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July 16, 2013

Gerald Shea’s Song Without Words

Gerald Shea’s Song Without Words

I wondered whether music might not be the unique example of what might have been — if the invention of language, the formation of words, the analysis of ideas had not intervened — the means of communication between souls.

Marcel, enthralled by the chamber music, appalled at the intermission chatter, in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past: The Captive, the Moncrieff-Kilmartin translation, page 260 in Volume III of the Vintage edition, 1982.

GSheaGerald Shea’s exquisite and affecting memoir of his deafness could be read as an extended riff on Proust’s fantasy. About halfway through his 70 years, Gerry Shea realized that he was severely deaf — that he’d been coping somehow, at a price, with an affliction he refused to notice. What he learned in stages was to observe how his brain works — how poetry and music, sign and spoken language and the “commerce of souls” actually work, perhaps for all of us. Shea is a word-master in his own right who comes almost to prefer the pure song — in the tradition of Mendelsohn, too, who wrote the little piano gems Songs Without Words and refused lyrics for them. But Gerry Shea got there the hard way — as a lawyer, not a musician.

Through the first half of his 70-years, Gerry Shea misheard almost everything. Example: the opening line of the Frank Loesser song, “I Believe in You,” came through as “You are the tear two ties of a keeper of incoming loot” — not “You have the cool clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth,” as writ. At Yale young Shea was a singing star but he didn’t belong in class. He took the star history lecturer Charles Garside to be saying that the emperor Charles V “indebited the minstrel stills of this automatic million,” when the professor was saying: “Charles inherited the administrative skills of his grandfather Maximilian…”

On such Jabberwocky in ears he didn’t know had been damaged by scarlet fever at age 5, Shea went from Yale to Columbia Law and then to a big job with the international firm of Debevoise Plimpton. He had mastered lip-reading and his own mode of translating the garbled nonsense in his ears — his “lyricals,” as he called them. But how in the world, you ask, did he avoid having his ears tested for all those years? The deeper riddle in our conversation is: why? And why, when severe deafness finally showed up unmistakably on a job test, he waited a year even to consider hearing aids or any other help. This is the point where the story became, for me, a heart-seizing meditation on afflictions imagined and denied, on identities chosen and clung to — stubbornly and with some cruel effects; and then the joy of letting go.

For me it was always a spiritual or perhaps intellectual problem. I thought everybody else heard what I heard, but that they could translate it and I couldn’t. At Yale, I felt in many ways, academically anyway, I probably didn’t belong there… I did live in a way in my own world of poetry. Lyricals are really an unconscious poetry. It was the life probably that I did love. Even though the problem of misunderstanding was there, I loved my universe and I still do… As soon as somebody tried to approach my private world of lyricals, I really didn’t want to let them in… I think probably because of insecurity, because of fear. Because of my knowledge of myself as perhaps an incomplete human being. Perhaps as someone who was at home with his own internal poetry. It was simply a world that I wanted to keep to myself. I was different from other people, and I was going to live that way and stay that way — except in the law, because I had somehow to earn my bread.

Relief came when hearing aids were virtually forced on him at age 35. The reward was hearing the rest of his music; the flutes, violins and piccolos; the wind in his willows, so to speak, with all due credit to the author Kenneth Grahame.

When I finally got the hearing aids and I realized that the external world was making a lot more sound than I’d heard, it brought me to tears. The first time I wore my glasses with hearing aids in them… suddenly out in that field I felt as if I was not alone and I heard the sound of crickets coming from every direction. It was a beautiful, beautiful sound I hadn’t heard since I was a child, a further awakening to me as to who I was and the world I was really living in. ‘There it is again,’ as Rat says to Mole in The Wind in the Willows. ‘O, Mole, the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet!’ That thin clear call has really become the heart of my life. That’s what Mendelson was talking about, the definite message of music that carries you with it. The most beautiful part of my life, clearly, is music… The heart of my life. Maybe it always was.

Gerald Shea in conversation with Chris Lydon in Marblehead, Massachusetts, July 2013.

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  • http://michaellydon.com Michael Lydon

    Fascinating!! I just visited a dear friend who fell last December and hit his head. Since then he’s been struggling with and recovering from aphasia, but also, he told me yesterday, he’s still suffering from “amusica,” all music sounds the same to him, and makes no sense–he used to be a true music lover and good amateur singer. Has anybody heard of this? My friend misses music and would like to get it back!

  • Robert Zucchi

    Ah, Sylvia Wright’s “mondegreen.” The schoolchild, hand on heart, pledging allegiance to the “Republic for Richard Stands.” Mishearing the Bob Dylan lyrics as “The ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind.” Or maybe the Beatles’ “girl with kaleidoscope eyes” registers as “The girl with colitis goes by.” This morning in an unfamiliar neighborhood the GPS navigation lady directed me to Russell Street…or so I thought. Either I heard it wrong or the synthetic voice had slurred it: Bethel Street. Language exists to make distinctions, and when through homophony or diminished hearing (me) or misinterpretation the differences are effaced, much mischief can ensue.

  • nother

    Great conversation! Earnest and enlightening, it brought to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and I love when that pops in my mind.

    For the sake of discussion and as someone who has studied Helen Keller for a few years now, I do take umbrage with a couple of points by Mr. Shea. He says Keller did not communicate by touching people’s lips, but in fact she did read lips with her fingers, as well as signing in hands. Mr. Shea says: “Helen’s natural language was sign language, the language of touch, and if she had it, she would have done so much more for the world of the deaf, instead of writing about silver streams and purple mountains which she had no understanding at all of – the buzzing of bees…”

    I’m taken aback at how easily Mr. Shea levies laminations on Ms. Keller. It’s the same box that so many others tried to put her in for so long. It’s a box that Mr. Shea has never had imposed on him. His seems to be the opposite problem, society judges him “normal” from the outside when he feels so limited in the inside. Helen felt so normal in the inside but was judged as extremely limited from the outside.

    Now as Mr. Shea makes public his disability with what sounds like a great book overall, maybe (just a thought) he’s also attempting to reconcile his own identity. And maybe for him that means identifying with a sub group of deaf people. But what I ask is – please don’t try to take Keller with you by so easily imposing limitations that she spent her life confronting. Helen Keller is me. I am Helen Keller.

    How can you say Keller had no understanding of “the buzzing of the bees.”? She spent thousands of hours in nature touching flowers and felt and thought about those vibrations much more than I ever have. For all I know she held a bee in her hand. She stepped in more streams and contemplated more mountains than I ever will. In her descriptions of these adventures she would sometimes imagine a color such as “purple,” but before you say: “she had no understanding,” I would first like you, Mr. Shea, to define the word “purple” for me, so I know what it is she was supposed to “understand.”

    A few years ago Cynthia Ozick wrote a great New Yorker article called “What Helen Keller Saw, The making of a writer.”
    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2003/06/16/030616crat_atlarge?currentPage=1
    Mr. Ozick writes that Keller was an artist first, “saw, then, what she wished, or was blessed, to see, and rightly named it imagination. In this she belongs to a broader class than that narrow order of the deaf-blind. Her class, her tribe, hears what no healthy ear can catch and sees what no healthy eye chart can quantify.” “Her common language” is not “with the carpers who scolded her for the crime of literary vocabulary. She was a member of the race of poets, the Romantic kind; she was close cousin to those novelists who write not only what they do not know, but what they cannot possibly know.” Ms. Keller simply wants what Mr. Shea tells us in this interview, saved him, to be a writer, to use use words as an artist!

    It’s fine and healthy to identify with a sub-group – we can identify with our Irish heritage and still be American, we can be American and still be part of the human race. We can be deaf and still be apart of the human race. Yet we are all human with one common language and Helen Keller believed that “all humanly knowable truth is open” to her.

    “I observe, I feel, I think, I imagine.”
    - Helen Keller

  • Potter

    Wonderful, intimate and emotional conversation. I found myself quickly relating to it, commiserating, and being inspired. This is after going through a few years of mourning the loss of my silence as tinnitus came on and never left. I am borderline for a hearing aid but I have not given in to one yet. I find myself, though, appreciating more everything that I can hear, especially music, but too, and as much, bird song, insects buzzing around me, the crunching of leaves and that distant thunder.

    I usually listen again before commenting and I usually read the others, but wish me luck as I go before I can do that to have my thumb repaired again tomorrow. Did you ever consider how you need your thumb? (especially if you are a potter!).

    As Elizabeth Bishop says in her poem about the art of losing, this is aging. And the thing is, after letting go, to appreciate what is left… of your sight, your hearing, your mind and most of all your feelings, your ability to feel connection to this world.

    Thank you.

    P.S. I have to read Proust (started it years ago when I was too young).

    P.P.S. I have to mention Dame Evelyn Glennie (more later)– an inspiration.

  • nother

    I wish you well with your thumb, Potter! Stay positive!

  • Potter

    Dear Nother, Thanks. I just had to postpone my operation for a couple of weeks for a darn good reason: my torn cuticle needs to heal first- thanks to an excellent surgeon’s advice. I’ll keep your wishes.

    So now I am happy to have read what you wrote about Helen Keller and I am still thinking of (now Dame) Evelyn Glennie a totally deaf musician, a percussionist… deaf from early on. But she hears. She hears with her body. Her DVD which changed me and I highly recommend is “Touch the Sound”

    Her wikipedia entry says she was “proudly deaf” at at early age. Totally positive- nothing could stop her… amazing.

    The TED talk also good:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/evelyn_glennie_shows_how_to_listen.html

    So now I too hear with my body as well–I am all in…

    Dear Michael. I think your friend will recover. I don’t know why I say this except I trust we can heal in time and I hope your friend will too.

  • Sarine

    Potter and nother: you give “the comments section” a refreshing perspective.

  • Jack

    What a beautiful interview. I’m grateful to be have heard this conversation. It is very moving, this question of receiving the music back into daily lived life.

  • http://songwithoutwords.com Gerald Shea

    I thank Nother for his comment on Helen Keller, and would encourage him to read my Chapter about her, A Voice Untouched, in Song Without Words. Cynthia Ozick’s 2003 article is excellent, but overlooks important facts that shed light on Helen’s predicament, notably (to mention but one) Anne’s plagiarism in passing off Margaret Canby’s story (which was in Anne’s possession when “Helen’s” Frost King was written) as Helen’s. Alexander Graham Bell in effect used Helen in his campaign against sign language, and, with Sullivan’s help, made Helen an unwitting pawn in that campaign.. Here are brief extracts from my chapter on Helen:

    “Rich descriptions of sounds and colors did become an essential part of Helen’s own vocabulary as she grew older. They were images borrowed from Anne or from works that she continued to encourage Helen to repeat in her own writing. She wrote in her autobiography of a girl ‘with long golden curls and childish prattle,’ ‘everything that could hum, or buzz, or sing,’ ‘noisy-throated frogs who made the summer nights musical with their quaint love songs,’ ‘crickets . . . trilling their reedy notes,’ the ‘luminous shadows of trees and the blue heavens,’ ‘a tree shimmering in the soft light,’ ‘crowds of laughing negroes, horses “with bridles ringing and whips cracking,’ ‘the charging hunters with hark and whip and wild halloo.’ In 1930 Helen provided what Dorothy Hermann calls ‘one of her disturbingly elaborate visual descriptions’ in writing about Scotland:

    ‘I love it all—the moorland peace and hills of beauty. I love the mountains when they are cloud-capped or when soft veils of mist, spun of wind and dew and flame, are drawn around their shoulders. . . . If I am ever born again, I know I shall be a Scot.’

    Helen was even more elaborate in a letter to Nella Henney about Ireland—

    ‘The bluest sky you have ever been under—white, crimson, scarlet, pink, buff, yellow and every shade God has painted on leaf and flower! . . . As if this was not beauty enough, you come out of a mountain pass and gaze, breathless and trembling, upon ‘purple peaks that out of ancient woods arise,’ and there, in the gorge below, are silver lakes reflecting as in a row of mirrors all the glory that surrounds them!’

    And yet, Helen had no memory of sound or of sight. As Thomas Cutsforth (whom Ozick criticizes), the blind writer and psychologist wrote, I think correctly, of Helen’s work: ‘the blind (and deafblind), when writing in their own words, would describe, for example, not a “snow-white, innocent, gamboling, [bleating] lamb,” but a “kinky, woolly, bony, wiggly one.’”

    Emmanuel Laborit, the great deaf (but sighted) French actress, has written (this also from my Chapter on Helen):

    “One can’t miss what one doesn’t know. I don’t know the song of birds or the sound of waves . . . or the sound of a frying egg! What is the sound of a frying egg? I can try to imagine it, in my own way, the sizzling is something
    that undulates, it is hot. Hot, yellow and white, undulating. I don’t miss the sound. My eyes do the work. My mind is surely more fertile, though I am a child, than that of others. Just a bit disorganized. . . . I am not handicapped. I am deaf. I have a language [sign language], I have friends who speak it, and I have parentswho speak it.’

    “Helen Keller, too, despite her almost unimaginable double difficulty, could, with her intellect and imagination, have had such a voice. With sign language teachers she would not have written of the colors and sounds of abstract pastoral scenes observed and heard through Anne’s eyes and ears, of ‘a tide of green advancing upon a silver-grey stream,’ but of the same fried egg. Hot, spraying droplets on a hand held over it. Soft and greasy, two different
    tastes and textures. No yellow, no white, no undulation. But sizzling,as Helen could have tried to imagine it, in her own way.”

    I don’t pretend to be omniscient with respect to these complex questions of language and being, but the evidence is compelling that Helen was taken over by others. Her language as a young child was sign language, or her creative version of it, as shown in Song Without Words, and it was taken away from her.

  • nother

    Thank you Mr. Shea for taking the time to respond, I appreciate you sharing your personal experiences, I have no doubt there is music to behold in your retelling. Yet you have also chosen to write about Helen Keller, and I have issues with some of what you’ve said and written. I’ve put extra effort into this post out of respect to Keller, who has meant so much to my own enlightenment, and Christopher Lydon, of whom I can say the same.

    Concerning the “plagiarism” incident – in which the eleven-year old Keller was interrogated alone by eight members of “a court of investigation” from Perkins, for two hours, because of a story she wrote (as a gift to the President of Perkins ) – you write that the original source book that she was accused of plagiarizing from: “was in Anne’s possession when ‘Helen’s’ Frost king was written.” Can you please tell me where you attained this information? Because I have read a lot about this subject and I’ve never heard that Anne was in possession of that book. I contacted the Perkins School for the Blind archives/library and they’ve never heard that information (they are checking sources to confirm). Mr. Shea, those accusations constituted a horrific experience for both Helen and Annie and it stuck with them like a permanent stain throughout their life. So concerning your accusation, if you’ll indulge me, it would be great to know where you attained that information.

    Incidentally, the twenty-five year-old Anne was acquitted by that court and the eleven-year old Keller did acknowledge that she remembered that Canby’s work had been read to her a few years earlier in the home a family friend, and she also acknowledged that the language was very similar calling it a “dreadful mistake” and writing that she had “disgraced herself.” She wrote that she had “borrowed my glowing descriptions, with variations, from sources I have forgotten. However years later when Keller was older she did wonder (as do I) how those officials could have supposed that a blind and deaf child of eleven completely originated such an elaborate story on her own? Of course she was regurgitating the story!

    Mark Twain wrote to Keller about the investigation: “Oh dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that ‘plagiarism’ farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/05/10/mark-twain-helen-keller-plagiarism-originality/ He ends the letter to Helen with: “To think of these solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant dammed rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night.”

    Mr. Shea your other major criticism is of Keller’s use of language, you write that Helen’s “rich descriptions of sounds and colors were borrowed from Anne or from works that she continued to encourage Helen to repeat in her own writing.” By writing, “repeat” are you insinuating that Anne encouraged Helen to continue to plagiarize? What evidence do you have of this? The works Anne encouraged Helen to read were the classics, and the fact that Helen graduated Radcliff cum laude (passing the final exams without Anne in the room) tells me more of us should be so encouraged.

    As far as Keller’s language, In Keller’s book “The World I live In” she responds to critics such as yourself who would “force me to bite the dust of material things.” The blind have “imagination, sympathy, humanity, and these ineradicable existences compel him to share by a sort of proxy in a sense he has not. When he meets terms of colour, light, physiognomy, he guesses, divines, puzzles out their meaning by analogies drawn from the senses he has.”

    William James wrote to Keller about these criticisms of her use of visual language: “It is no paradox that you live in a world so indistinguishable from ours. The great world of our beliefs: That is the world of permanencies and immensities, and our relations with it are mostly verbal. We think of its history and structure in verbal terms exclusively – the sensations we have of the remote and the hidden being the merest incipiencies and hints which, as you well show, we extend by imagination or add to by analogy. But it makes no difference in what shape the content of our verbal material may come. In some it is more optical, in others more motor in nature. In you it is motor and tactile, but its functions are the same as our, the relations meant by the words symbolizing the relations existing between the things.”

    Mr. Shea you quote Keller’s biggest detractor at the time, Thomas Cutsforth – a little know psychologist whose ideas have been discredited and are not represented in schools for the blind or organizations such as American Foundation of the Blind (I know because I researched this very fact two years ago) – and you agree with Cutsforth’s contention that Helen shouldn’t have written “snow-white, innocent, gamboling [bleating] lamb.” Why I ask? Because Keller doesn’t know what “innocent” means? Or is your problem with the words “gamboling” or “bleating?” That would surprise me because Keller could easily have put her hands on a sheep and felt what it means to gambol and bleat. So I assume you and Cutsforth have a problem with just one word, “white.” It’s colors that really seem to bother you, so again I ask you, Mr. Shea, please define the world “white” for me. If you do, I have a strong feeling you’ll use an analogy to define it. But criticism wasn’t enough, Cutsforth then has the audacity to write (and you agree with him) a reworking of Helen’s sentence about lambs, that he believes, she, being a blind person, should have written! He snatches the pen right out of the writer’s hand…the easel out of the painter’s hand! I ask you, do people tell you, Mr. Shea, the sentences that you as a middle-aged financially well off white man should be writing? I assume you would not accept that?

    Oliver Sacks in his book “The Minds Eye” (based on this remarkable New Yorker article http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2003/07/28/030728fa_fact_sacks: After writing about Keller’s “brilliantly visual quality” writes: “The higher and more personal powers of the imagination, where there is a continual struggle for concepts and form and meaning, a calling upon all the powers of the self. Imagination dissolves and transforms, unifies and creates, while drawing upon the ‘lower” powers of memory and association. It is by such imagination, such ‘vision,’ that we create or construct our individual worlds. At this level, on can no longer say of one’s mental landscapes what is visual, what is auditory, what is image, what is language, what is intellectual, what is emotional- they are all fused together and imbued without own individual perspective and values.”

    Sacks goes on to write: “I loved reading Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico and Conquest of Peru as a boy, and I felt that I “saw” these lands through his intensely visual, almost hallucinogenic descriptions. I was amazed to discover, years later, that Prescott had not only never visited Mexico or Peru; he had been virtually blind since the age of eighteen. Did he, like Torey, compensate for his blindness by developing huge powers of visual imagery, or were his brilliant visual descriptions simulated, in a way, made possible by the evocative and pictorial powers of language? To what extent can description, picturing in words, provide a substitute for actual seeing or from the visual, pictorial imagination?”

    After seeing a photo of Keller at the top of the Empire State Building, John Finley wrote to ask her what she really “saw.” Keller’s response was so amazing that it was put it on the ESB brochures to advertise what people could see at the top. Now when I go to the top, I have the pleasue of seeing that view through the prism of Keller’s words. Here is Keller’s incredible letter: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/empire-state-building.html

    Mr. Shea, to address one more criticism of yours: you write that Alexander G. Bell “made Helen an unwitting pawn in that campaign” against sign language. First you characterize Keller as a pawn of Sullivan and now a pawn of Dr. Bell, as if Keller was a perpetual child – she died in her late eighties. In Keller’s later biography, Midstream, written while in her fifties (after both Anne’s and Bell’s death) Keller agrees with Dr. Bell about teaching students who are deaf. She writes that Bell felt that for the deaf “as long as their only way of communication was through sign and the manual alphabet, they would be isolated” and Keller then writes: “Yet the manual alphabet, and the sign system have zealous defenders. They are both easier to acquire, but the ultimate results are not comparable to the oral system by means of which the pupil is taught to read the lips and answer in his own voice.” Whatever you may think of her opinion, Helen Keller was nobody’s pawn.

    Lastly, my biggest frustration is that you, Mr. Shea, end this interview by telling us that your “happy time” is “trying to make words into music to the extent that I can.” I beg of you to afford Ms. Keller that same opportunity you afford yourself. Let Helen be! Please desist drowning out her music and forcing her to “bite the dust of material things.” Keller’s words of which I’ve read so many – are music to my ears and have inspired me to make my own music. The critics cannot and will not take that away from Helen, nor I. Helen Keller used language to reach out to me, a sighted person with hearing, and now I take great joy in reaching back.

  • nother

    Jan Seymour-Ford has been the Research Librarian at Perkins School for the Blind for years and she took it upon herself to research Mr. Shea’s claim about Anne Sullivan. Ms. Seymour-Ford agrees with me that Mr. Shea’s assertion is very serious. It’s especially serious considering it besmirchs the reputation of a woman who is not here to defend herself – and a woman who many believe is one of the most infulential teachers to ever teach. It’s also important because this claim is coming from an author who has just published a widely read book with a chapter on Keller and Sullivan. WIth that said, Mr. Shea might indeed have a source we don’t know about, and I hope he shares it with us.

    From Jan Semour-Ford:
    “I just checked Beyond the Miracle Worker by Kim Nielsen, published in 2009. While all the biographers address the Frost King episode, Nielsen does it more recently and in greater depth and detail.
    “The Frost Fairies” was a story in the children’s book, Birdie and His Fairy Friends, by Margaret T. Canby. Although there were extensive searches for the book, it was never found, neither at Perkins nor at the home of Sullivan’s friend Sophia Hopkins, where Helen spent a great deal of time before writing “The Frost King.” During the investigation, Sullivan and Hopkins offered the explanation that Hopkins must have read it to Helen while Annie was in New York undergoing preventive treatment for rabies. That was accepted, more or less, as the official explanation, even though Sullivan and Hopkins both maintained that they had no memory of reading the book to Helen.
    Many have offered opinions about the event. Some believe it’s possible that Sullivan read the story to Helen and then denied it when the “scandal” broke. However, even if that is so, it’s important to consider that 25-year-old Annie was probably as naïve as Helen about plagiarism. And, most important, it was Anagnos’s decision to publish the story. As Annie said, “He has always printed things about Helen and myself without consulting us.” Anagnos looked a fool after boasting about Helen’s success, and wanted someone to blame. Since the book was never found and nobody copped to it, the truth about who read the story to Helen remains a mystery.
    Jan

  • http://songwithoutwords.com Gerald Shea

    Thank you, Nother, for your further thoughts. Rest assured that I (humbly) regard Helen as an extraordinary woman and a monumental figure in history. I am currently working on (have virtually completed) a history of deaf education and sign language–a relatively academic book–and I plan further to address many of the questions you raise in an expanded and footnoted chapter on Helen in that work. In the meantime, I extend my good wishes to you, with hopes for your continued success in your study of a remarkable woman.

  • Potter

    Maybe to put a coda? Coming back from visiting my mom, 99 1/2, yesterday I have been noticing all season an attractive planting series at a busy intersection, probably paid for by Worcester Polytech Institute on either side. It’s grasses. And so this time of year they are in “bloom”. It was such a windy day and they were all swaying so beautifully, looked gorgeous, but they made the most marvelous rustling sound. I can see and hear still!

    Anyway my mother is losing her hearing (badly), losing her eyesight (badly); she has macular degeneration, and folks, she is losing her mind too often rupturing into nasty outbreaks, then choked with emotion in her remembrances (of poems, lyrics of songs mostly) about what used to be, what is gone… and unable to think straight, learn new things, remember much of what was said or what happened. Her memories in fact are all mixed up but they are recreated in her mind to match her feelings as well. I should not correct her.

    So Chris, Helen Keller, Nother, Mr. Shea, thank you again.

  • nother

    Potter, Helen writes that “The infinite wonders of the universe are revealed to us in the exact measue we are capable of receiving them. The keeness of our vision depends not on how much we can see, but on how much we feel.” I wonder if you notice that planting series especially because you are returing from a visit with you mom and thus love blooms inside you. I’m sure many pass without noticing.
    After Annie Sullivan passed away, Helen wrote a book about the time before and after Annie’s death. It’s called Helen Keller’s Journal. Here is NYT’s review.
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/08/30/specials/keller-journal.html
    Annie was very sick in those last couple of years and it was very hard on Helen. One thing that helped Helen was keeping a journal and if your not already doing that, maybe it could help. Your mother is lucky to have you, as lucky as you’ve been to have her.
    Oh and it being a busy intersection I’m not sure if you can do this, but I’m sure Helen would suggest that you pull the car over one of these days and run your hands through that grass!

    • Potter

      Yes if course, especially after feeling the pain, how hard it is at that stage and then breaking out of that scene ( a nursing home). It makes me want to go back and finish Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain”) where everyone is there perhaps finally. II’s one complex memento mori. So yes the grasses were planted for me in a sense. But notice too that these grasses are all the rage, being mass planted here and there and they are in bloom now. We have these wonderful sparking days that are cool in the morning and perfect in the afternoon, low humidity and it’s great to be out and about and breathing it all in.

      Thanks Nother.

  • nother

    Mr. Shea, the study of cultures is vital and I commend you for that. It’s not just Helen that I’ve been studying for the last few years, it’s disability culture, and I can report to you that my revelation has been that the issue of disability is a diversity issue. Thus the way forward is to celebrate our differences (especially in the workforce). What we’ve emphatically learned is that separate but equal does not work, and maybe I’m wrong but I’m afraid that is where you’re leaning with your ideas about deaf culture.

    Absolutely we should cherish and preserve our unique languages and customs from our varied cultures, while simultaneously enriching our common culture of humanity. That is the language that Helen Keller exulted in, the language that connects us, and that means something much deeper than the semantics of hues, it means “the world of the permanencies and the immensities” that William James tells us it means. “The sensations we have of the remote and the hidden being the merest incipiencies and hints which, as you so well show, we extend by imagination or add to by analogy” James tells Keller.

    And as far as what Annie meant to Helen (and thus the world)? I’ll leave it to Helen to explain with the last words of her autobiography, Midstream: “Out of the orb of darkness she led me into golden hours and regions of beauteous thought, bright-spun of love and dreams. Thought-buds opened softly in walled garden of my mind. Love flowered sweetly in my heart. Spring sang joyously in all the silent, hidden nooks of childhood, and the dark night of blindness shone with the glory of stars unseen. As she opened the locked gates of my being my heart leapt with gladness and my feet felt the thrill of the chanting sea. Happiness flooded my being as the sun overflows the earth, and I stretched out my hands in quest of life.”

    From the book, “Helen and Teacher”: “Someone ventured the view that Helen’s concept of things outside the reach of her hands must lack reality. Perhaps, drawled Mark Twain, ‘but a well put together unreality is pretty hard to beat.’”

    Thank you for the exchange, Mr. Shea, and thank you for your interview with Mr. Lydon. Good luck with all your endeavors.

    All the best,
    Garrett Zevgetis