Month: March 2015

Joyce Edmiston

Joyce Edminson_iw

Joyce Edmiston was formerly a Sign Language teacher at a private school in Harrisburg, PA as a Signing Time Academy Instructor. She served on the Pennsylvania Telecommunications Relay Service Advisory Board as well as the Pennsylvania Advisory Board for Hearing Loss Association of America until last autumn when she and her family moved to the Southern Oregon Coast. Crocheting, reading and beach combing are a few of Joyce’s hobbies. Joyce was a hearing impaired child who eventually became deafened later in life.

Q:  Can you tell me about your personal journey of hearing loss? You are certified to teach sign language to children? What have you learned through this journey?

JE: We suspect I began losing my hearing as a young child when I had either the measles or mumps. High fevers from illnesses can cause hearing loss. I had an ENT doctor once tell me that we could look into what exactly was the cause, but it would cost a lot of money. He said the diagnoses until then is “Chronic Ear Disease”, which simply means they don’t really know. With many of the illnesses over my lifetime, ear infections and hearing loss followed. At this stage of my life, I suspect it is part of the aging process. Many baby boomers are experiencing hearing loss, and as we live longer, the chances of hearing loss become greater with every decade of life.

When I was a young girl, I wanted to grow up to be an English teacher. I loved words and reading.

School was very difficult because I did not have hearing aids, nor were there Sign Language classes available. I did not understand how others could hear better than I, and I did not understand my hearing loss  enough to be able to  advocate for myself. I did not even know that there was Sign Language until much later.

In elementary school, I was put into special education classes in fifth grade because I could not follow directions. It’s difficult to follow instructions if you can’t hear what’s being said. In math, for example, the teachers would write on the blackboard and give directions as to how to solve the equations, etc. with their backs turned toward the class. It was not until I was a little older that I came to realize that I was a lip reader and needed to see faces in order to follow the gist of what is being said.

In Junior High, I took French classes all three years. The teacher was very kind and would make time for me each week with the new vocabulary to be sure I was not only pronouncing the words correctly, but to also be sure I was able to read them on her lips. When I got to High School, entering my fourth year of French, the instructor did not understand this, and I had difficulty trying to explain if I could see what was being said and how it was being said, I would do very well. She hooked us up to headsets in cubicles where we had to listen and repeat what the voice on the tape was saying. After a couple of weeks, she said that though I could  comprehend what I read and express myself excellently with writing in French, I was failing because I was not pronouncing the words or understanding the spoken words on the tapes. She said I was failing and recommended I take a different class. I wish I had known how to speak up and advocate for myself with this teacher because I ended up living in a small village in Germany where some of the people spoke French. I also got to go on tour to Paris.

When I was expecting my daughter, the man I was married to at the time made an appointment for me with an audiologist in Nurnberg.  He was afraid I would not hear the baby. Taking his concern seriously, I went to see the doctor. Within 2 weeks of that appointment, I had my first pair of hearing aids at age 24. When I left his office wearing them, I heard birds chirping for the first time in many, many years. When sounds slowly fade with hearing loss, you don’t realize what you are missing.

Several years after we returned to the States and after I was divorced from my daughter’s father, I learned the local college had Sign Language classes available. I took my first class and I loved it! I signed up again several years later and one of the assistants in the class was a deaf gentleman. We soon began dating. Sign Language came very natural and easily to me, and I became incredibly fluent in no time at all.

During the course of my college education, I lost more hearing and it was too difficult to function in large classrooms. My dream of becoming an English teacher died . Children’s voices were too difficult for me to understand what they were saying, even with the help of hearing aids.   I changed my degree toward an Associates in Applied Sciences and took classes to become a counselor. During a later term, I became very ill and lost more hearing. I dropped out of college again, and did not return because while note takers were helpful, the notes don’t help if I can’t read the lips of the instructors or students in the class. Not all people are easy to read, and I have a vision impairment that sometimes makes it difficult if I’m not right in front of the person to see the micro expressions clearly.

When my son came along 10 years ago, I signed to him all the time. I checked out Signing Time videos from our local library and we watched them together every day. He began signing back to me when he was 8 months old.

When he started Kindergarten, his teacher asked me if I would be interested in coming in and teaching a few signs to the class. At first I was hesitant, but my Fabulous Husband encouraged me to say, “Yes.” He contacted the people at Signing Time to purchase the videos for me and learned that I could be a certified Signing Time Instructor. He encouraged me to become a Signing Time Academy Instructor.

While I had only agreed to come teach the one class just one time, the children loved it and the teacher asked me to come back. The First Grade class saw the Kindergaren class learning Signs, and they wanted to learn, too. She asked if I would come teach her class as well. I began teaching classes each week, and continued to do so for a few years at the school.

It didn’t dawn on me right away that I was living my childhood dream. While I wanted to be an English teacher, I had no idea I would be teaching a variation of my dream. I was teaching an American Language – American Sign Language.

Sometimes we become so focused on the details of how we think things are supposed to be and what we want to do, we can easily miss a wonderful opportunity of doing what we love that is even better than what we visualize, simply because we don’t take time to recognize it when it happens.

Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?

JE: Avoid people who criticize, mock and transpose their fears or assumptions onto others. Find people who are encouraging, gentle, peace loving and kind. We can too easily become like the people we spend the most time with: choose friends carefully.

Q: What do you wish people knew about the deaf community?

JE: That’s an excellent question!! Deaf people are intelligent and creative. The best communicators in the world are in the Deaf Communities. Pick up Dr. Bruno Khan’s book “Deaf Tips” and you will be amazed at the experiments and research he covers regarding the differences in communication between Deaf community and the hearing community. His research clearly shows that Deaf efficiently communicate more clearly and than hearing people.

Q: Life is beauty and pain.  Tell me about pain in your life.

JE: I don’t share much about the pain I’ve lived through, because I have so many blessings I would rather focus on. My father never accepted me and never believed that I could not hear well. He disowned me about 8 years ago. He would not let me call my mom or come visit her. When I came back from Pennsylvania to visit in 2012, one of the first things he asked me was, “Are you hearing better?”

I said, “No, I’m deaf now.”

Dad looked at my husband and asked, “How do you put up with that?”

My Fabulous Husband looked at me with pure love and compassion. He did not dignify the question with an answer, but instead reached out to me, reminding me of what he said earlier when I told him I did not want to have to see my dad again, “This time, it will be different. You have me, now.” It WAS different. My Fabulous Husband was there beside me the entire time giving me support and encouragement.

Though I had a very unkind, controlling, manipulative, contentious father, I had a remarkable mother who gave me unconditional love and a love for words. If I had to go through it all again just to have the mother I did, I would. She was amazing.

Q: What are your recent accomplishments in the past year that you are most pleased with?

JE: In January, a book was published by Michelle Jay in which I contributed a chapter about the controversial topic of “Deaf Discrimination Against Deaf”  in “Don’t Just Sign – Communicate! A Student’s Guide to the Deaf Experience”.

Last spring and summer, with the help and encouragement from my friend, Nancy Kingsley, we brought live captioning for the Deaf and Hard of hearing at both the Beth  Moore conference and the Joyce Meyer conference at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania for the first time. People with hearing loss who need captions to see what is being said may now contact Hershey Entertainment for any event and request captioning. It is listed under “captioning services”.

Last summer, I was nominated by Speak up Librarian Sara Wegley for Oticon’s Focus on People in the category of  Advocacy for my blog. People from around the world took time to vote, and I won! I have a fabulous new set of state of the art hearing aids and all the accessories to go with them. It is has been life changing! I am extremely grateful to Sarah for nominating me, to everyone who  voted for me  and to Oticon for their generous gifts of the hearing aids. Oticon also gave a $1,000.00 check to the charity of my choice which was the Lancaster chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America.

My life has been filled these past few years with inspiring people I am blessed to call friends. Having encouraging and understanding friends and family makes all the difference. I would not be where I am today without them.

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Raji Kelley Simpson

Raji Kelley Simpson_iwRaji Kelley Simpson is a storyteller, self portrait artist and teacher, and dancer. She has a book (or two) in the works and she recently launched Selfie Love~Self Portrait Workshops as a character development program for middle schools. She just celebrated 20 years with the love of her life (and co-facilitator of Selfie Love) Jeffrey Simpson, and they were recently recognized internationally for some collaborative self portraits. The next round of Selfie Love~Virtual Self Portrait Workshop beginning soon and if you’re interested in joining you can find more information at (www.selfielove.com).

Q: Can you tell me what led you to start Selfie Love (http://selfielove.com)? What has surprised you about the way that people portray/want to portray themselves?

RKS: Selfie Love~Virtual Self Portrait Workshops and Selfielove.com began as all of my endeavors do; out of the desire to show up fully to me, my expression, and life & and in turn share that experience with others.

On the surface, my work is about self-portraits and photography, but ultimately all of my work is about guiding others to radical self love, creative expression, and the freedom to be themselves.

I took my first self portrait the day I was diagnosed with disease.  A lifelong conversation between my thyroid and I manifested physically in the form of disease and self portraiting became my most potent medicine.  Self love to quell self attacking autoimmune aspect of disease & creative expression to celebrate all aspects of voice.

For twenty years, I had been ‘doing my work’ as a seeker, yogi, lightworker, miracle maker. My first response to physical health crisis was to FIX IT. Oh, I had all the tools, mantras, postures, and miraculous juju to cure myself of this disease.

When I began to explore with self-portraits, I was delightfully shocked that I was receiving instant, powerful, insightful information about myself and situation; in a totally new way. It was like stepping into ‘witness’ mode, in order to see myself, literally!, and then from there; create desired expression and explore possibilities for myself from there.

Guiding others in the process of self portraiture with others is what makes this process alive for me. It’s like chocolate, it’s way more fun to share it with others. What surprises me most about the way people portray themselves is their capacity and willingness to want to dive in so deep, so fast, and show so much of themselves. There is so little held back in our virtual self-portrait workshops. Their desire and courage to be so real with themselves and share that with the group is astounding. It has a ripple effect that fuels us all to go to our edges. I have become acutely aware of the basic need that we as humans have to be seen, heard, and share our stories.

Q: How has being an artist changed the way you look at the world?

RKS: As a lifelong gymnast, dancer, and storyteller; my art has always been process art, it’s a fleeting expression of a moment and then it’s done. My self portrait work is also completely process oriented; as satisfying as it is to create visual tangible pieces of art and have that proof in form; for me, it’s all about the underlying expression and capturing a feeling or a moment.

And…I have finally declared myself an artist!

This has shifted the way I look at the world and furthermore how I am in the world, because I’ve made it a conscious choice to be guided by how I want my art and life to feel (full of self love and creative expression). I’ve opened to the truth that my life and my expression are the art. Stepping into this has relieved a lot pressure and past notions regarding things I need to ‘do’ in my life. I am also noticing and finding great joy in making art out of all of life’s little moments. This has led to an even greater level of presence in my life versus constantly looking for the big AHA moments.

Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?

RKS: Oh, without skipping a beat, I would tell myself to have fun, that it’s okay if it’s easy, drop the perfection mentality, to stop following someone else’s map, that I am perfectly too much, that I don’t have to do a fucking thing in order to be living my potential.

Pardon the f bomb, I’m a little passionate about that subject.

Q: Tell me about one incredible moment in your life. What did you learn in that instant?

RKS: There was definitely an instant. October 31, 2003. My newborn son, Finn woke up from a 6 day coma post birth. In that moment, I had the experience of truly knowing the absolute preciousness and privilege it is to be alive. I mean, really alive. Sure, I always ‘knew‘ that, but to have an actual experience of it is a whole new level of understanding.

I go through the natural cycle of forgetting and it is amazing to have those now almost 11-year-old brown eyes live to constantly remind me. Thank you, Finn!

Q: Life is beauty and pain. Tell me about pain in your life.

RKS: I’m an eternal optimist and at this stage of life, I love to find the beauty within the pain.

Growing up as a gymnast and dancer, I learned as a young child to use those as my outlets to transform pain into art.

In later years, my relationship with pain became more about learning to embrace it and learn to hear its messages before transforming it/making it ‘go away’. I love to acknowledge the presence of pain and ask questions like, ‘why are you here, what is your message for me?’ before trying to ‘get out of’ the pain. Disease has been my biggest teacher in the last few years and I’m thrilled to come to a place where giving pain some voice has led me to a place of ease within it all. (and I’m feeling great!).

What Makes Incredible Women Incredible?

Introduction

Interviews with Incredible Women (www.iwiwproject.com) is a series of thoughtful interviews with women who inspire me and the women who inspire them. I became interested in talking with incredible women after hearing some of the really cool stories about the lives of women I know, like the woman who owns an art studio or my friend, the geophysicist. At first, I just wanted to throw a giant party and invite all of these cool women, but I realized that they wouldn’t be able to hear each others stories unless it was written out. I had the skills to start the blog, so I did. After conducting and publishing 64+ interviews, I became curious about the themes that thread through the lives of “incredible women.” The research question was, “What makes incredible women incredible?”

I had some ideas about the themes that might emerge through a review of the data gathered through the Incredible Women interviews, but Brene Brown’s work made me wonder about the techniques of qualitative research. It was my good fortune that Dr. Heather Stuckey, from Penn State University, is a qualitative researcher who was willing to work with me to code and analyze the interviews, unearthing the themes that women mention as being intrinsic to an incredible life.

Women’s Studies, The Basics sets a good background for the complexities of the life women. But it’s The Evening Times of Glasgow where we find everyday women characterized as incredible. In the article “Six of the Best Who Inspired Our Voters,” The Evening Times talks about a woman with cancer who overcame long odds, women who wrestled with the death of their children, women who are passionate and compassionate about their work. It’s so interesting to see how the themes that I discovered throughout this research are relevant when you hear unrelated stories from other ordinary but incredible women.

One other inspiration for this project came from Composing A Life by Mary Catharine Bateson. Grove Press writes that this book is a “treatise on the improvisational lives of five extraordinary women. Using their personal stories as her framework, Dr. Bateson delves into the creative potential of the complex lives we live today, where ambitions are constantly refocused on new goals and possibilities. With balanced sympathy and a candid approach to what makes these women inspiring, examples of the newly fluid movement of adaptation–their relationships with spouses, children, and friends, their ever-evolving work, and their gender–Bateson shows us that life itself is a creative process.” (Bateson). For me, this inspired me to ask women about the creativity in their lives and work.

Methods

The interview data reported in this project were gathered over most of 2014. The plan is to continue collecting interviews to expand upon the stories of incredible women.

The Participants

The women held occupations that ranged from stay at home moms to Apache helicopter pilots, from attorneys to geophysicists. In line with snowball sampling, each participant was given an opportunity to recommend other incredible women. In general the participants were not limited to any particular demographic although, most of the participants were well-educated, predominantly white American women . The list of participants grow organically, without focusing on creating a representative sample.

The Interviews

Questions were tailored for each participant, based on the information that was available about them. The participants were identified using social media profiles including Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as personal websites to research participants prior to sending them an initial list of five or six questions. Topics centered around participants’ interests/passions, how they maintain balance, the role of pain in their life, and the lessons learned over a lifetime (what advice would you give a younger version of yourself, for example).

As the project progressed, the questions evolved to be more open ended. Instead of asking different questions for every participant, the questions were standardized and often included the following:

  • Q:  You’ve been identified by someone as being incredible.  What do people see in you that is incredible?
  • Q: What advice would you give to an earlier version of yourself?
  • Q: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve done?
  • Q: Life is beauty and pain.  Tell me about pain in your life.
  • Q:  What question did I miss?  What else should I know about you?
  • Q: Finally, can you recommend another incredible woman for me to interview?  Can you facilitate an introduction?

Interview questions were provided to participants via email with some introductory text about Interviews with Incredible Women and links to interviews that had already been published online. It was clear from the email that the interview would be published online and, at that point, some women declined to participate. There was no promise of privacy, since interviews are published under participant’s real names with easily identifiable data.

Some participants preferred to be interviewed orally and in these cases I recorded the interview, transcribed it, and sent it back to them for their approval. This builds credibility through member checking (reference). Most participants wrote their own responses, which I read and lightly edited for clarity, spelling, and grammar, again providing them a version to review prior to publishing.

The social media analytics on most of the interviews showed that the interviewed reached an audience from a few hundred to a few thousand, at least on Facebook. The response that I got from the community was overwhelmingly positive. Many women had never thought of themselves as incredible and expressed that the process of thoughtfully answering the questions was insightful.

 

The Analysis

We developed an initial code book with recognizable themes from about 20% of the interviews and then used NVivo software to assist in coding. Saturation was reached when no new data was emerging, such as there were no new codes being added to the codebook. Initial codes included:

  • Approach to life (gratitude, learning and openness, passion, mindfulness)
  • Collaboration/Group Work (creative solutions)
  • Internal locus of control (trust your instincts)
  • Outward focused (work that benefits others)
  • Overcoming challenges (hard work, creativity
  • Self care (travel)

After an initial round of coding, we cleaned our codes to eliminate unnecessary ones and to merge codes that demonstrated the main themes.

Please note, we used the edited, published interviews as the source data, which may provide a limitation to our study. Although it would have been standard to use original transcripts of the interviews for the analysis, especially in cases where deeper, more revealing details had been removed, the summarized text were available. The study is also limited in generalizability based on the composition of white women who were mostly well educated.

 

Findings

We found several themes that women repeatedly mentioned in Interviews with Incredible Women. These themes included:

  • Incredible women are valued and supported by their family or their loved ones and they in turn value and support themselves.
  • This self care gives them resources to focus outward, working to benefit others.
  • These women respond to life with gratitude, mindfulness, learning/openness, and passion.

 

Theme: Incredible women are valued and supported by their family or their loved ones and they in turn value and support themselves.

Family/ Loved One Support

Participants reported that the support of their family and loved ones was essential to their success. These participants tended to have a support network of people that includes friends, family, and colleagues. For example, Anna Crider Sharp said, “my family and loved ones have supported me throughout my life both professionally and personally. I would be nowhere without them.”

This theme closely ties to Approach to Life – Participants expressed gratitude for the support of others: “my colleagues were really supportive and respected my ability to do this job in a flexible way, even if it wasn’t the way everyone else does it.” Although gratitude isn’t overtly expressed, the tenor throughout the interviews was that these women deeply appreciated the opportunities and support that came through the people they love.

 

Theme: This self care gives them resources to focus outward, working to benefit others.

Self Care

Many participants discussed self care in their response to “what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?” One participant put it pretty clearly in her response: “Do not forget to take care of yourself.” But others talked about being an introvert and needing time to “decompress and relax.” Taking care of yourself is “the real secret of getting things done; you have to nourish yourself to take care of others.”

Self care, according to these interviews, includes yoga, rest, meditation, backpacking, exercise, caring for animals, climbing, hiking. It’s worth noting that many of these activities are solo ventures. These women express a need for spending time with themselves, to refresh their spirits.

Outwardly Focused

Although incredible women take time for themselves, they are also focused on work that benefits others. They are deeply passionate about empowering others – whether it’s first-graders or inspiring those around them. For example, a theater professor wrote that she’s “in theater because we all need to take all these tools from theater so that women can step into authorship. Somebody needs to write the story. If we can use theater to get women to step into that authorship role, those qualities will carry over into life and leadership.”

Participants volunteer, teach, work in orphanages, prisons, with prostitutes, as shamans, as environmental activists. Participants champion causes like infertility and mental illness, giving a compassionate face for people who struggle. And they express wonder and gratitude at these roles: “I still love every one of my students, flaws and all…I often learn more from my kids than they learn from me.”

One of the women was the co-founder of Haiti Babi, a non-profit that teaches Haitian women to knit and crochet baby blankets for an online webshop here in the States. Haiti Babi pays fair wages and gives the women a means to support their family, a win-win in social entrepreneurship. She said, ”The most inspiring part of working on Haiti Babi is watching the women and their children’s lives change. We have watched as their lives have transformed. We have witnessed their personalities begin to shine in a way that simply can’t come through when [they’re] living in extreme poverty.”

Finally, when asked what her message would be to the world, Amanda Oliver responded, that people “have value, self-worth. People don’t realize their worth, what they bring to the table. Everybody has something unique and special that they bring. That’s part of the point of people-who-matter. Yes, YOU have purpose and value.” Incredible women deeply believe in the value and worth of both themselves and others and are passionate about helping others see their value.

 

Theme: These women respond to life with gratitude, mindfulness, learning/openness, and passion.

 Approach to Life

How do incredible women approach their life? They do it mindfully, with a ton of gratitude and a willingness to learn. Incredible women approach their life with passion, figuring out creative ways to do that they love. Mindfulness, gratitude, passion, curiosity are all facets of an incredible life. To understand your passions, you have to be curious and mindful. Curiosity and mindfulness lead to gratitude.

One participant said that “I want my life to be daring, ambitious, and impactful. There’s a sweet spot of inspiration when I feel a little bit afraid of where I am headed. If I feel entirely comfortable, I’m not in the right spot.” Being passionate doesn’t always mean being comfortable. Sometimes it involves overcoming huge challenges or getting comfortable with pain, being so mindful that you even come to be grateful for the uncomfortable moments.

Because of this mindful approach, participants are always learning; “I was constantly learning about myself – My abilities, my faults, my strengths, my weaknesses.” Another participant mentioned, “I have always been wiling to grow and learn as a leader, a woman, a mom, and a friend.” And from Judy Dillon, “education is the key for advancement and a successful future.” Learning is one of the key approaches that incredible women have towards their life and those around them.

What do incredible women mean by mindfulness? The traditional definition from John Kabat-Zinn is that mindfulness is “the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance.” (reference). To sum it up in three words, one of the participants said, “LOVE. ACCEPTANCE. DISCIPLINE.” Participants often talked about enjoying the small things, because “nothing lasts, which makes it precious each and every moment. And that life is impermanence and change, and we must learn to accept the incredible gift of time and not waste it in pettiness and fear. Live with your heart set on love.”

What is more incredible than living with your heart set on love?

A yoga teacher in Richmond wrote, “in the moment, if I really pause and just hover in the moment, I find that the bliss is right there. I know that sounds really simple and, perhaps a little cliché, but I really, really have found it to be true. Trying to get into the moment can be full of effort, but when you arrive in the moment, it is effortless, struggle-less, bliss.” Incredible women keep working towards the present moment, where they only response is one of gratitude and love. Like one participant said, “I have learned that there is no greater moment than the present, because in that moment you have it all.” Another echoed her, “I fill my heart, soul and mind with awareness by paying attention. Truly paying attention, to whomever I am with, to whatever I am doing, to what I am feeling.”

How does mindfulness lead to gratitude? “There is no guarantee of another day, let alone another moment, so that moment you find yourself should be embraced and celebrated.” When you’re settled in the present, you have the opportunity for gratitude about the extreme blessings in your life.

 

Discussion

It has been such an honor to work on Interviews With Incredible Women. I feel like I’ve learned some secrets to how to live an incredible life, like to take care of yourself so that you have an apply ample supply to give to others, like that mindfulness leads to gratitude leads to joy. I’ve seen that over and over in my own life.

I started this project from the premise that everyone is incredible, but I’m realizing that some women handle life with a grace that is really incredible. It’s been so inspiring to conduct these interviews and to hear the unique stories that each woman told, but it’s been incredibly interesting to see the themes that run through the data – and interesting to see how those trends apply to my own life.

 

References

Bateson, Mary Catherine. Composing A Life. Grove Press, 2001.

SIX OF THE BEST;The incredible women whose bravery and courage inspired our voters. Evening Times of Glasgow. June 4, 2004.

Smith, B. G. (2013). Women’s studies: The basics. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge.