Yesterday I gave my last lecture for the year, on Position Doubtful, a marvelous book about author Kim Mahood’s attempts to reconcile white and Indigenous modes of representing the Australian desert. We are also in the National Week of Deaf People, so I thought it worthwhile to pen some thoughts on teaching and writing as a deaf person.
This was the fifth lecture I had written in as many months. I always underestimate how long they take to put together, and how long they need to be – about 6,000 words, because I speak fast. As I walked to the ferry after work I did the calculations and realised that, instead of those lectures, I could have had a third of a book written by now. I put that thought out of my head, because I enjoy teaching. It forces me to explore new ideas, I like the buzz of interacting with students in my tutorials, and it makes me a better scholar and writer because I’m studying texts in detail and examining how they are put together. This course, which was on Women Writers, also gave me an opportunity to discuss topics that are meaningful to me: feminism, the environment and disability, among others. I also organised a series of marvellous guest lecturers - Melissa Fagan, Marianne de Pierres, Shamara Ransirini, Marg Henderson and Caitlin Francis - who were passionate thinkers and writers about female authorship and the conditions that shape it.
However, for someone like me with little hearing, who is conducting lessons through speaking and listening rather than sign language, teaching is much more demanding than for someone with all their hearing. Giving a lecture is a performance which takes physical and mental energy, and tutorials are even more difficult. I need to use all my energy to listen, lipread, and work out where voices are coming from, although my students are very good and raise their hands to get my attention. My FM is helpful, but I still need to be on my toes to get everything. If the class had been any larger I might have been able to ask for additional help through an aide, but as it was I was able to get by.
I knew teaching would wear me out, but I agreed to convene the course this semester because I need the experience – if I can’t find another research-focussed job when my contract ends, I’ll need to get a regular academic job which does involve teaching. It’s not the best option, but it might be the only one. Besides, academia is a nice way of paying the bills and satisfying my craving for new ideas, and if exhaustion comes with that, it’s just a price I pay. I could find a job that doesn’t need much hearing & which bores me, but for someone who finds boredom stressful, this is not a good option.
I’ve been thinking about these things, and the kind of options available to me and other deaf folk in terms of creating a living, because a while ago I was approached by Connect Hearing to describe my career path into writing and academia. I became a writer because I loved reading and I was good at English, and I needed some way of expressing the frustration and loneliness of being deaf in a hearing world. Being a writer never brings in enough cash, though, so I needed another job to survive, and academia allows me to continue to write, although in different forms.
I was really interested to read of the other pathways for creative deaf people mentioned in Connect Hearing’s interviews. Many of these are physical, focusing on the body and its expression, such as Vulcana Women’s Circus, Riverside Theatres and Bust a Move. QArt Studio in Kew, Melbourne, offers support and training to artists, while HoneyBee Creations enables deaf people to explore and participate in creative arts. I identified with many of these options and the comments made by their representatives – I love dance and moving my body; I like making art with my hands because I don’t have to listen and I can focus entirely on what’s before me; and, as I have written many times before, deafness is inherently creative because it forces you to problem-solve and think laterally. So I identified, too, with Lisa Miller of HoneyBee Creations when she described herself as someone who thinks outside the box. I particularly appreciated her comments on staying positive, and focusing on what you are good at. I think this would apply to anyone, whether with a disability or not.
I have a lull next week before my marking comes in, during which I’m going to catch up on my research, and then I’m going to Melbourne to see the Dior exhibition. After all that hard work, surely some frocks must be on the agenda!