The personal journal of author and photographer Jason Pettus

It's been harder than I thought it would be to find good sign language partners.

I'm starting to meet a lot more people in the Deaf community, in a variety of different ways, but my experiences aren't quite matching up with my expectations

#asl #signlanguage #chicago #Deaf #community #practice #partners #frustrations #mainstream #religion #christians #tutorwanted #ICOOKEDANENTIREDUCK

ASL Game Day at the Harold Washington Public Library

[Need to get caught up on the entire saga of me learning American Sign Language (ASL) and getting involved in the Chicago Deaf community this year? The complete set of links is at the bottom of the page.]

Another week, another Chicago Deaf community event! This time it was to a “sign language game day” at the Harold Washington Public Library downtown, which they're doing once a month this year. Little did I realize it was going to literally be me and 20 hearing high-school girls! They all knew each other, so I think it was a class somewhere, maybe at a magnet high school because they seemed to be from a lot of different neighborhoods, and I suspect their teacher was the middle-aged woman actually running the event. It was fun, and the girls were extremely nice to me, but I just couldn't engage in any small talk without feeling like a creepy old perv, so I made a hasty exit about halfway through.

I have to admit, so far I've been having a pretty frustrating experience with meeting others for the purpose of trying to converse in ASL. My night class at Columbia College was supposed to provide conversation practice, but so far three weeks in we haven't done a single one, and in fact I still haven't gotten a chance to meet any of my 30 fellow students. I've started to meet some people through my Facebook groups too, but most of them talk with me just once and then kind of disappear and never contact me again. I get a strong sense that this is because a lot of people currently learning ASL in America right now are just doing it as a lark, maybe because it was this or Spanish, and they figure they have a better chance of meeting a Deaf person in their daily lives and knowing just enough ASL that they can do basic communication with them.

And that's great, something I think everyone should do, learn 500 signs so you can at least give a Deaf person directions, or ask them about their day. After all, the main thing that differentiates 2010s Deaf history from any of the other decades is that this is the decade ASL went mainstream, the subject of hit cable TV shows and popular horror movies, and right now there are literally tens of thousands of hearing people currently enrolled in an ASL class in high school or college or a community center or a website, something that would've been ludicrous to even contemplate thirty years ago. But most of these people have only a passing interest in it, and sort of disappear when things get hard, which is why I think I'm generally not hearing back a second time from most of them. It's frustrating to me, because my goal as a late-deafened adult is to get fluent in ASL, and transition my social circle and perhaps even my professional life into the Deaf community, and I'm only rarely coming across people who want to devote the kind of time and attention to it that I do.

And then the Chicago events for the Deaf community are great too, but it's the opposite situation, that everyone there signs three times faster than I can comprehend, and about half the terms they use are ones I haven't learned yet. (As of last weekend, I was at 800 terms I had memorized, which at least is now twice as smart as a dog; but the internet tells me that, no matter what the language, most five-year-olds start their first year of school already knowing about 5,000 words in their spoken language, so I've still got a long way to go before I'm conversational and not just “can at least get my point across” good.) I love going to these events, and I love watching native signers speak at full speed, and I love that I've already started meeting some people who have been at multiple events like me; but for now I'm still mostly standing in the corner of the room just watching everyone, and only reluctantly getting into conversations that are super-slow and full of mistakes.

I do at least have one regular internet buddy I talk with regularly, my school-teacher friend Joy down in Texas I mentioned last time. We're both insanely enthusiastic about our forays into ASL, which is why I think we've ended up making good partners. But she brings up something interesting I've noticed about the Deaf community, that I haven't really gotten to mention in my journal yet, which is the huge amount of people learning ASL because they're Christian or religious or church-goers or however they identify, many times so they can do interpretation at their churches. The interesting thing about this and the Deaf community is most people in the community try not to bring up divisive subjects like politics or religion in the first place, because the community's so small and everyone wants to have as many opportunities to have signing friends as possible. And in this, you can see some validity in the common argument among the Deaf that the act of not hearing not only should not be seen as a disability, but there are actually good things about being Deaf that hearing people miss out on, like a community that's a lot less focused on divisive subjects.

I think what I'm going to have to do, to get in the kind of slow conversation practice I want, is simply hire a private tutor, who are super expensive at these tutoring websites online, so I think at the end of the semester I'm going to reach out and see if any college students might want to do it during their boring summer break for $20 an hour. And in the meanwhile, I continue my online ASL classes at and, both of which are completely free; I'm doing lesson 11 from both this week, and their ASL 1 classes end respectively at 15 and 13 lessons, so you can say that I've almost “graduated” from ASL 1 and am ready to start on ASL 2 (then an ASL 3 class before finally finishing the core curriculum that gets most people officially to “conversational”). As always, if you're learning too and ever want to practice on webcam, either entire conversations or just some fingerspelling, drop me a line at and let me know!

I cooked an entire duck for Easter

My friend Carrie's 15-year-old son and I cooked an entire duck for Easter! AN ENTIRE DUCK! Because yes, believe it or not, there are other things going on in my life besides just ASL! I haven't really been writing about them because they haven't been as interesting, and I haven't had any photos to share because as always, we had an insanely long winter here in Chicago, so I haven't had a chance to go out and do any shooting. But the weather's finally turning warm here, so I'm anticipating going out more and having new stuff to share at Flickr soon. As always, more next week, and don't forget to join the mailing list if you'd like an email every Friday with the latest.

The Complete ASL Saga of Jason Pettus
4/19: Book review: A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles, by William Stokoe
4/15: ASL Adventures: “Game of Thrones” night at Deaf Planet Soul.
4/14: Book review: Inside Deaf Culture, by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries
4/8: ASL Adventures: The Chicago Inclusive Dance Festival, and my first “signing in the wild.”
4/4: Book review: The Mask of Benevolence, by Harlan Lane
4/4: Book review: Train Go Sorry, by Leah Hager Cohen
4/3: He speaks! He speaks! ...Er, he signs! He signs!
4/1: Book review: Seeing Voices, by Oliver Sacks

3/31: Book review: The Other Side of Silence, by Arden Neisser
3/28: Those sexy deaf teens sure are courageous!
3/27: Book review: Shouting Won't Help, by Katherine Bouton
3/25: Book review: Deaf in America: Voices From a Culture, by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries
3/22: Book review: A Deaf Adult Speaks Out, by Leo Jacobs
3/22: Book review: Don't Just Sign...Communicate!, by Michelle Jay