Bear with me, friends, because I have a few thoughts that have been rattling around in my head, and I need the space to get them out before they stage a hostile takeover.
As many of you know, I’m profoundly deaf. That means without an external implement, I can’t hear a thing. Luckily, in 1999 (after seven years of total silence) I was fitted with a uni-lateral Cochlear Implant. This device allows me to hear 84% of sound (out of the right side only, and in a soundproof booth). I say “luckily”, knowing that my opinion on the matter is personal, and that feelings are divided in the Deaf community. The Cochlear Implant has served me well, and for that, I’ll always be grateful. But not everyone’s story is the same.
Allow me to repeat myself here, because this is the important bit:
Not everyone’s story is the same.
On top of being deaf, I’m also an author. Recently, I completed an urban fantasy featuring a deaf protagonist. It’s a story I’m immensely passionate about, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be represented by the amazing Jordy Albert of Booker Albert Literary Agency. My protagonist is a modern day Wendy Darling, and her experiences with deafness closely mirror mine. Like me, she’s isolated in total silence in her day-to-day life. In the story’s “Neverland”, she can hear.
This brings me to the basis of today’s post. My protagonist’s journey didn’t sit well with a recent beta reader. In fact, I received a rather pointed email explaining in detail why I shouldn’t be the one telling this story.
I’ve received a lot of feedback the past year, all of it running the gamut between positive and negative. Such is the life of an artist in an incredibly subjective industry. I take all of it in stride. While I’m always grateful for the positive, it’s the negative that helps me to grow. Every critique and criticism plays an invaluable part in making my story better and my writing stronger.
But this particular feedback stung. I was told that I misled readers by making them believe the story would be a deaf protagonist’s story, but that the character is “fixed” when she goes to “Neverland.” Therefore, the story is not, in fact, a story of a deaf protagonist, and is instead a cop-out.
I hate that word. I’ve come to despise it after a lifetime of being treated like a broken thing. Like a doll with cracks, or a wind-up toy that doesn’t quite work correctly.
Let me quickly give you a glimpse into a week in my life, spent straddling the line between sound and silence.
Being deaf is only a small piece of what I am. I’m also a wife and a mother. My incredibly hardworking (and hearing) husband often travels out of state for work, leaving me home alone to care for our lovely (hearing) toddler (my deafness is not hereditary, but rather, caused by spinal Meningitis).
Being deaf and home alone is scary. Being deaf and home alone with a child in your care is terrifying. Therefore, I sleep with my implant on.
That means I don’t sleep.
When you’re accustomed to silence, it becomes as comfortable as a skin.
With my implant on, I’m conscious of my feet brushing the sheets, my breathing, the dog’s light snores (and gas, let’s be honest), the wind rattling the window. Every tick and scrape of the house keeps me wide awake, listening, my heart racing. I sit up in bed thinking, “what if I fall asleep, and I don’t hear the baby’s cries?” “What if the fire alarm goes off, and I wake up burning, too late to get us out?”
That kind of fear–that feeling of inadequacy that comes with thinking you, the Mama, the protector, the nurturer, aren’t strong enough to do this job on your own–it’s paralyzing.
Daytime doesn’t bring reprieve. You can’t wear a Cochlear Implant for days at a time. For those who don’t know how it works, the implant is a magnet. Think of a computerized cochlear on one side of your skin, and a magnet on the other, electronically stimulating your nerve endings. Wear it too long, I’m struck with a migraine. Longer than that, I begin to develop a twitch. Longer still, and I’m hugging the toilet, which makes keeping a toddler from putting stickers on the dog very difficult.
Having sound is a gift, but it’s a gift that takes. There’s a cost that comes with wearing it.
So, while my toddler is awake, I spend the day in silence. Worrying. Not taking my eyes off of her. Not for a minute. I miss her giggles. I miss her little voice. I worry I won’t develop her speech properly, since I’m not able to hear her trying to form words. I worry that if I turn my back, she’ll fall or choke or, or, or…
When my husband comes back home, it’s a reprieve. And life goes back to normal until he leaves again.
I’m not fixed just because I can access sound. My “deaf” story is no less “deaf” than another’s, and neither is Emery Claramond’s.
This is a recent breakthrough that I’ve had, thanks to some of my author idols.
I went to BookCon two weeks ago and sat through a TERRIFIC panel with some of my favorite authors: Renée Ahdieh (Smoke in the Sun), Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows, the Grisha Trilogy), Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes), Scott Westerfield (The Uglies), and Marie Lu (Warcross). The panel was on the magic of world building, and I spent an hour eagerly soaking up every nugget of wisdom they shared.
About halfway through, the topic took an interesting turn. Lu and Bardugo spoke on each being told they weren’t “_______ enough” to write the stories they wrote, or build the worlds they built. They each shared their personal experiences with straddling a line between cultures and experiences, and how toxic of a mindset it is to tell someone they “aren’t enough”.
Sitting in the crowd, listening to my literary icons, it was a revelation that brought me to tears. Because I AM enough, and my story isn’t just my own–it’s the only one I have.
I spent my life with a foot in two vastly different worlds, and I fit in neither of them. My Cochlear Implant meant I wasn’t deaf enough to be part of the Deaf community. My hearing loss meant I had a difficult time fitting in with groups of hearing friends and family. I was both with and without.
And so is my protagonist. Her story IS a deaf story. Her disability is my own, her experience (although fantastical) closely parallels mine. And at the end of the day, I’m the only one who can tell it the way it’s meant to be told.
Thanks for reading!
Tell me: what’s the story that only YOU can tell?