Watching the beauty of conversations in sign language helped me see that language is first and foremost a vehicle for story. On a Sunday afternoon, the sun setting in Roseville, California, I walked into a packed and yet silent Starbucks. It was eerie to hear the rustle of clothing with no voices until I realized I had walked into a sign language meet-up. The whole café was filled with a flurry of expressions and soundless circling and cupping of hands and motioning of fingers pointed and relaxed with intention and precision.
I had entered a parallel universe of storytelling. It was unlike any other language experience I had ever had – intimately familiar and yet undeniably foreign; an experience of myself and my fellow humans as a storytellers.
When I am gathering with clients in a circle, we establish ground rules and take up a talking piece, and I train people in empathetic listening. I model this for students by teaching them how to ask probing questions. Students will have written about something that is meaningful, not too raw, and also focused on commonalities with a little room for difference.
Our stories may make sense to us when we’re alone, but they make the most sense in community because not only are we storytellers, but we are also interpreters of story.
I help my clients recover their dignity and strengthen their resolve to continue to find their story in the noise of industrial education. To do this, I listen and write, and teach my students to do the same.