Featured

Opa

A French writer by the name of Guy de Maupassant was known for taking hallucinogens to give substance to his screeds about the futility of life, which is quite interesting because today, we simply take coffee and log onto Facebook to do the trick. 

But, anyway. 

That Guy wrote something that is sticking in my head now: “Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.” 

Because memory is not only sacred but also fleeting, I thought I would put on paper my favorite memories of James Maurice Stern, who passed away recently but will always remain “Opa” in my heart. While I may have witnessed it first-hand or heard it repeated quite often, let me share what I remember today with the hope of giving undying life to his essence and the virtues that he embodied: 

OPA being pessimistic about leaders, current events, and particularly himself, such as becoming disappointed every time he would miss a left-handed hook shot in the backyard of our Fremont home, declaring it was unbearable and unbelievable and that he would have to practice more, notwithstanding how he was right-handed and 75+ years old at the time, and shaking his head in disgust as recently as a week ago when learning about the latest tweets of the POTUS; and yet, being an eternal optimist about his loved ones, thinking the world of our potential even if, and especially when, we were undeserving;

OPA smiling the sweetest smile, despite being in pain and extremely weak, upon seeing his great-granddaughter climb onto his hospice bed last week, and making the “ILY” sign despite limited faculties; 

OPA walking that fine line between being sweet, generous, well-mannered, and yet also being determined, stubborn, competitive enough to bang on the locker room door and barge in at halftime to yell at my 24-year-old father for not switching onto his man quickly enough during the American Athletic Association of the Deaf (AAAD) championship game in 1976; 

OPA ignoring the strict orders of Oma who meant oh-so-well by telling him that he was crazy for wanting to hike almost a mile under the sweltering sun of the Yucatan in the summer at the age of 90, and then trekking to get to that far-flung cenote, climbing down a steep incline to get in the limestone pool and floating blissfully alongside fish, kids, water lilies, and adults half his age with a Cheshire grin on his face; 

OPA drinking whiskey and smoking cigars with my brother- in-law and me during my wedding; 

OPA smiling contentedly in the front seat last month, on his way home from the hospital, with the sun shining on his well-tanned face, and then remarking that he’s happy to be still here; 

OPA reminding us that he is a sun worshipper on his way to the pool with a towel slung over his shoulder and slide sandals exposing his gorgeous feet for which he was supposedly renowned; 

OPA asking his hospice doctors whether he’d be able to drink wine and visit Argentina for his grandson’s wedding, and holding onto his bike and skis until the very end because he was so sure he would, somehow, travel and bike and ski and live the Good Life once again; 

OPA volunteering to start a Jr. NAD chapter in New York City, to serve as an active member and officer for several organizations, to help organize the Winter Deaflympics in Lake Placid in 1975, and to develop crossword puzzles by hand (then finally via a computer program) monthly for over 40 years for Silent News;    

OPA thanking the nurses and doctors each and every time during his countless visits to the hospital over the past two months and insisting that he was OK, even though he hated the hospital like no other and was suffering the inevitable consequences of congestive heart failure; 

OPA searching high and low for a urinal in a Turkish bath in Istanbul in 1993 then peeing in a bowl he deemed to be precisely that, only to return with his face as white as a sheet upon witnessing a masseur using that bowl to pour water over the back of his client; 

OPA watching and rooting for the Yankees and the Knicks at every opportunity for over 70 years, no matter if they were great, awful, or in-between; 

OPA taking pride in how he dressed and his achievements; yet, never being excessively concerned about his appearance or his triumphs; 

OPA becoming pleased upon being told that Gleyber Torres had hit 5 RBIs v. the Astros and that the Yankees won the first game of the ALCS handily, even though he had just woken up after an entire day of total silence and non-movement in the hospice, and then straining with all the strength he could muster to kiss the love of his life, Oma, by his side;  

OPA understanding, like Sylvia Plath, that there may be some stuff a hot bath won’t cure, but not knowing many of them, and passing along this valuable insight to his progeny;

OPA making a friendly bet several days before moving into the hospice that Walt Frazier of Knicks fame had once played for Cleveland. When I found out he had indeed played two years for the Cavaliers and asked him what I owed, he smiled that gracious smile only he can pull off and fingerspelled “P-L-E-N-T-Y.” 

Opa, thank you for teaching us that life lived with kindness, fullness, and goodness is never an exercise in futility, not through words but through example, for which we owe you P-L-E-N-T-Y. If we can somehow emulate your decency in living, your joy for life, your will to live, and your love for friends and family, we will be the luckiest people on Earth.  

You will be sorely missed but never forgotten. 

Rest in peace, Opa. 

Featured

Summer Break

As Oscar Wilde said, we are all in the gutter, but some of us will be muttering to ourselves in August.

I started blogging (almost) every week on 5tern.com last January, and it has been a fun journey. What has made it particularly rewarding is the conversations that I have had with those of you who have made time to read/subscribe/disagree/comment.

Maybe it is the Jew in me (my wife insists it’s the annoying professor in me) but I think it is fundamental that we are constantly thinking and re-thinking about how we could improve ourselves and the world. And to question ourselves at every opportunity.

To that end, you have forced me to clarify & expand my understandings, and provided new questions for me to ponder.

For this alone, THANK YOU.

I am taking some time off from blogging to ruminate about what I want to pretend to be. And, well, to spend quality time with friends & family when I am not too busy logging onto Twitter 71 times a day to re-tweet too-good-to-be-true threads from Shane Morris and working on some writing & institutional projects that I look forward to sharing in due time.

I will post regularly again, starting in January 2020. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or feedback. Or, yes, if you just want to tell me that I’m a curmudgeon.

Until more soon, enjoy your summer.

Featured

Progress, Pessimism, and Passion in the Deaf Community

Are deaf people eternal, irrational pessimists?

I had dinner with two childhood friends two weeks ago with whom I attended school for almost all of my life at California School for the Deaf in Fremont (CSD) and Gallaudet University. Per the custom for Americans, we talked about what keeps us busy from 8a-5p and awake in the middle of the night these days. Both of them are quite successful entrepreneurs and to that end, I am a proud Kickstarter backer of Lost River Vacations, fan of the ASL App, and wearer of a ILY Kissfist t-shirt in gray frost.

On the drive home, the dinner conversation got me thinking. Never once did I dream growing up Deaf at a deaf school that the start-up business of my K-12 classmate would be featured in The Washington Post.  That my high school Academic Bowl teammate would be selected as an Obama Fellow because of her transformational work with visual media for language access. That another K-12 classmate would be studying for his PhD in Computing and Information Sciences, and another for hers in clinical psychology. That yet another classmate would have a law degree from UC-Hastings; another a faculty appointment at UCLA.

Nor would have I believed, enrolling at Gallaudet University as a 18-year-old majoring in Government, that a future alumnus would be the first and only person to win two reality TV shows and featured regularly in mainstream news. That a fellow major would end up serving as the Receptionist of the United States for President Barack Obama’s White House.  

(Note that I am merely talking about selected members of two classes of a residential school for the deaf totaling about 80 students, and of a tiny liberal arts university for deaf students that is ranked as “less selective” by U.S. News and World Report. )

Nor would have I thought possible that taking ASL would be more popular among college students than Arabic, Russian, and Hebrew combined. That a leading presidential candidate would post a viral video of himself signing. That the most visible member of the House of Representatives would be quoting Deaf people on her social media feed. That cable television’s most popular show would feature a recurring Deaf character.  That, in the instances of Pete Buttigeg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and AMC’s The Walking Dead, they would not be acts of charity but sound political moves, pun intended, capitalizing on the sacred status of ASL and Deaf culture specifically and disability generally.

Put differently, it is easier, in this day and age, to imagine a Democratic presidential candidate thanking a Deaf supporter in ASL than a French-American fan in French. To envision a Deaf-written, Deaf-produced, Deaf-acted TV show out-performing one that is, say, Mormon-written, Mormon-produced, Mormon-acted. Why? The answer to this question is that even though Francophones and Mormons have far more economic power and political representation, and are cultural minorities in the USA in their own right, Deaf people have more moral currency in our public culture today.

Looking back, the journey of the Deaf Community is replete with social, intellectual, and political breakthroughs. In the 1970s, William Stokoe declared that our beautiful signs were, indeed, a beautiful language with systemic rules. In 1987, a Deaf actress won the Oscar for Best Actress in a popular movie that shattered misconceptions about deaf people. In 1988, we gained our first-ever deaf university president and told the world that we could do anything but hear. In 1990, we gained lawful access and reasonable accommodations to public spaces in the United States. In the 2000s, the VideoPhone, Twitter, and Facebook democratized access to megaphones that were once exclusive to spoken English. In the 2010s, Nyle Thompson became Nyle DiMarco.

Yet, we rarely acknowledge & celebrate the progress that has been, and is still being, made in the Deaf Community. Instead, we are more likely to, quite literally, ROAR that we are endangered victims at the mercy of oppressive and paternalistic forces, that we stand at a crossroads today threatening the survival of ASL and Deaf culture, citing language deprivation, systemic audism, and the advent of cochlear implants and its exploding popularity, and to insist for everything we want, and everybody we work with, to be perfect right now.

OTHERWISE, IT MUST BE BURNT DOWN!  

What could explain this juxtaposition between the historic success of the Deaf community and the tribal anxiety today? There are three possible explanations, among many others, for this sort of pessimism & absolutism: (1) the reality of positionality; (2) the contrast between individual and institutional success; and, (3) the allure of dogma.  

As for the first explanation, I attended an illuminating workshop last Fall where the presenter said something about how people in the majority see minority issues through the prism of the progress that we have made over time. On the other hand, minority individuals measure progress by what could be, which made a lot of sense.

Still, why is it an either/or proposition? Why must aspiration stand in the way of recognition?  Why must imperfection negate the possibility of good? After all, the question of ‘progress’ is, ultimately, not so much a matter of politics or positionality as it is of empirical reality. And, interestingly enough, the numbers tell us two stories, which leads to the second explanation.   

While deaf individuals may be succeeding and even though Deaf culture and ASL are being celebrated in our public culture at unprecedented rates today, where are the institutions that have enabled this success? By almost any measure, enrollment at schools for the deaf and membership of deaf organizations are headed in the opposite direction, facing severe demographic, economic, political challenges that do not show any signs of subsiding in the future. This is precisely where the pessimists in the community get it right.

Current trends are extremely worrisome because we should ask: would the unprecedented level of achievements of deaf individuals and the moral capital that they are raising now about ASL and Deaf culture have been possible, if it were not for the critical mass of deaf kids, teachers, & leaders at those very institutions during their formative years, similar to the statistically improbable classes of which I was privileged to be a member at CSD-Fremont and Gallaudet?

What does this mean for deaf people today? Ought we celebrate the progress of fellow deaf Americans and continue to support productive-but-not-perfect breakthroughs, or is this akin to sitting back in our lounge chairs, celebrating the oh-so-important plastic straw ban and enjoying a perfectly temperate day, while ignoring climate scientists warning of immediate and lasting catastrophe?

I want to believe that the correct answer is centered around being conscientious and factual. Can we not see that we, as deaf individuals per se, have far more opportunities than when our country was supposedly great, while acknowledging that we still have plenty of work yet to be done? Advocate for useful laws with odd bedfellows, while recognizing that this sort of nausea-inducing experience is the nature of progress, and that nobody gets entirely what they want in a democracy?

That is, pursue a greener world by working with individuals and countries that we might not get al0ng with, as we enjoy the warmth of the sunlight even if it is getting hotter by the year?

To this end, I will be proudly wearing my ILY Kissfist t-shirt in gray frost on my way to the tiny home in Lost River this Fall, reminding myself that it is the best and worst of times, defined by wisdom and foolishness, belief and incredulity, light and darkness, hope and despair.

Hopefully, I will also be re-reading “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats to remember that pragmatism is not anywhere as alluring as passion, not merely to the deaf eye but to the human mind:    

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.

Featured

5 Reasons Why We Should Celebrate Interpreter Appreciation Day

As the old woman would say, we ought to be careful what we wish for.

So, it was Interpreter Appreciation Day two days ago, which is supposedly “extremely problematic.” There are some deaf people arguing the day should not exist. According to varying accounts, it is because (1) interpreters do not actually make ‘sacrifices’; (2) interpreters are the ones who should thank deaf people, not the other way around; (3) unprofessional, unqualified interpreters who are undeserving of appreciation exist; (4) interpreters represent oppressive, at worst, and paternalistic, at best, forces in our daily lives; and, finally, (5) the day, because of the aforementioned reasons, triggers some deaf people.

I admittedly would not have known any of this if I had not logged onto Twitter last night.

But. I. Could. Not. Help. It.

I think that the contention is fascinating and merits serious attention because it is symptomatic of a culture of resentment that is becoming more popular. Quite simply, I think we should be careful what we wish for. Here are FIVE reasons why the Interpreter Appreciation Day is something that we should continue to celebrate:

(1) Psychological benefits of appreciation. For the sake of self-interest, it is useful to be thankful because appreciation increases happiness. A study performed by Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, found that when participants went out of their way to thank somebody who had never been properly appreciated, their happiness score went up for an entire month.

(Now that I think about it, Muslims often respond to inquiries with “Alhamdulillah”, signifying gratitude for the simple things. Jews tend to go around the dinner table to tell each other for what, and for whom, we are thankful during Sabbath. Is this what elders mean by wisdom residing in tradition?)

If we want happy deaf people, we could do worse than to keep interpreter appreciation day.

(2) Interpersonal benefits of appreciation. Showing appreciation makes others like us better, develops camaraderie, and makes it more likely that our goals will be achieved. And, no, I don’t need a link for that because this is common sense. (I have $20 saying parents and coaches are nodding their heads in agreement right now.)

In short, giving thanks improves team performance. Of course, deaf people can refrain from appreciating interpreters. Just as long as we do not complain when interpreters end up performing as if it were thankless, faceless, nameless labor because they are, you know, human beings, and deaf people then end up not getting more of what we want during the appointment because of a rapport that never was.

(3) Power per se is not problematic. Appreciation days are not reserved for the powerless. In fact, we have it for the powerful and about just anybody else imaginable for the aforementioned psychological and interpersonal benefits. To name a few: boss appreciation day, secretary appreciation day, system administrators appreciation day, tourist appreciation day, ‘We Love Our Emperor’ day, etc.

Quite simply, we show gratitude to foster healthy relationships, regardless of power dynamics, because ‘control’ is sometimes a necessary evil. No matter whether we are the parent or the child; the president or the citizen; the professor or the student; or the coach or the player, it is smart to show appreciation for one another.

While there are tiresome interpreters who are power-thirsty and have no business interpreting, it is quite a stretch to call interpreters as a whole ‘paternalistic’ or ‘oppressive.’ Do they not provide access to complete and accurate information to the best of their ability? Is the mere existence of a majority language that is not sign language, and the practical facilitation of communication between languages, in and of itself, evidence of paternalism and oppression? If so, what is the alternate here for deaf people, outside of teaching everybody in the United States ASL and prohibiting all other languages? For interpreters, other than refusing to do the jobs that we need them to perform?

In truth, interpreters do not ‘depend’ on our oppression. Rather, they are solutions by giving us similar access as everyone else. To this end, it is head-scratching, let alone counter-productive, for us to bite the hands that provide us access in public life and accuse them of perpetuating that oppression, but yet, we persist. This is less a commentary on the logic of deaf people and the ethics of interpreters, however, and more an indictment of the sensational culture in which we live. It is a strange world where taking offense is a profitable enterprise, and where we, quite often, send women and men to the public gallows for performing the very duties and responsibilities that we ask them to.   

At the end of the day, deaf people have the agency to skip bad interpreters during Interpreter Appreciation Day. Observing the event does not require that we recognize each and every interpreter, or that we pretend as if all interpreters are ‘good’. If anybody happens to be triggered because of a bad memory, that is definitely regrettable. But this is not reason enough to negate the event. Otherwise, we would be without Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Day for similar reasons.

(4) Interpreters are under-appreciated. Contrary to public claims on social media, deaf people get far more “public attention” than interpreters. Even though there are specific instances during which unprofessional interpreters divert attention away from the deaf individual, fact of the matter is this is the inevitable nature of interpreting.

As a deaf person, when I use an ASL interpreter, I often feel more connected with the interpreter than the hearing individual, by virtue of sharing language values and norms, and tend to evaluate my judgment of the hearing individual, rightly or not, based on the performance of the interpreter who is the conduit of information. Do we really want to hold interpreters responsible for being thrust in this inevitable position of control and power when it is the other way around?

Furthermore, we have Nyle DiMarco, Deaf Gain, Gallaudet University, Claudia Gordon, Lost River Vacations, The ASL App, NAD, Marlee Matlin, Deaf Awareness Month, Curtis Pride, Deaf Studies, Discovering Deaf Worlds, Savvy ASL, the Maryland Governor’s Office of the Deaf & Hard Hearing, etc.

And what about the interpreters? Uh. There’s the RID. Jack Jason. Uh. Lydia Callis. Interpreting Studies programs. That interpreter at the Mandela memorial service. Well, wait.

(5) Special interpreters are worthy. If we point out bad interpreters, we ought to recognize the corollary, which is that good interpreters exist too. It is not as if interpreters are less charitable than secretaries/systems administrators/tourists/emperors and never sacrifice time, money, and energy. Interpreter Appreciation Day is a special opportunity to recognize interpreters who go beyond what is required of them.

Speaking for myself, if not for several interpreters who moved their personal schedules around to interpret for me at nights after a dismal experience with my university-assigned interpreters, for instance, it is likely that I would not have my Ph.D. right now.

If not for some interpreters who, yes, sacrificed weekends off from work and a  night’s worth of sleep (the ultimate sacrifice in my book) to interpret for the birth of our children, I would have had a limited understanding of the miracle of childbirth and the awe-inspiring strength of my wife.

If not for two interpreters who volunteered to take care of time-consuming arrangements at the Comedy Cellar and took their preparation seriously last February, my friends and I would have had no idea the extent to which Moshe Kasher is fucking hilarious and brilliant.

Each of you know who you are. I may be two days late, but thank you.  

Featured

Injured List

My little finger. My right pinkie. Are you frustrated, being the smallest finger of my hand? Upset that you do not have the honor of carrying my wedding ring? Miffed that when I get upset with bad drivers and Knicks who do not run back on defense, I choose to flip your neighbor two fingers away?

Well, nothing good ever comes from speculation. (Unless you were a gold digger in 1849.) In the meantime, I am committed to my training program to play for the Yankees by remaining on the injured list. 5tern will return next week on May 3rd, less fractured than ever.

Featured

Bye Week(s)

Life the next two weeks is particularly crazy. I will post again on Thursday, the 25th of April.

In the meantime, for the record, I am picking the Bucks in 4, the Raptors in 5, the 76ers squeaking past the Nets in 7, and the Celtics in 6 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

On the left side of the bracket, I have the Warriors sweeping, the Spurs upsetting the Nuggets in 7, and the Thunder and the Rockets winning in 6.

Who do you’ve got?

#NBAPLAYOFFS

Featured

5tern Haiku

You know the rules, right? Three lines. Five syllables, then seven, then five again. I decided to write five of ’em because they say we will never understand each other until we reduce the language to 17 syllables. And yes, because this is 5tern.com.

ne

within the steel fences
a free, keen hand signs
whilst watching the eye 

white chocolate

no-look elbow pass
nobody like him ever
he played like he knew

to student

we were once alike:
certain, glib, wild-eyed, pompous.
and then i was mugged

sound and fury

we always extol
hands, eyes & community,
but is love enough? 

two thousand and twenty

who do you’ve got? 
that veteran in south bend 
knows seven languages.