US, not sure about other parts of the world yet), DO IT. I was explaining to a co-worker this morning that Maisie's character Libby is just like so many Deaf children here in the US and around the world who suffer lasting effects from language deprivation just because they are not allowed to sign when they are young. And before you come out from behind your sofa and shout at me that they need to learn the spoken language of their country of origin, there is no reason why the signed language of that country can't be used in that respect.

I sat down to watch the Oscars not expecting The Silent Child to be another Children of a Lesser God, but had fingers crossed just the same. The nominees for that category were AMAZING, all in their own right - but when they announced the winner, it was like a victory for ASL. The writer and starring actress, Rachel Shenton, is a qualified BSL interpreter as well as an actress, and it was her passion for making sure Deaf children have the same access to APPROPRIATE language as their hearing peers that made this film possible. I bought it from Google Movies this morning and have watched it twice today..and to say it hits me in the feels is an understatement.

I can't say as much about the Oscar-winning picture, The Shape of Water, because I haven't seen it yet. When it first came out, the trailer was plastered ALL OVER MY FACEBOOK WALL because it has signing in it. "Is this a Deaf actress, Nancy?" "What do you think about this?" "Are you going to see it?"

At first, the answer to that was no. The movement now to fill Deaf roles with Deaf actors is very important to me for many reasons, not the least of which being it is a point where my two dearest loves (ASL and Theatre) intersect and overlap. So on first blush I was afraid this was yet another one of THOSE films and I pretended that it didn't exist. That's about as much as I do these days as far as protesting something goes. It was a monster movie, too, and those aren't my usual genre of choice, so it was a win-win for me.

Until it wasn't. The role was filled by a hearing actor because the character is mute, not Deaf. She signs to communicate expressively but hears to communicate receptively, and therefore a Deaf actress would have not been the right choice for the role.

I have other rants already prepared about only casting Deaf actors in roles written as Deaf rather than as a viable choice for any role in the name of diversity, but I will put that back in my pocket for now.

If I can get myself to sit through a monster movie, I will watch The Shape of Water now, not only because it won Best Picture or it has ASL in it, but also because it looks to be a visually stunning film - and that is part and parcel of the Deaf experience, isn't it? Conveying emotion and story by showing rather than telling? On my list of to-do after watching this film is to stop feeling the need to correct everyone that is WRONG ON THE INTERNET about how Rachel Shenton could barely sign the acceptance speech at the Oscars last night or how the parents were vilified for making the choice to force the child to learn speech rather than ASL...but, for now, I'm going to take a nap. If you have the means, though, see both of these movies.  Hollywood is making small steps to bring more diverse stories to the big screen (Coco, Black Panther, etc) so I can't wait to see what is coming soon!

01 March 2018

Things I learn from my job, part 358.2

No image in the post today. In truth, it won't be a long one, but just something I wanted to share. People often wonder how I can interpret certain things that I'm booked to do without losing my mind. In a lot of ways, I do still lose my mind, you just don't see it.

I've compared this before to the 'Confessor's face' that author Terry Goodkind created for his character, Kahlan Amnell, in the Sword of Truth fantasy series. Confessors are women that are born into a magical sisterhood and have the ability to discern truth from lies (by basically taking over the mind of the person and leaving them a slave to the Confessor, but that's beside the point here). From Temple of the Winds:
Kahlan was wearing her Confessor's face: the blank expression that showed none of her feelings.
We are taught as interpreters to do this - to an extent. We are conveying communication and by necessity that involves emotion, so I am never that 'blank,' but it is not MY emotion you are seeing. It should never be my emotion.

I periodically discover things that I can't interpret, mostly due to lack of knowledge of the subject matter, but occasionally because my confessor's face cracks in the face of the topic and I can't continue to be impartial. One of those topics has resurfaced again: guns and gun control. I'm not going to debate that here, mainly because the debate is only the catalyst for this post, but also because my mind is made up on that issue and won't be changed.

When I was in high school I was threatened with a gun on two separate occasions. I have fired two guns in my life, both at a gun range. I lost a friend in the Virginia Tech incident. So while interpreting recently when the topic came up I readied myself. Unlike another incident over the summer last year (that I can't say more about than that because CONFIDENTIALITY) where I legitimately became too distressed to continue working (after a direct reference to Virginia Tech), I could continue working - but I'm sure it was obvious how I felt about what I was interpreting, and that is not okay. My confessor's face fell away, and all that was left was my own face, filled with the emotion that this sort of topic sparks in me. I was told once that I have a million facial expressions - an occupational hazard when your second language uses the face for grammar as well as intonation - and I'm sure that at least five hundred thousand of them were on display.

So, yeah, I can mark that one off of my Can Be Interpreted Safely list and add it to the I Need to Work on That list. Ugh. But the small, quiet voice in my soul says it is okay, because I'm being honest with and about myself, and that will ultimately make me better at what I do.

Music Monday: Getting in a proper frame of mind...

All I can say about this video is that this is one of the best scenes from one of my favorite movies, and it positively drips with high sc...