Friday, June 28, 2013

Three Years!

Three years ago today, I stepped into the audiologist's office at the Stanford otolaryngology clinic and heard with my cochlear implant for the first time. If "hearing" is the right word for that jarring, abrupt, disembodied sensation of nerve pulses and electrical signals, that is. I had no idea what to expect from that first experience of sound, and I remember walking around campus later that day, texting friends in a flurry of exhilaration, trying to express what this felt like. Stopping by the Stanford shopping center, going out for dinner with a few friends to take advantage of being near campus, trying to function amidst my buzzing brain and growing headache and disorientation. And I also remember going to bed that night, my head throbbing as it returned to silence. I stared at the ceiling for a while, unable to sleep, and tried to process what had just happened to me. Then a thought, searing and brief and rapidly suppressed, surfaced in my mind: what had I gotten myself into?

Three years later, today, I arrived home in the evening and told my sister, "Hey, let's sit down. Talk to me."

"About what?"

"Whatever you want. Just keep talking. Speak clearly. Speak up. I'll listen."

A tad bit dubious, she started, and I looked out the window and listened to her voice. Her words spilled out, a regular stream, telling me some stories she and a friend had swapped earlier that day. I hardly need to say: completely open set. I sat there and did what I've learned to do: let the words wash over me. Didn't worry when I missed a few, gathered tidbits about whatever information I could. She talked and she talked. Each story was a few minutes apiece. And each time, she stopped and I looked back at her and blinked when I saw her face. Those words, the ones I had heard, had been hers. After giving myself a bit of time to appreciate the moment, I repeated back to her what she had said. Not verbatim, but gathering enough details, understanding the story arc and its purpose, stringing together what I had heard. And then:

"Yep, that's right," she said. "That's what I said."

I've thought, said, and written this a thousand times in the past three years, but before this entire crazy experience, never would I have anticipated, never would I have imagined, never would I have expected...

Here's to the rest of 2013 and to 2014, too.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Not Broken"

A few weeks ago, an email appeared in my inbox: it was a friend and former classmate from Stanford, who along with two other students had been invited to participate in the Creative Activist Network's Bay Area Film Challenge, a five-day competition in which seven experienced student filmmaking teams from around the Bay Area would embark on the project of filming, editing, and crafting a five-minute documentary. The film challenge was sponsored by Participant Media, among other entities, and encouraged its teams to tell stories of creativity and progress, for the greater social good.

When this friend (herself a media/film studies and English major at Stanford) asked me if I was willing to be the subject of their documentary, I felt very flattered. And, once again, hey, why not? My own time commitment was minimal - sitting down for an interview, allowing the film crew to shadow me around the barn for riding practice, showing them around my apartment, helping put them in touch with other people who knew me for purposes of more video footage. Certainly it was nothing compared to the adrenaline-rush experience of running around scheduling interviews with people and somehow trying to get a coherent, high-quality documentary edited and subtitled and churned out within five days! The exciting part was that, when the film reached its final stages and ran past the judging panel, it took overall first place in the CAN Bay Area Film Challenge. That I never expected! I just saw the finished product for the first time today and very much enjoyed it:

So, props to "Team Tomorrowland" (Alex Simon, Carol Tan, and Stephanie DePaula) for such a lovely and well-accomplished filming and editing effort! I've also got to thank the friends, coaches, interpreters, and other Stanford people who agreed to help with or be interviewed for this project. And of course, many pats and carrots need to go to my mare Scarlett for being photogenic (film-o-genic?) and making me look good. Not entirely sure what I ever did to warrant such attention, but it's fun to watch such a nice video!

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Back in January, when I first got an invitation to give a TED talk at Stanford's TEDx event, my gut reaction was, "No way. Public speaking?" Then immediately after followed the thought: "But this is TEDx. I've been invited to give a TED talk." I wrestled with myself for a short while, but within the day had decided that I couldn't turn the opportunity down. What better place than at Stanford, with friends there to support, in such a dynamic setting, to take on once and for all my fear of public speaking?

The TEDxStanford event took place last month, on May 11, and was an incredible day of fascinating ideas, brilliant people, and well-delivered talks. I went at the end of the day, and felt sick for the entire hour before my talk, but then walked onstage and felt so, so good:

I'd been profoundly afraid of public speaking for a while - many people are, but my fear stemmed from shyness and also from a painfully riveting self-consciousness that my speech isn't perfect, that it isn't like other people's, that it might not be understandable. I'd often stumbled over myself in previous presentations out of sheer nerves, always preoccupied with the question: Am I speaking clearly enough? How is my speech? A wonderful speaking coach from the Stanford TEDx event helped me think through my talk and how to rehearse and deliver it, and by May I'd practiced it enough times to say it forwards and backwards, in my sleep, while driving, probably while swimming underwater if I wanted. The feeling as I walked offstage to a standing ovation, after giving certainly the best presentation of my life to date, was extraordinary.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"Being In Between"

Quite a rapid-fire succession of guest posts and guest articles recently. Here's another I wrote, for the website and blog for the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss. I wrote this post in honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month during the month of May, even if it wound up going online the first day of June:

Many thanks to those on the SICHL web and social media team who invited me to do a guest post and made this possible. To be perfectly honest, these feelings of being in between, of not quite being able to allot myself to one category or another, have made my life far richer and more interesting than it would have been otherwise, as challenging as the experience has been sometimes. Grappling with ambiguity, in whatever form it comes, from the academic to the personal, does make life a constant stream of contemplation and discovery.