The Art of (Sign) Language

Artwork by Jessica Grundy -

Artwork by Jessica Grundy –

I have ALWAYS wanted to learn another language. Unfortunately, in high school when it was required that I take 2 years of foreign language, not only was I in my rebellious, fight the system phase of angsty teen hormones, but I wanted the easiest way out of it and decided to take Spanish. No offense to the Spanish language whatsoever, but it’s never been a very auditorily pleasing language to me. This could be because I grew up in South Florida and spent a LOT of time in Miami where hotdog venders, and shady characters trying to sell me huge speakers out of the back of their vans, would scream at me in high-speed Spanish when I told them I was (then) a vegetarian & strange men who drive creepy vans with blacked out windows give me the willies. So, my heart was just not in it and I learned just enough to pass (and possibly say some flavorful 4-letter words like fart, burp, & poop — yeah, those were the ones!). I can remember protesting that above & beyond Spanish, French, & Latin (unfortunately *not* Pig Latin because I am fluent in that and would’ve gotten an A+ report card), all schools should offer ASL — American Sign Language. Of course, I had a personal reason(ing) behind this, but I will get to that in a few…

Yet, after high school I was too busy hanging out in alternative clubs shakin’ my groove thang to goth music & stage diving at punk shows to be making myself a more well-rounded individual. VERY shortly thereafter, I quickly saw what real life was about and things began to *get* real. I had to go to school & work, so I put all my hours into reading, writing, & learning new trades. For a good decade, I worked in coffeehouses, bookstores, & hair salons. Then I restored cars for awhile before I began making chainmail (for Renaissance festivals), body jewelry, and leather goods. All the while, I was a goth/industrial/EBM DJ in nightclubs, and even managed them for a stint. After switching majors, I got a graphic design job and ABHORED being in an office, so I went out on the floor as a scenic artist where we built things for Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, various casinos/hotels/theme parks, and even traveling exhibits (which is STILL touring the world) like Grossology. Meanwhile, I was working on fiberglassing skulls & flames on motorcycle fenders on the side for extra flow. Next, I was a screenprinter, a tattoo artist, and then began publishing my books while going back to school for creative writing at a liberal arts college. I even worked as a intern/assistant on assessment of the impact of nanotechnology in the environment through Duke. Say WHAT???! Life never slowed down long enough for me to put too much time into a personal goal like learning a second language (I was trying to perfect my native one!), but I see, now, how much vital time I wasted because my mind was much quicker & nimble back then. As geriatrics set in, I am less & less spongy, and more likely to be Patrick than Spongebob (which still isn’t saying much), but I never quit trying to exercise my think tank.



When Mini Maven & I moved away from Atlanta in 2007, we made all sorts of new comrades in NC. The good majority were international people from all over the world — predominantly Europe, and the largest percentage were from France (mostly transient engineers at Duke University). I LOVED this exposure to culture for my Mini Maven. Immediately I thought this would be an incredible opportunity for both of us to learn French. Nevertheless, life was very chaotic for me then raising a 3-year-old to 8-year-old all alone. I completely overestimated myself in that time of immense change (and in other regards, completely UNDERestimated myself too! #hearmeroar). I tried to pick it up through passing, but to little avail. My mind was bogged down with other things that consumed my thoughts & ate up my brain capacity. It was both the perfect time & the absolute worst time, dismally & regrettably. It wasn’t until I met Darling Hotbuns — ridded myself of some people, places, & things that were really doing me no good at all, mentally — that I began to truly study French language. I am still educating myself, and I’ve come a long way (even though I am much better at reading than speaking), but it’s taken a back burner because now Mini Maven & I are learning a different language…… SIGN language!

Back to what I was saying earlier in the first paragraph, now… I have very personal reasons for learning ASL — my Momma Maven is severely hearing impaired. She has been since her early 20s when the loss was first discovered. It is the only life I’ve ever known, and it has never affected my life in any way more than positively! Having a hearing impaired mother has made me overly pronunciate everything, which in turn has made me very articulate. This has never done anything but work very well for me in every way, and especially with children. ::grin:: (Children love an overly expressive face and personality.) I am sure to the average adult I may come off as quite overdramatic because all of these aforementioned things make me VERY  highly animated. I’ve had many, many people just automatically assume I was a drama geek in school. #rule I can’t even count how many times I’ve had people say, “I always get along with other theater nerds!” ::titter:: Pair this up with the fact that I can be rather silly & ridiculous (rather might not need to even be added, actually) with my comedic antics; well, it’s all quite the melting pot of what makes me Me. ::smirk:: I’ve been compared to Lucille Ball often, if this paints a better portrait, and I consider that a very mighty lucky, healthy compliment.

With that said, this has *not* enhanced my mother’s life, and I always tell her that I’d give her one of my ears if I could, if only…

She has always told me that if there is a God, s/he gave me the only voice she can hear. The voice I have *may* be because I learned how to shape & mold it for her. I very likely taught myself the right decibel, tone, & projection. I KNOW I taught myself how to move my mouth & face in ways she can read my lips like a book. My voice has often been called “deep for a woman” by a googol of people, but I know perfectly what octave my mom can hear, so now this voice is authentically mine in every way, and I am thankful for it every day. And if there is a God, I always say, s/he indeed knows who can handle what they are given and who are soldiers. My Momma Maven is of the highest ranks.



In any manner, this is the core reason I have always wanted to learn ASL. It all depends on the individual with hearing loss, but in some cases, some people lose more & more hearing decibels as they get older. Likewise, in some cases, the person goes from hearing impaired to profoundly deaf. (And before you ask those questions as you read, yes… My mom has had numerous surgeries, has to purchase hearing aids that cost as much as your car every couple of years, has been seen by the most prestigious hearing aid specialists in the country, and is now jumping through the hoops to see if she’s a candidate for Cochlear implants, which are, roughly, $80,000 PER ear.) So, from the time I was very young, I’ve been urging my mother to learn sign language with me. She was never really interested. She was interested in doing whatever it took to hear. So, for many years I just didn’t even try to coerce her anymore because I didn’t see the point if she was not as interested to learn as I was. Boy was I EVER wrong to think that way! Mini Maven & I are now learning ASL as a second language and it is OUT OF CONTROL FUN! I have never had so much fun learning anything in my life, except maybe Swing dancing — that is the kind of kick & charge I get out of it! Not only is it enjoyable to learn, but I now consider it a “Romance Language” because it is positively beautiful and like a fluid hand dance. No matter what mood you’re in or trying to convey, you can use “inflection” with gesture and this fascinates & amuses me, and my visual senses, to no end. Mini Maven & I are nowhere near being fluent anytime soon, but with this language I know it WILL happen because it is so interactive & stimulating that you want to practice and use it no matter who you’re with — hearing or non-hearing. We’ve started with learning all the key words and phrases we would use with my mom (“Grand Maven” to the Mini Maven). ::smile:: Things like: love, I love you, hugs, kisses, coffee, hot cocoa, tea, water, Are you hungry?, Want to eat out?, What are you in the mood for?, please, thank you, sorry, excuse me, mother, daughter, grandma, girl, boy, school, play, bookstore, park, tired, bedtime, shower, bathe, brush your teeth, shopping, groceries, goodnight, good morning, silly, fun, laugh, breakfast, lunch, dinner, read, airplane, See you soon!, so on and so forth. We learn a new word or phrase a day, and try to practice them all as we speak in our day-to-day, if we use the word. And because of how creative, musical, rhythmic & ARTISTIC I find it, I began to think about how magical ASL art could be. This opened up a whole other world in sign language to me, and I began to search for anything that I could find to fit into that category. These ideas I was having just made this whole learning process all that more enchanting and gorgeous! I find sign language to be magical. And these next works of language art only reiterate that, even though the language itself needs no help…

This is Silence by Luisella Zuccotti — Born in Basaluzzo in 1950, Luisella studied at Accademia delle Belle Arti in Rome, where she continued her education after graduation with courses in set design. Ms. Zuccotti is also a set designer for the deaf theater group Laboratorio Zero, and also with another theater company, A. Bottazzi in Basaluzzo, as well.

Including all of that, she does graphic art work for advertising — jocular drawings about the deaf  community and the world the way they live in it. She has, also, had a one-man show in Basaluzzo since 1983, and has received numerous prizes and recognition for her work in it.

This (above) painting was inspired by a meeting with a deaf American poet by the name of Clayton Valli, when he was in Rome. It was used as the cover for a videotape containing Valli’s poems. How lovely! The subtitle that Luisella used has a clear & placid message: “The silent language of the hands, in the harmony of Mother Nature.” I LOVE THIS.

Inspired by the creative expression in Valli’s signed poems, Zuccotti’s work  displays a creative concept that is of peace, silence, & a nature that speaks with  hands that communicate with no sound at all. In knowing my fair share about the hearing impaired/deaf community, “Peace” is a very important, operative word. Very much so, and more than most of you could ever know.
This piece is called Porta Pia: A Monument to the Deaf by Sergio Lavo — Born in Rome in 1938, Sergio studied at the T. Silvestri Institute for Deaf. Mr. Lavo started his art career with drawings and graphic art masterworks, then began creating ceramic masks and sculptures out of clay, chalk, wood, and other random materials. Later, he turned to tempera, watercolor and oil painting. A jack of all trades.

This piece represents a monument to be situated in Piazza di Porta Pia (Porta Pia Plaza) in Rome, in front of a bar where deaf children, teens, & adults often gather to chat & cavort. Porta Pia plaza is also within walking distance from the Istituto Statale per Sordomuti on Via Nomentana. It is a place that is a “synthesis” of life, where one studies and learns, communicates with others, can enjoy social life, love and one’s very most imminent hopes and dreams. The monument itself depicts the crushing of Porta Pia, and evokes school memories when one studied the Risorgimento — which were times of courage that were rich in fantasy & love.

This monument thus becomes the symbol of the liberation of sign language, for the free-spirited and proud. #serenity

My Momma Maven DEPLORES tattoos. I, on the other hand, notsomuch. #whoops! It’s been a bit of an “issue” for us in the past, but I am now 38 years old and it is what it is. And any self-respecting tattoo collector who loves their mum, as much as I love me mum, has that tried-and-true, staple, & sometimes cheesy “Mom” tattoo. I, for obvious reasons, would never tell her I was planning to get a “Mom Tattoo” someday, but, well…… she knows now! (Again…) #whoops! I always *thought* I would get it in an apple instead of a heart because she is the apple of my eye. But after seeing this beautiful display, I had an even more beautiful brainchild…

This particular tattoo piece was done for someone this arm loves very deeply — someone who is hearing impaired with a name that starts with K. The artist (Brandon Heffron from Paradise in Colorado) so colorfully displays that love, for eternity. People who still stigmatize tattoos have a hard time fathoming the deep sentiment & respect that goes behind getting one for the one who wants to immortalize their deepest sentiments, respect, & love. Tattoos are often a homage to the people and things in their lives that made them what they are…… and always will be. That is why it doesn’t frighten the tattooed community that ink is forever. That is the purpose of it, in whole. We tattoo what is a part of us.

So maybe I’ll get the sign for apple, and she’s not only the apple of my eye, but also my ear and my heart. Eternal.

And I would like to conclude this article on ASL by saying that my Momma Maven IS learning it with us. No matter what may come, and what life brings, we’re going to BRING IT! And let me tell you, we can out talk you all! This is gonna be somethin’ else.

Beauty comes out of language…
and adversity that creates such splendid diversity. What is life without it? #marvelatmagic

Keep calm & SIGN on, Mavens!

~ Angelika Frangelico *Gros bisous*


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