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The Art of Being Deaf

A Memoir

Donna McDonald

Publication Year: 2014

Concerned about aspects of her romantic relationships, Donna McDonald consulted with a psychologist who asked, “‘Your hearing loss must have had a big impact on you?” At age 45, with a successful career in social work policy, McDonald took umbrage at the question. Then, she realized that she never had addressed the personal barrier she had constructed between her deaf-self and her hearing persona. In the Art of Being Deaf, she traces her long, arduous pursuit of finding out exactly who she was.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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Prologue: Through the Eyes of a Child

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pp. ix-x

If you had been walking across the William Jolley Bridge that sultry February morning, and if you had been looking out for it, you would have seen a cream-colored car with absinthe-green panels. A new 1957 Holden, it pointed south toward the Oral Deaf Preschool at Yeronga, a suburb of Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia. You would not have understood...

Part One

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1. Deaf

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pp. 3-12

When I choose to turn my hearing aids off and so switch off the world of sounds, I experience delicious relief. It is as if a sigh is breathing into my ears. My shoulders relax from their “pinned to the ears” position of strain. My face relaxes. Everything in me relaxes. I don’t feel on alert to the world; I do not feel on guard. I am at home...

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2. Reunions

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pp. 13-26

I found a handful of photos, stored in a plastic envelope sleeve, taken when I was a child at the Deaf School. Those photos now presented themselves as riddles to me. Every now and then I would take them out of the envelope and scatter them across my desk and look down at them, aware of the tug of nostalgia, but aware too of another feeling...

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3. Wrong Snow

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pp. 27-32

Eighteen months after those conversations with my preschool teachers and that reunion with my childhood deaf classmates, I returned home to Australia from England empty-hearted. I had settled into a nice apartment overlooking the River Medway in Rochester, enjoyed the buds of new friendships, and had muddled my way through a complicated...

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4. A Great Big Wash of Tears

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pp. 33-44

Be careful what you pray for. The refrain echoed in my mind as I went about the business of rebuilding my life back home. My old public service career in Queensland held the same appeal as yesterday’s leftovers. I lasted just ten days before handing in my notice. My manager was gracious, and she wished me well...

Part Two

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5. Talk Speak Words Sign

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pp. 47-60

Some months later, I signed up for Auslan classes. At the end of the first lesson one summer evening, I rang my sister...

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6. A Six-Month Plan

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pp. 61-74

I was exuberant. Everything was going well, and I was mindful of my good fortune. I had moved into my new apartment away from the inner city area but still close to the river, had enough paid work to keep financially afloat, and was buoyed by my friends’ enthusiasm for my “deaf project.” At the bottom of my red tote bag was a mess of notes...

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7. Music Lessons

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pp. 75-82

Damian e-mailed me regularly between our excursions to the movies, dinners, and coffee outings. He would also telephone me from his work for a quick chat or send me text messages on my mobile phone. I looked forward to logging into my in-box and seeing his name in bold type, right there in the midst of all my work e-mails...

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8. But My Eyes Still See

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pp. 83-98

In the following weeks, I thought often about that sunny morning with Damian on the balcony, and I remembered other things. Things that should have alerted me to the fragility of his feelings for me. I remembered the pulse of other emotions on Damian’s face. I saw, in hindsight, more than his uncertainty about my relationship with music...

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9. In the Beginning Was the Word

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pp. 99-106

When I say out loud the words, “the retreat by the sea,” I hear a dreamy singsong rhythm. They carry the beat of a nursery rhyme that a parent might tell her sleepy child, her head at rest on her pillow. I felt at rest at Bethel. The salt air, white sand, and blue shiver of the Pacific Ocean all cast their magic spell, but the most magical thing...

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10. The Best of Both Worlds

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pp. 107-124

Now, all this reading was well and good, but it did not shine much light on how my deafness had shaped my own life. I was heated about some things, but I was not struck by an epiphany on my road to Damascus, nor zapped by a revelation of zigzag lightning clarity. If anything, some of my reading reinforced...

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11. Work

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pp. 125-138

Most people feel equivocal about their work. It’s either good days peppered with bad days or, if you’re unlucky, bad days that only occasionally give way to the good day here and there. I was one of the lucky ones. Despite all the tension of freelancing, worrying about where my next project would come from, and the clenched-teeth...

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12. Talking about Deafness

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pp. 139-148

I was invited onto a national radio show, Richard Fidler’s Conversation Hour, to talk about my experiences as a deaf woman. It is customary to confess to nerves when confronted with the prospect of speaking in public, but any sign of nerves that I may have had—the dry palate, the beads of perspiration caught in the groove...

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13. Falling for His Line

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pp. 149-150

Damian rang. Caught me off-guard. We chatted. I tried to give off an air of heartiness. He backed out of the conversation with the promise to call me again soon, very soon, to make a time for us to get together for a cup of coffee...

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14. Will I Still Be Deaf When I Grow Up?

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pp. 151-158

“Thank you for saying my name!” my friend Sharon exclaimed. I had sent Sharon, my best friend at the deaf school—the one with the shy smile and hair tied back into a ponytail—a copy of my published essay, “I Hear with My Eyes.” It included my reminiscences about our childhood friendship, a time when we were so close...

Part Three

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15. Shattered

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pp. 161-166

My sleep grew frantic, billowing with dreams that tossed me back onto the morning shore, feeling ragged and bewildered. Confrontations with belligerent hearing people. Reunions with my childhood deaf friends. Journeys by buses and trains that never took me to where I was seeking to arrive. Lost with a burden of suitcases in English villages...

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16. All Grown Up Now

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pp. 167-178

Getting over Damian took some time. As usual, work was a good antidote. Over the next few months, I kept myself busy with a teaching gig at a university and took on a writing project for a major commercial management company. My friends helped me with other distractions: I swam up and down the pool each weekend...

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17. A Reluctant Memoirist

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pp. 179-192

Other than being deaf, my life is not especially unusual. In this way, I am both ordinary and singular. My life has been pitted here with deep sadness and lifted there with joy, but it has been mostly a plateau held stable by the grist of daily routines. But when I am asked about my deafness, I feel myself tilting—just a little...

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Epilogue: The Sleeper Awakes

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pp. 193-194

She leant across the picnic hamper and reached for my hearing aid in my open-palmed hand. I jerked away from her, batting her hand away from mine. The glare of the summer sun blinded me. I struck empty air. Her tendril-fingers seized the beige seashell curve of my hearing aid and she lifted the cargo of sound toward her eyes. She peered...

References Cited

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pp. 195-196


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pp. 197-198

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685989
E-ISBN-10: 1563685981
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685972
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685973

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 10 photographs
Publication Year: 2014