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In the Words of Blind Authors
by Diana Braun
Sydney, New South Wales Australia
One of the many things at which I am hopeless is computer skills; so of course, I decided to initiate an e-mail list for blind authors. I did not know how to set up such a list, but I did know who would be able to help me. The help was kindly given and we were overwhelmed by the number of blind authors and would-be blind authors interested in joining our list. Unfortunately, they all hated the way the list had been set up, and in fact, spent more time complaining than trying their hand at authorship. My friend Lyn came to the rescue, and although everyone is happy now, including me, I can no longer get rid of troublemakers; however, so far this has not been a problem. Nobody told me I would need to write list guidelines. Lyn and a few other trusted friends are going to help me write them.
The first thing we all did was introduce ourselves. Some of us are deaf-blind while others are partially sighted. Some have university degrees. Others have read very little and until now have never tried to write a story. We are an interesting group whose members do not always agree.
Our first project was to write a story together. I don't much enjoy writing in a group, so I thought I would finish my first story and then begin working on something I would prefer to write. I soon found that the group liked my contribution but didn't accept the ending I intended. The story continues to develop.
We have members from all over the world, including Canada, Virginia and Perth, Western Australia to name a few. We try to find markets for our work, critique stories upon request, and have lively discussions about authors, publishing and agents. You name it; we have probably discussed it.
What follows is a true story that was a universal favorite. I have the author's permission to include it here. Her name is Nan Rosen, and she is one of the authors of whom we are very proud. In fact, we are beginning to be rather proud of them all.
If you would like to join our list, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Peanut Song Saga
by Nan Rosen
One thing my cochlear implant did for me is make it possible to communicate with my family. My husband knew sign language and that is one reason we got on so well and married. Of the rest of my family, only my brother, his wife and sons know sign language. Most other family members never even thought about learning to sign. My parents tried, but my father never got the hang of it. He simply could not learn a new language and they both gave it up. The one sign he did learn was "I love you."
I received my cochlear implant in December of 1988, and it was activated in January of 1989. Dr. Jon Shallop of the Denver Ear Institute told my father that I might have difficulty understanding words at first. If that happened, he should try singing a song I might remember from my childhood. He said people who once heard like I did used their memories of sound to learn to hear again with the implant.
Three days after the implant was turned on, I still only heard static and loud noises. My family gathered in the living room to help me get the hang of speech. They called my name repeatedly, but I did not understand. My hearing dog got confused and started barking. That did not help, but I did start hearing a repeated sound every time he barked.
Dad was sitting next to me and tried singing. He sang "The Peanut Song" about a peanut who "sat on a railroad track, his heart was all aflutter, the 5:15 came around the bend--toot, toot, peanut butter." At first I only heard the rhythm of the song and then I understood the words and then I heard my father's voice. It sounded exactly as I remembered it from when I was about 12.
After that, I could understand words and gradually gained the ability to talk to most people. Learning to identify sounds like running water, birds and my dog's bark was fun.
By the year 2000, my father developed Alzheimer's disease, a progressive disorder that robs a person of short-term memories. A few years later at the age of 86, he went into a nursing home. On the last day I saw him, my brother and I visited him in his room. I tried to find something he might be able to remember and talk about. With Alzheimer's, memory loss is progressive and a person is most likely to remember things that happened deep in the past. With this in mind, I asked my father if he remembered his father's guitar. Oh, yes, he remembered that guitar and the songs he used to sing. Dad smiled and sang "I've Been Working on the Railroad" from beginning to end just as his father used to sing it. When he finished, he was quiet for a minute. We both thought he was asleep, but he began to sing again and he sang the "Peanut Song." That silly song was the first thing I understood with my cochlear implant and the last thing I heard my father say before he died. The very last thing he did before we left the room was sign "I love you."
Nan Rosen is legally deaf-blind and is a former editor of the DEAF-BLIND AMERICAN published by the American Association of the Deaf-Blind.
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