Friday, June 4, 2010

Guest Blog from Jennifer Rosner, author of If A Tree Falls

Jennifer Rosner wrote an extraordinary memoir about being the mother of two deaf children, but it's really more than that. It's truly a novel about what it means to be heard, how deafness is passed on through history and the controversy around sign language and cochlear implants. I was so knocked out by Rosner's book that I asked her if she'd write a guest blog, and she agreed. Many thanks, Jennifer.

Nearly every day, for the five years it took me to write If A Tree Falls, I marveled at the idea that I was writing a memoir. Not only were my childhood memories few and far between (none prior to the age of ten), but I was a trained philosopher, meaning my only exposure to writing was of the most torturous, academic variety. I certainly wasn’t a “creative writer.” Yet, from the moment this project began until its completion, with my book now appearing on bookstore shelves, the words expressing the emotional heart of my memories flowed with relative ease. Perhaps it was their time. Or perhaps, becoming a mother just changes everything.

I started writing If A Tree Falls shortly after my daughter, Sophia, was born and diagnosed as deaf. My first attempt to grapple in words with her deafness, and with the many decisions we faced in raising her, was a watershed event for me. The expression of my tangle of worries, fears, and (did I dare?) hopes, left me exhausted yet energized and relieved. Nothing like when I finished a philosophy paper! In the course of the next few years, my husband and I had another deaf daughter, and I discovered deafness in my family tree (previously unknown to me) traveling back to the 1800s in Eastern Europe.

In time, I came to recognize that I’d lived with deafness all my life - in the metaphorical sense, the sense in which I’d felt unheard as a child. And I started to see that my daughters’ literal deafness was a signpost to me, to check whether I myself was equipped to hear. My initial thought that I needed to work through my daughters’ deafness was turned on its head. The crucial project was to work through any deafness in myself, so that I could be in a position to listen to and hear my daughters.

This is what I think writing is all about – finding one’s barest truths, whether by circling back, spiraling up and down, or (for the lucky ones) following a linear path. My quest took me, circuitously, on an imaginative journey into my ancestry, where I learned of lines of connection that could sustain me through an honest reckoning with my childhood and my capacity for mothering.

Of course, I had to contend with my daughters’ deafness too, but that was by comparison the easy part, as they thrived with hearing technology and took to singing rounds (in tune, no less) as I drove to the copy shop to pick up the latest draft of my memoir project. Oh, and as I called to resign from my philosophy job!

I had found my avocation: creative writing. Aside from listening (really listening) to my girls, it’s what I longed to do.


Kemari Howell said...

That was beautiful. This part especially:

"This is what I think writing is all about – finding one’s barest truths, whether by circling back, spiraling up and down, or (for the lucky ones) following a linear path."

It hit home for me. I don't have anyone deaf in my family, nor do I know anyone deaf, but I think I have been deaf to myself at some points in my life.

Susanne said...

Wonderful, inspiring blog. This from a musician who has always defined myself in terms of being able to "hear" certain things in certain subtle ways--but who is also sometimes remarkably deaf. I've got to read this book.

LitPark said...

Just lovely, and now I really want to read this book.

Michael Balkind said...

I'm in awe of Jennifer. We are related but that has little to do with it. Her diligence with her beautiful daughters and her parenting in general. Her easy going temperament when faced with diversity, and now, her amazing use of the written word. Congratulations Jennifer and although you won't need it, good luck with your new book.
I hope I can affect people with my novels, one day, as you are sure to with If A Tree falls.

Michael Balkind