Anxiety and the two arrows…

The Buddha explains whenever we experience pain in life we are being hit by a metaphysical arrow. This may be an arrow of illness, grief, injury, a mental or physical ailment. It’s a situation, circumstance or something that has just “happened.” 

However, following this first arrow we usually find ourselves being hit by a second arrow: which represents our emotional and mental response to whatever’s happened. This is where the real suffering lies. 
It’s the reaction we give to the illness, injury, accident or so on that causes our suffering. It’s our internal dialogue that questions despairingly “why has this happened to me?” and tries every which way to get out of it. It’s our resistance to whatever has happened or is happening that causes so much discomfort. 
It is perfectly natural in certain situations to feel intense emotion and therefore to “suffer.” But there are also other times when our suffering becomes a self inflicted habit. This happens when we become so used to thinking negatively about ourself and the world around us. 
I was reminded of this when I came across a book recommended through the Mindful Everyday site, “At last a life” by Paul David. The author, who has recovered from ten years of severe anxiety, explains how once he stopped fighting his condition he found himself well and truly on the way to recovery. 
To clarify, anxiety sufferers, through no fault of their own, often become stuck in a cycle of fear and anxiety because of their obsessive worries and tendency to focus so much on how they are feeling. Simply by ruminating about their anxiety and their battle with it they become trapped in a world of their own, silently fighting their demons and unable to reach out to the world around them. 
Paul David’s advice is simple but immensely wise. The trick – he says -is not to fight the anxiety whenever it arises but to notice it and move our attention away from it. We therefore begin to believe it’s not such a big deal when anxiety arises and we realise our thoughts are only thoughts. They’re not facts and they can’t harm us – no matter what we’ve previously been telling ourselves. 
By explaining what anxiety is and how it works, David takes away anxiety’s power and reminds the reader that it’s time for them to reclaim their lives once again; hiding away from the world until you “feel better again” is never going to work. 
In short, what I love about David’s writing is how much he is endorsing not just a change in behaviour but also a change in attitude. By encouraging anxiety sufferers to no longer be afraid of their symptoms he is actually teaching them to no longer hurt themselves with the second arrow that the Buddha refers to. 
For it is always the emotional and mental response to the ailment that causes us so much suffering, and not -ironically- the ailment itself. Learning to detach from negative self talk and cultivating a calmer attitude towards the symptoms are the best and bravest things you can do to begin to recover from anxiety. 
This can be applied to many things in life. Chronic pain, illness, loss and tragedy can all be accepted and moved through gracefully if we no longer torment ourselves with fearful, negative thoughts. We can move away from the victim mind set and reclaim our power once again. 
One last thing to remember in regards to anxiety is that we cannot think our way out of a problem that was caused by thinking in the first place. This is where the mindful wisdom of moving out of our heads and back into our bodies comes into play too. 
So once we give up the mental battle of fighting or resisting our circumstance, we open up to a world of possibility and potential to change.  


The end of deafness?

Ted Evans’ award winning short film, The End, poses the question, ‘if there was a cure for deafness, would you take it?’ 

In its raw, documentary style The End explores what could indeed happen if deafness was eventually eradicated.

For those of you with hearing or with no exposure to the deaf community, saying ‘yes’ to a cure for deafness would most likely seem an automatic response. 

But for those who are well and truly part of the deaf world, the prospect of eliminating deafness would signify a loss rather than a gain. 

The existence of sign language, deaf humour and rich artistic expressivity would all cease without the deaf community that gives life to them.

For this community, deafness is seen not so much as a dis-ability but rather an ability to converse in a unique language and enjoy the perks of living in a much quieter world. To them, deafness has many gifts.

I have known deaf artists say it is actually their deafness that enables them to be so successfully creative. 

Deaf writers have expressed how it was their deafness that encouraged them to seek wider platforms for their ‘voice.’ 

Even I, as a dancer, have noticed how my sense of rhythm and musicality is stronger than most – and yes, I am deaf! 

Countless deaf professionals have all said it is because of their deafness that they have succeeded and not despite of it. So without it, who would they be?

This is perhaps why charities that focus on ‘curing’ deafness are often shunned by the deaf community. Offering a cure, however well-meaning it may be, could be read as:

“You are not normal.

We want to fix you.” 

By emphasising what is lacking or medically lost, is it any wonder the deaf community may feel inadequate when viewed from a medical perspective?

Yet as a friend of mine likes to point out, what is normal anyway? 

Without our variations and differences the world would be a very uniform and uninspiring place.

Going back to question, to say that I would meet the offer of a cure with an immediate ‘no’ would be a lie. I was not born deaf; therefore I know exactly what I am missing. And even with all the perks of not hearing, there are times I really do miss music…

For myself I have concluded – should a cure ever be invented, much further consideration would have to be given. It’s simply not as easy as yes or no.

And so congratulations must be given to Mr Evans who, with his thought provoking and poignant film, has encouraged deaf people worldwide to seriously consider The Big Question…

“Would you?”

For the girls!

It seems whenever I meet with a female friend it isn’t long before our conversation turns to that of the opposite sex. Men are indeed fascinating!

But as a dear buddy of mine recently anguished, ‘how can you really know what men are thinking?’

Such strange yet marvellous creatures they are, males tend not to say what’s on their minds nor do they like to talk about *ahem* feelings.

The men in my friend’s life have behaved particularly bizarrely. Hot then cold, eager then laidback, they are almost like true to life Danny Zuko’s; really keen on her but not so hot at showing it. 

Even their text messages are confusing. Ending with the likes of “I’ll be fine” and “Don’t worry about me,” it seems that they want her to be there, but are too scared to ask for what they need. 

Another question, of course, is how do you know if you’ve begun to cross the line from ‘just friends’ and wandered into the realm of  ‘something more’ ? 

Should you put your cards on the table, confess how you feel and risk them running a mile? 

Or wait for a sign that hints they feel the same way, which could very possibly leave you waiting forever?

Well I say, do as Derren Brown would do! Begin to read between the lines, pick up on their vibes, and really see what feels right. And hey, if you make a mistake or do something regretful you can always blame your hormones!

The truth of the matter is we can’t change men’s nature any more than we can our own. By default, we like to talk. We take things to heart, we overanalyse  conversations and yes, we stress over how many kisses we should really end our texts with.  

But men don’t do that, do they? Or do they?

How do you know?! 

I have a feeling this month is going to be rather philosophical…!

Speed Awareness & Mindful Driving…

It’s very easy to get complacent,” our tutor for the day told us. We all nodded in agreement, knowing it was this very laidback attitude to driving that had landed us here in the first place.

I looked around the smart conference room and noticed the variety of people present. Business men and women, young adults, parents. All of us guilty of driving too fast.

I’d received a letter a couple of weeks earlier to say I’d been caught doing 38mph in a 30mph zone and that action was being taken against me. I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t happy. “I’d just come off the motorway!” I exclaimed. I’d assumed the area was a 40mph zone.

Excuses aside, the choice I was given was to either accept the first points on my licence or to pay to attend a Speed Awareness workshop, leaving my licence nice and clean.

Opting for the latter, I expected those of us attending would be given a smack on the hand, so to speak, with lots of school-like lecturing. I was so relieved to find it wasn’t at all like that.

The workshop was friendly and interactive, each one of us encouraged to reflect on our own driving habits, an exercise I found extremely useful.

By this time I had been driving for 8 years and believed I was a good driver. But the truth was I’d become a bit lazy. So with an open mind, I was feeling pretty grateful for this wake up call.

The workshop leader, Andrew, asked us all to consider what excuses we gave for driving over the speed limit. Lateness, quite a few people said; impatience, replied some others. We nodded along again, accepting these excuses as perfectly understandable.

We were then shown a video. A shocking video of a young boy getting hit by a car. The car was in fact ‘only’ driving 5mph over the speed limit. But the boy didn’t survive.

We were told that if the car had been driving at the recommend speed, the child would have had a greater chance of surviving as the force of his injuries would have been much less.

Andrew then posed a very poignant question. As a parent, what excuse would be justifiable coming from a driver that had hit our child? That they were running late? That they were bored of driving slowly? The excuses we had previously given just seemed pathetic. Nothing justifies causing a death.

We were then told about a nearby road with a school on it, where cameras had been set up to monitor how fast passing cars were driving. I couldn’t believe the results. Even at peak school opening and closing times, cars were recorded to be driving way over the limit, with two recordings of cars driving over 80mph.

My thoughts turned to my young nieces and how furious I would be if anyone drove so carelessly near their school. I made a silent promise to myself to be extra cautious when driving near schools from now on, vigilantly sticking to the 20mph recommended speed or less.

For the last year or so I had become a little careless on the road. “What does it matter if I do 35mph”, I would think.

“Everyone else is driving faster!” But I do not need to be a sheep. As the tutor put so well, speed limits are limits not targets. We do have a choice when it comes to choosing our speed, and we most certainly have minds of our own.

I, for one, do not want to be responsible for causing an accident or fatally injuring anyone. I understand now how we can choose to take responsibility for our actions and behave in a way that we, personally, feel comfortable with. And if that gets people calling me a Granny for driving below the limit, well so be it!

I realised during this workshop how so many of us use driving as a stop-gap activity. We drive almost on auto-pilot, not really engaging with our senses or what’s around us. We use our time driving to daydream, to plan, eat, make phone calls – everything but drive.

No wonder our minds feel so cluttered and our driving so frantic.

So Andrew gave us a brilliant method to use to wake up from this. “Use a running commentary,” he told us. “Point out in your head or aloud everything you can see and everything you are doing so that you become fully aware of your driving and of your surroundings.”

He then gave us an example to clarify this method. “Pushing the gear into first, and releasing the handbrake I notice the cyclist coming towards me. As I manoeuvre into the road, checking my mirrors for any cars behind me I notice the pedestrians ahead waiting to cross at the traffic lights.”

Now I have to admit, I loved this method. It reminded me of a technique I learnt years earlier, that of Mindfulness. It’s all about engaging fully with whatever you’re doing and not allowing yourself to get caught up in over-thinking, daydreaming or worrying. Just by being where we are we can step out of our mental movies and feel relaxed and alert – simultaneously.

During the workshop I was made fully aware of the dangers of mindless driving and I made it my personal aim to get back in touch with my Mindfulness practice – especially when driving!

You see, we don’t have to disappear into our heads when we drive, leaving us dangerously out of touch. Nor do we have to conform to others expectations, driving faster than we should and increasing our risk of severe injuries should we encounter an accident.

I’ve always felt that the world is becoming increasingly hurried. And this is reflected on the roads too. But by practising Mindfulness in our daily lives we become fully aware of the choices we make and of the possible consequences they have on others.

I for one would like to be a much more conscientious, alert driver. I intend to plan my journeys well and leave in good time from now on to ensure I am not racing against a mental clock. And when I drive, I’m going to make sure I’m only driving. I’ll call it my driving meditation!

If each one of us could make that choice, then surely our roads and our lives would be much calmer and pleasant.

An experience at the audiology

“There’s an interpreter here for you,” the receptionist told me.

An interpreter? I didn’t think I’d booked one. I’d assumed that as I was attending an audiology appointment that I wouldn’t need one, seeing as they’d be so used to dealing with deaf people… right?

But anyhow, we had an interpreter. After a short wait we were ushered into a soundproofed room and with awkward hand movements gestured to sit.

It had been a while since I had set foot in a place like this and I felt nervous. It reminded me of years ago when I’d been urged to ‘please listen carefully’ in an attempt to improve my audiogram result. God knows how hard I listened…

Settling down now to lipread the audiologist, I realised she wasn’t actually speaking to me but to the interpreter. And so I waited for her eye contact and exaggerated my clear, emphatic response hoping she received my telepathic message to speak directly to me. I was, after all, the mother of the child being tested.

Truth be told, my partner and I didn’t really want to bring our little boy here. We already knew he could hear. But seeing the doubtful looks from health professionals as we reassured them “yes, he responds to sounds,” we decided to put their minds at ease and ‘follow protocol.’ After all, our son does have two deaf parents.

And so the testing commenced. The little one sat on his Dad’s lap and I was instructed to move to the back of the room so as not to be a distraction. Watching our son’s innocent little eyes as he scanned the room, obediently responding to sounds, I choked up with unexpected emotion.

I hate hearing tests, I thought. I always have. It’s the one test I can’t revise for, cheat on or ever do well in. I’m doomed to fail.
And seeing the earphones attached to my little boy’s ears caused memories of my own to flood.

The anger at being given hearing aids, the isolation I felt being the only one at school with wires hanging out my ears and mostly the overwhelming sadness that I may have been a disappointment.

I used to believe it when the doctors told my parents how ‘sad’ they were to relay that I had a hearing loss. And I felt I was letting others down as they groaned that my hearing had indeed “dropped again.”

I’d lose myself in daydreams as the doctors spoke to my parents and wonder how I could possibly hang on to hearing that was slipping away from me. I could never wait to get out of there. For people that knew so much about the ears, they hardly knew what it was like to be deaf.

Even today, audiology departments aren’t so deaf friendly. Take my local one, for example. They still call my name out in the waiting room. None of the audiologists sign. And worst of all it seems as though they prefer to speak to me via somebody else. If not my Mum then with an interpreter I didn’t even request.

I suppose it’s not entirely their fault. They’re not taught at medical school that most Deaf people don’t like to think of themselves as ‘lacking’ in something. They don’t understand that we don’t always want to be fixed or our deafness focused upon.

They can’t see it’s not our hearing ‘loss’ that sums us up, but what we’ve gained from it that makes us who we are.

I get that now. But as a young girl, I felt nothing but a failure when I was told my hearing was ‘less than satisfactory.’ That’s why I feel the medical view of deafness isn’t supportive at all to our self esteem. And words such as impairment, profound and loss can quite frankly be very damaging to a young, insecure child.

So when the audiologist declared at the end of our son’s test that they were ‘happy’ to tell us he had ‘perfect hearing’ I couldn’t help but loathe her choice of words.

Our son was perfect, regardless of his hearing level and actually, we would still be happy with him even if he was deaf.

So there.

The role of a sign singer

Signsong tends to spark a love it/hate it response from the Deaf community. However as a performer and tutor of signsong I can see for myself how interest in the art form is surely growing.

But when I tell people what it is I do, I still get the occasional screwed up face and an exclamation of:

“But you’re deaf! Music isn’t for deaf people!”

Cue exasperated sigh. Because here is where they have the most common misconception.

Its. Not. About. The. Music.

If sign song was all about our ability to hear then yes, I would put my hands up and get myself another job. But it’s not. Baffled? Let me explain.

I’ve always believed that signsingers are in effect very skilled story tellers. When you look at a song you are basically looking at a story. The lyrics, of course, are the words to this tale.

The melody of the lyrics portray the unique style in which the tale is being expressed. This can involve emphasising certain words or phrases, and even the clever use of pauses for dramatic effect.

The musical setting – the tone, pace, composition of notes – all works to set and support the mood of the story. Drum breaks and crescendos can amplify powerful feelings whereas softer instrumentals depict a sorrowful sentiment.

You may wonder how this is possible if you can’t actually hear the music and therefore can’t pick up the style, the mood or the tale of a story. And this is where those signsinging sceptics are partly right. Because I would never choose to perform a song that I could not follow.

A lot of the songs I use have strong bass lines, powerful beats and easily identifiable rhythms. Without giving my performance secrets away too much, it’s mostly memory and guess work that keeps me in time with the music. That and my trusty communicator, Lady Liz, who dutifully acts as my visual metronome throughout the song and cues my song starts.

There have been times where my hearing aid has cut off mid performance and I’ve had to rely on the visual beat I could see in the form of Liz’s hand tapping and my own memory of the song’s rhythm to keep me in time. Maybe it’s my years as a dancer that has given me the ability to remember rhythms physically, but I do think it’s a skill that can be developed.

Funnily enough, I’ve met plenty of hearing people who are tone deaf and as musical as a plank of wood… And yet there are Deaf people who naturally have rhythm in their soul. They may be aware of this gift from a young age, depending on their exposure to music and its accessibility. Other times it takes a while before they discover this form of expression.

Countless times in my sign song workshops I’ve met children and adults who have, in their words, called themselves ‘Proper Deaf.’ These are strong BSL users who most definitely do not want to associate themselves with music.

But throughout the course of the workshop they find they’ve learnt a brand new way of expressing themselves. A way that takes their native language and paints a visual picture, supported by a rhythmical frame of beats and pauses.

Some participants have even been moved to tears, overjoyed that they are now able to access the lyrics of the great songwriters and fully share their meaning. There are phrases in songs that can depict a powerful sentiment in a simple sentence and made even more beautiful by using sign language.

I believe the role of a signsinger is to tell the story as visually and honestly as possible. We are not merely ‘interpreting the music’ or ‘translating the words.’ Instead we embody the song and become living personifications for the story that is being told. We become the tale.

By breaking down the rhythmical components of the song and ultimately communicating the ‘story,’ sign singing is most definitely an art form that all children and adults can participate in – regardless of their ability to physically hear.

We all have a story to tell. And sign singing is just one way of expressing it.

A response to ‘Strangers’ – a short film by Brian Duffy

I’ve just got round to watching Brian Duffy’s short film ‘Strangers’. Using dialogues led by a young deaf guy and his parents, it showed its audience just how possible it is for a deaf person to feel like an outsider towards their own hearing family.

Isolated and frustrated, mainly because his parents were poor communicators, the young guy was only actually heard by his parents when a sign language interpreter was present.

We were shown glimpses of how oblivious the Father was to his son’s talents and knowledge of the world, and how his Mother appeared completely unaware of just how much her son was excluded.

The climax of the film came when the son confessed to his Mother that he had no idea which of his Grandmothers had died and felt unable to grieve for someone he did not know. Presumably, because he was not able to communicate with her.

We were then left with his Mother attempting to fill in the missing pieces about his Grandmother with her broken, hesitating sign language. Was it too late to make amends, I wondered. Judging by the smile on the sons face as the film faded, evidently not.

You see, it’s a natural desire to want to communicate freely and easily with our parents and it is sad to think that this can still be an issue in this day and age. But the majority of deaf babies are born to hearing parents, with most having no prior knowledge or experience of sign language or the ‘deaf world’ for that matter.

Take my parents, for example. They were stunned to find that they had not only one but two deaf daughters and with nobody visiting them with information on sign language or support groups, they just cracked on with what they thought was best and my sister and I acquired English as our first and main language.

My sister and I were both able to lip-read and speak clearly enough to chat openly to our parents and it wasn’t until we went to secondary school with a hearing impaired unit that we discovered sign language, hence the beginning of all our private conversations.

It has always been a great comfort knowing we both had each other. Together we would sit in silence on the sofa at distant relatives’ houses; being beckoned to if we wanted a drink and ignored the majority of the time. Our parents would speak and answer questions on our behalf and we pretended to laugh along at jokes we didn’t understand and smile at all the right times.

It appeared that our distant relatives felt that because we were deaf we were unable to participate fully in conversations and that the only option, rather than work around it or make any effort, was to pretend that we weren’t actually there.

My Grandmother on my Father’s side recently confessed that she wished they had made more of an effort with my sister and I when we were younger but never felt able to talk to us because we were deaf. It was only as we grew in confidence and age and moved past the blushing stage every time we misunderstood something that we both began to speak for ourselves.

They then realised, perhaps a little too late, that we were actually interesting people with personalities, hobbies and lives of our own. What was there to be so scared of after all?!
The sad thing in my case is it wasn’t the lack of sign language knowledge that prevented these relatives from communicating with us. It was their own fears and preconceived ideas that held them back from getting to know us.

Luckily my grandparents on my Mother’s side were the total opposite. Unafraid of being misunderstood and happy to repeat themselves countless times if need be, we were able to forge strong loving relationships. They saw us not as ‘the deaf grand daughters’ but as their beloved granddaughters who just happened to be deaf. They saw past our deafness and into us as people.

So upon reflection, both from my experience and Duffy’s film, it appears that the biggest obstacle for any deaf person in a hearing family is not the communication method as such, but the ability to look past the stigma and stereotypes of deafness and for the family to be willing to adapt.

As we first meet a person, whether hearing or deaf, we naturally discover their own communication preferences. Using this we are then able to get to know the unique individual they are, one who most certainly has a voice and a right to be heard.

But I do believe that the desire to communicate effectively and break down those invisible barriers is more important than anything. Because whenever there’s a will, there will be a way.

Exclusive interview with Jules Dameron, director of ASL version of Let it Go

There is no denying that the Disney film Frozen has taken the world by storm. And its iconic song, Let it Go, has enjoyed tremendous success.

With over 265 million views on You Tube and an academy award for best original song, it has been translated into 42 languages.

And now, thanks to the Deaf Professional Arts Network, the National Technical Institute for the deaf and Film Director, Jules Dameron, we can enjoy a stunning performance of the song in American Sign Language.

Shot in coastal central California amidst mountains and beaches, the video employs the talents of deaf artists Amber Zion and Jason Listman to capture the true essence of the song and they do so – beautifully.

Working together with an all-deaf crew, it’s no exaggeration when I say these guys have produced something truly spectacular. I’m gushing, I know.

But as someone who has worked in signed song for 10 years now, I can honestly say this production surpasses anything I have ever seen.

Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t feel like a ‘typical’ signed song video. Its outdoors, for one thing which already makes it different.

It’s grand and expansive, unlike the studio shoots we’re so used to seeing. But even more significant for me is the way that it feels and looks like part of a dramatic production.

The artists aren’t just signers, translating the lyrics. They are the song itself. By becoming its characters and embodying the music, they convey the story with each movement they make.

Every last detail from the hair and make up to the structure of the signs has been carefully considered to match the vision of the song.

And it is this commitment to acting out the song’s meaning as opposed to merely interpreting the lyrics that demonstrates to me the recipe for signed song success.

It isn’t any wonder that the video gained over 70,000 views in less than a week.

So of course, wanting to know more about the brains behind the project, I got in touch with Jules Dameron. It didn’t take me long to discover that Let it Go wasn’t her first venture from narrative fiction into music videos.

On the music scene she has worked with internationally renowned deaf rapper Sean Forbes, Hollywood actress Marlee Matlin, Sean Berdy of Switched at Birth and my personal favourite, professional deaf actress Amber Zion.

Chatting to Jules herself has been truly insightful. I was reassured to find a working professional who also believes that signed song can be both visually stunning and entirely accessible.

Providing captions and signed translations does not mean we have to scrimp on style. And it is this sense of artistic freedom and creativity that I feel will encourage not only other film makers but future generations of sign singers too.

For way too long in England we have questioned the value of signed song and its place in our deaf community. We have assumed it belongs mostly to hearing people learning to sign or to those who ‘aren’t really Deaf.’

And by doing so we have settled for accepting less than average versions of signed songs as the ‘norm’ without pushing the boundaries of our artistic talents and seeing what actually can be created.

Jules’ version of Let it Go has proved once and for all that signed song can be an art form for deaf people to be proud of – and – most importantly, part of.

Using deaf artists of the highest standard and a crew of very talented deaf professionals, she has invited us all to experience and enjoy a song that the rest of the world has already fallen in love with. And if that isn’t beautiful accessibility, I don’t know what is.

Read on for an exclusive interview with Jules herself as well as behind the scenes images of the Let it Go shoot.

REBECCA: Firstly, how did the transition from directing regular dramatic shoots to musical ones come about? Were there any unexpected challenges? And if you had to choose – which would you prefer to direct, drama or music? 

JULES: Truth be told, I started doing music videos because they were easier and quicker to be released. No need for a complicated process with sound in post-production, and I could just focus on the visuals more.

While I work on narrative fiction stories, I like to fill my down time with music videos. They’re just a joy and fun to work with.

The first unexpected challenge when I first started doing music videos was the fact that I basically had to come up with a visual concept from scratch, rather than just filming a performance of a song.

In the beginning, I was overwhelmed with that, but then after I got the hang of it, I was able to apply what I learned in directing narrative fictions to this process.

I enjoy all kinds of directing— as long as I get to work directly with a performer and seeing them bring their best performance, I’m as happy as a clam. I do enjoy working with narrative fictions mainly, but music videos are definitely loads of fun!

REBECCA: Before your very first music video shoot, what was your exposure to signed songs? Had you seen lots of performances or videos? Who or what inspired you?

JULES: I had seen some of Rosa Lee Timm’s stuff, and I adored her. She had that quality where I could actually sign along with her, particularly “She Drives Me Crazy” and “It Feels So Good.”

I think, honestly, I didn’t think about music videos all that much. I just treated them like fiction narratives (as you can tell, I’m sure!) But I think it was really after I started making more sign language music videos that I started to fall in love with watching them online.

At that time, we didn’t have that many to begin with. We still don’t have enough, but we’ve got many more now than ever.

REBECCA: On a personal note, what’s your relationship with music? Are there any artists or bands you would LOVE to direct for?

JULES: I have always loved music ever since I was little. My entire family, they’re all musicians, basically. I’m the only filmmaker in my family.

I think I ended up directing films because it was a medium that I could work with and we all could share that creative performance spirit.

I’ve always been obsessed with Billy Joel’s work, and so many songs from movie musicals. Like “Moulin Rouge” or “Les Miserables.” I’ve always been in love with musicals. I would love to work with Bruno Mars, actually. I just love his performance spirit.

REBECCA: Putting your directors cap on… In your eyes, what is it that makes a good sign song performer? What do you look for when casting / focus on when rehearsing? 

JULES: Good question. I am absolutely adamant that the performer her/himself has an incredible work ethic and is highly collaborative.

Those are the top qualities I look for whenever I look for a performer or work with one. Those qualities define the project, ultimately. I look for someone who has the guts to commit to showing emotion in a performance and is willing to learn and keep practicing in rehearsal for a great amount of time.

Basically a great performance is 95% homework/rehearsal and 5% making sure your energy is spot-on while being filmed or being on stage. I don’t think many people realize that when they get into it for the first time.

Having the ability to show emotion is a very tough ability to develop for anyone, but once it’s there, then the entire performance pays off and is highly rewarding.

REBECCA: Most people want to know how the artists keep in time with the music – what methods do you use to support them with this? And when editing how do you ensure the sound is matched perfectly in sync with the performance (especially with a 100% deaf crew and cast!) 

JULES: This is a very interesting area that people don’t realize.

Basically, since I’m the director of this project, I felt the need to memorize the song as much as I could, timing-wise, and make sure that my performers are on time.

So when I watch them sign a lyric, I make sure the timing of the lyric itself matches with the time I memorized, musically.

A lot of music performing for deaf people involves time memorization. No easy feat, to be sure. I edited this, and I can only hear if I use heavy-duty amplified headphones, so I used those to help me match the timing of the edit.

The sing-a-long karaoke version of “Let it Go” online was a big help to help us figure out exactly where the words were said, so we worked on that.

I know how important it is to be on time with the lyrics, because otherwise, we’d just be a novelty act, just signing words, without the marriage to the song.

REBECCA: Your ASL version of Let it Go has gone viral! How did the idea for this come about? What thoughts were behind selecting your performers/location and aspects of pre production? 

JULES: Nick Zerlentes, a good friend of mine, and I just became obsessed together with the song, we actually started translating it into ASL on our own, and we thought it’d be great to make it into a project.

At around the same time, Amber Zion fell in love with it too, and told me that she wanted to do it. Jason Listman was a new friend of mine and Nick’s, and we thought it’d be a great idea to have everyone work together on it.

I wanted to incorporate both genders in this project because I thought it’d welcome young boys to feel included in this song, as well.

At that time, I decided that we needed to contribute to the deaf community by making sure we have a 100% deaf cast and crew in the making of this project. What other better song to do it than this?

REBECCA: In your own view, how is signed song received in the US? Are people generally supportive / enthusiastic about it? What sort of feedback have you received? 

JULES: One thing’s for sure, ASL is highly widespread in the US now. It’s become an extremely popular trend and we hope that it continues to stay in the mainstream.

People are very supportive of sign language in general. When it comes to deaf people, it’s a different situation.

We are now focusing on letting the deaf people make their own communication choices, at the same time, we are accepting each other’s differences.

Each deaf person has an entirely different way of communicating due to the fact that each parent raises them differently.

We know that sign language is highly accessible, since it’s a visual form of communication, and we hope that this awareness continues to stay strong and allow deaf people everywhere to have access to language.

REBECCA: As you may or may not know, one area of criticism for signed song artists over here is whether they are using British Sign Language appropriately. Is this the same for ASL? Is there anything the artists are particularly sensitive about when translating the lyrics? 

JULES: Yes, it’s all the same issues, both ways. In my professional opinion, if the performer loves the song, and does it well, with emotion and thought behind it, that’s all that truly matters.

There is something to be said about doing a proper grammar and structure to ASL, which I have a huge respect for, but then there’s the creative process as well, which allows you to break rules all the time.

REBECCA: And finally… do you have any plans for forthcoming music videos and are you coming to England any time soon ? 

JULES: Nothing planned yet! And I’d LOVE to come to England. Anyone over there want to make a music video? I’m down!

Form an orderly queue, folks!

Mindfulness and parenthood…

Once upon a time, back in the day, loooong before I became a Mum, practising mindfulness was just like practising another hobby. I had lots of time to fit it in and freedom of choice as to when and where I did it. 

I recall long slow mornings that followed a predictable routine; mindful yoga followed by a cup of herbal tea, twenty minutes of formal meditation and then off I went to get ready for work. Once I got home I often sat or lay in my room to carry out a body scan meditation, releasing any tension or worries from my day, ending the evening with a soak in the bath or a quick shower before another formal meditation before bed. 

That life seems like a world away to me now. 

Heavily pregnant with my second child, I spend most days with my energetic toddler, catering to his needs and pretty much doing what every other mother does. I love being a Mum yet there’s no doubt about it- it’s exhausting. You can’t even call it a “full time job” as at least with a job you get evenings and weekends off….! 

I knew when I had my first child that my life – in regards to mindfulness -would never be the same again. Being so responsible for  little person who needs and depends on me, I no longer have the freedom to “nip off for a quick meditation” or take a quiet, restorative mindful meal alone whenever the need arises. 

That’s not to say you can’t be a mindful parent. You just do things a little differently, as I’ve discovered over the past two years and no doubt I will continue to discover once baby number two arrives.

Mindfulness, for me, is no longer focused on formal meditations, guided transcripts or solitary exercises. Instead, I’m using the mindful principles as an approach to living. And so far, it helps. 

If I’ve been up in the night with my teething toddler, the house is a mess and I’m feeling exhausted, I try to use the loving kindness principles to go easy on myself. 

It’s so easy for parents to feel guilty about everything they’re not doing “well enough” whatever that may be, so I try to remind myself mindfully that I am in fact trying my best and I can just choose to let those negative, anxious thoughts go. 

Thoughts are only thoughts after all. 

It’s also incredibly easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of busyness when you have children with multitasking becoming second nature. 

In the early newborn days it used to feel like a race against time to get everything done during the baby’s naps. And at the end of the day I’d still be dissatisfied with all the jobs left to do so I’d lie awake writing to do lists, determined to tackle them the next day. 

I was striving, lost in the habit of “doing” and with little time alone it’s no surprise I found those early days as a mum pretty overwhelming. 

But gradually, I started to realise what I was doing. And this is the real beauty of mindfulness; by becoming aware of how mindless I was, things naturally began to change by themselves. And I began to feel much more capable. 

I would catch a negative thought more quickly and be able to offer myself the encouragement, reassurance or whatever it was I needed at that time. 

I could also sense when my body was becoming tense or over-tired and I consciously reminded myself to slow down and ask for help. 

I also began putting away my mobile phone away more, making the most of my time with my son and not getting lost in a virtual world of social media or news. More than any other time in my life, I now needed and wanted to be present. 

My breathing spaces and body scans turned into simply being present whilst playing with, bathing or reading to my son. There was no other place I had to be, mentally or physically. So in actual fact becoming a Mum grounded me for the first time in a very long time. 

And now as I wait for my second child to appear, I’m reminding myself even more of the compassionate principles Mindfulness endorses. 

I’m facing all the worries and anxieties I may have about the forthcoming birth and life afterwards. And by doing so I’m recognising and honouring my own needs, giving myself a voice and essentially being my own best friend. 

Which is what I reckon mindfulness has been trying to get us to be all along – kinder to ourselves. 

So essentially, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have the ‘time’ to disappear and be mindful formally. Instead, I’m practising ways of making my life a more centred, calmer and grounded one simply by living with awareness. 

Watching my thoughts and checking in with how I’m feeling from time to time are the two mindful practices that have transformed my life as a parent. I can choose my thoughts more carefully and live in a way that’s kinder to me. 

And if I’m happy and centred, those around me are more likely to be too. So mindfulness is not just a gift for myself. It’s power of presence is a gift for my family also. 

So single or attached, with children or without, I know from experience that mindfulness really is for anyone. 

The novelty of sign language…

As someone who works in signed song – that is, performing songs in sign language – my first priority is always the comprehension of the signs. I take the responsibility of making lyrics accessible verrrrry seriously. 

That doesn’t mean they have to look uninteresting, however. Oh no. One of the most beautiful aspects of working with sign language is how creative you can be with it, producing visual pictures and emotive shapes that convey what written lyrics express. 

To be understood and to also inspire is what I aspire to do with every signed song performance. 

So imagine my disappointment when a well known mainstream band decided to employ sign singers (or deaf actors as they call them) for a live performance… I eagerly got in touch and received an email indicating that for the audition video we should not “mouth the words at all…” 

They requested an an ’emotive signed performance’ without any lip pattern, something I find highly unnatural as a sign language user. Who signs with their mouth completely shut?! Several words share the same sign too so by eliminating the lip pattern we can’t clarify which word we mean… How on earth is that accessible signing? 

They sent me a link to a video they’d already produced with a signer performing with absolutely no lip pattern at all. There are also no captions. So the actual content of the song is lost. It’s just a pretty straight faced lady signing randomly. 

This isn’t the first time this has happened and I can empathise with the deaf artist who may have felt she had no choice but to follow the direction. I’ve also worked on videos where the director has asked for things from the sign language “make this one bigger” or “do this one slowly”  and despite my attempts to explain why the original sign should be kept simple I’ve been reminded that I’m only the signer after all; the director has full artistic control. 

The saddest thing about working in this way is that not only are deaf artists giving up their language, they are handing it over to people who don’t know much about it at all; effectively turning the sign singer into nothing but a puppet. 

“Sign this way” “don’t use your mouth” “exaggerate the signs” – all of this direction to make a piece of ‘art’ is taking away what sign language really is. A language. 

By breaking it up and playing around with its delivery, we are taking away its power to communicate clearly and comprehensively. Sign language IS beautiful already. Let’s not allow it to be turned into a novelty by those who don’t understand its content. 

We need more videos made by either deaf directors or directors with an understanding and knowledge of sign. We need to take back the reins when it comes to signed song performances and remember who we are signing for; the sign language users. If they can’t understand us, what truly is the point? 

So it goes without saying that I shan’t be signing up to do this particular job. Sign language is not a novelty or something to be in awe of. I refuse to take it apart all for the sake of having a visual impact. And ultimately, I am most definitely, definitely not a puppet.