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“The Deaf Guy”

Let’s talk about labels, shall we? You know, those quaint little terms people give to one another to justify demonization and dehumanization? Yeah, those things. Whether it’s third-grade bullies on the playground harassing the kid who’s a little different, or the former leader of the free world calling immigrants “drug dealers, criminals and rapists” in order to justify kidnapping children and placing them in cages, all of it really comes from the same dark place.

Humans have a disturbing capacity to attack those who are different. “Otherism” serves this purpose well and has been used to justify the most heinous acts in human history. It’s a power-trip, one-upmanship to the extreme. You want to control an individual or a group of people? Stick a label on them, preferably an unsavory one that dehumanizes them, and suddenly you have the power to destroy them because they are outsiders, interlopers, outcasts, others.

Religion and politics have a rich history of otherism and persecution of those who don’t belong to their specific ideologies. It’s been said that more people have died in the name of some god or other than for any other reason in history. Whether this is accurate or not is beside the point; a look around the world throughout mankind’s infestation of this planet shows that history is rife with persecution, torture and murder of those who don’t adhere to a particular religious system, no matter what system it may be. As for politics, we need only look at our own two-party system here in the U.S., where the party which is hell-bent on destroying democracy considers the other party a cabal of satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles and uses this dangerous and ridiculous cult conspiracy theory to justify its attempts to overturn our elections and overthrow our government, not to mention its constant dehumanization and labeling of marginalized groups such as immigrants, LGBTQ+, people of color, the elderly, disabled and poor and anyone else who is “different.” Again, a glance at history will show atrocities committed against others as a central thread of human evolution.

What does this have to do with a deaf blog, you may ask? A lot, actually (and thanks for asking).

I’ve been labeled for various reasons throughout my life. I was born and raised in a particular western U.S. state notorious for being dominated by one particular religious system. I don’t belong to that particular religious system, so there was plenty of discrimination during my school years. It was made clear to me early on that I was an outcast, a pariah, and would forever be an outsider unless I became “one of them” and ceased to be “one of the others.” Academically, athletically and socially, there was discrimination. I even had a “pet bully” who delighted in terrorizing me for years for no apparent reason. I was simply “the non-mormon kid.” I was also “the out-of-town farm kid,” which further disqualified me from any semblance of equality and inclusion in that tight little wad of happy humanity at school. My home life wasn’t much better– I was simply invisible.

Labels are sticky things, hard to peel off once applied, and when you find yourself covered in them, sometimes you begin to believe them. You become overly sensitive to them, and yet desensitized to them at the same time—a strange paradox. Some labels contain a kernel of truth but are applied in such a way as to exaggerate that truth into something monstrous. This is especially painful with regards to physical traits and can haunt these victims for life. Some may be a nod to some personality trait or other quirk and may seem humorous to some. I was “the brain” in school due to my academic efforts (trying to fit in, an exercise in futility). At home I was “the disrespectful kid” for standing up to my abusive father. At various other times I held other odd titles, some of which were sort of funny and others which weren’t funny at all.

Many years ago, I had a part-time job cleaning toilets and mopping floors (there are not a lot of options in rural areas for deaf people). I was known as “the janitor guy.” Of all the people who worked there, only one person ever took the time to learn my name. Otherwise, it was “Hey, Janitor Guy! Come clean up this mess!” The thing with labels is they’re lazy. It takes zero effort to make up some cute little moniker for someone in order to lop that person into some anonymous group of others, but it takes effort to see that person as a unique human being. To everyone in that store (except Arnie—thanks, man), I was just “the janitor guy,” a sub-species of Earth organism not worthy of attention or inclusion. Sure, I cleaned toilets, but that didn’t define me as a person. It was only something I did for awhile and had no bearing on my humanity and my place in the cosmos.

And now I’m “the deaf guy.”

Again, there’s a kernel of truth here (heck, there’s an entire cob’s worth of kernels), but this label bothers me on a particularly deep level. You see, I don’t want to be deaf. Deafness has taken too much away from me for me to harbor any warm, fuzzy feelings about it. It’s not a cute label (like being “the Star Wars fanatic” as a teen), and it’s certainly not something I cherish (unlike “brother” or “friend” or “uncle”). This label just cuts too deeply and has produced too many scars.

Whenever I interact with anyone, the first thing I must explain is that I’m deaf. This immediately creates the scenario of “Hearing Person and Deaf Guy: A Study in Frustration, Confusion and Humiliation.” Right off the bat, I’ve become the deaf guy, and this is how everyone who interacts with me remembers me. It’s inescapable and there’s no way around it and it forces me into that group of nameless others who reside along the periphery of normal human experience.

Man: “Honey, guess what I saw in the store today? A deaf guy!”

Woman: “A deaf guy? Oh! Was he deaf?”

Man: “Yes!”

Woman: “Was he confused?”

Man: “Yes!”

Woman: “Was he embarrassed?”

Man: “Yes. He was deaf, after all!”

(cue canned laughter and sitcom music as scene fades to commercial)

Obviously, I joke about this stuff (if I didn’t have a sense of humor, I don’t know how I could ever possibly cope with deafness or depression or anything else) but it’s to prove a point: the hearing and the deaf live in completely different worlds. For someone such as myself, who experienced late-onset adult deafness due to meningitis as a teen, I’m not only “the deaf guy,” I’m also a member of the sub-group of others called “the in-betweeners.” I’m too deaf to fit into the hearing world, but not deaf enough to fit into the Deaf world.

I have severe hearing loss in both ears. I lip-read but it’s all guesswork and I miss a lot of words to the point where I must rely on people writing or typing what they say in order to understand. I can still hear some sounds. I don’t know sign language, and even if I did, I don’t know anyone who’s deaf or hard-of-hearing or who knows ASL. So, yeah, I’m one of the “too something but not something enough” subgroup of others. I remember my normal hearing days and miss them. I know a little about Deaf culture (something I’ll write about soon) and there is virtually nothing in my rural area in terms of deaf support services or groups. I view my deafness as a disability, something that runs counter to the view of many Deaf folks. Perhaps if I’d been born deaf or lost my hearing as a young child, I’d be more inclined to embrace it as an identity rather than a disability. As it stands now, deafness has robbed me of my life’s dream of becoming a musician; it has resulted in isolation and the inability to relate to other people; it has damaged my sense of self and has resulted in a lot of pain and loneliness. I can’t view that as a good thing no matter how hard I try.

Alas, I have to accept it at some point. It’s the only way to achieving peace within myself. I don’t want to be the deaf guy forever. I want to be Mike, a guy who has value as a human being, who just happens to be deaf. No more labels. Just truth.

“Hana no Niwa” published at MasticadoresIndia

I’m happy and humbled to announce that my poem “Hana no Niwa” has been published at MasticadoresIndia. Much gratitude goes to Terveen Gill and her staff for their kindness and support in accepting my poem for publication. Terveen’s unwavering encouragement is a wonderful inspiration, and I’m honored to have my poetry included at MasticadoresIndia. Many thanks, Terveen!

“Hana no Niwa”

In the restless nights
In the small flower garden
Spider lilies weep
Mournful beneath midnight moon
Dreaming higanbana dreams

They cry in silence
Do they know for whom they grieve
Do they remember
It was you who planted them
It was you who gave them life…”

I’d be grateful if you would check out the rest of my poem by following this link. Also, be sure to follow/subscribe to MasticadoresIndia—it’s a wonderful place for those who love writing.


“Shinrin-yoku” published at MasticadoresIndia

I’m pleased and honored to announce that my poem “Shinrin-yoku” has been published at MasticadoresIndia. Many thanks to Terveen Gill and her staff for their kindness and support in accepting my poem for publication. Terveen’s wonderful encouragement knows no bounds, and I’m delighted to have my poetry included at MasticadoresIndia. Thanks so much, Terveen!

“Shinrin-yoku”

I have bathed in forest’s em’rald essence
I have nestled, secreted away, in
Jade konara copse
I have placed my palms
Soft upon the scabrous skin of giants
Whose slowly beating hearts have shattered stone
Whose deeply delving fingers grip the earth
In lover’s embrace
Eternity is far too brief a time
For such a love as this, for such a love
Trees have for the earth
I have for the trees…

I’d be grateful if you would check out the rest of my poem by following this link. Also, be sure to follow/subscribe to MasticadoresIndia—it’s a wonderful place for those who love writing.

“A Few Haiku (46)”

(c) 2022 by Michael L. Utley

(#271)

blurred images and
a smudge of words on a page
is this all I am

…..

(#272)

puddle of cold wax
where my candle burned out
waiting for the light

…..

(#273)

thirty-six hours
between my tears and your death
a lifetime since then

…..

(#274)

fallow fields, dry ponds
fences in disrepair
long-dead memories

…..

(#275)

hope stretched thin and taut
across brittle bones of time
a dry husk of life

…..

(#276)

sorrow’s bedrock or
hope’s aquifer; either way
naught left but to dig

“It’s Not Lost” chosen for collaborative Poetry Partners project at The Skeptic’s Kaddish

I’m pleased and honored to let you know my poem “It’s Not Lost” has been chosen for a Poetry Partners collaboration on The Skeptic’s Kaddish website. Many thanks to David Bogomolny for including my poem in his collaborative project. Please check out David’s blog to read the collaboration here. David is a prolific and amazingly talented poet whose work I admire, and I’m sure you will, too. Thanks, David! 🙂

“You There”

“You There”
(c) 2022 by Michael L. Utley

I can only bleed so much
but it’s never enough
to satisfy you, is it
nevermind my shattered soul
and flesh flayed wide
no secrets left
no shadowed clefts
to hide what’s left of me
just the cold glare of reality
and the medicinal stench
of silent eternity

you there
who wields the hammer
of sanity
whose blood-caked hands
crush worlds
whose vacuous eyes
speak of
distant crimson suns
and blue corpse-light
you there
who rends flesh from bone
blackens sun and moon
you there
whose wretched grin
devours universes
vaporizes souls

you there

what is it you want from me

my essence torn
cell from cell
bones a useless armature
not even a sigh left
in my lungs
all that remains is my mind
and that’s what you want
isn’t it

I have known you
all my life
your honeyed lies
and soothing growls
drain existence of
hue and humor
your breath upon my neck
fetid and abominable
your raging roars
shake my skull numb

but you shall not have
my quicksilver trees
and lavender skies
my sickle moon dozing
above autumn wheat fields
my green silence
in konara copses
my humming leas
of flea bane and lupine
and forest-carpet ferns
these are mine
forever

you there

you will destroy me
in the end
but my world
will live on
free of your rage and
blight and bluster
and that is
all that matters

“Koto no Yume” published at MasticadoresIndia

I’m honored and humbled to share with you that my poem “Koto no Yume” has been published at MasticadoresIndia. This is the fulfillment of a life-long dream for me—to be a published writer—and I’m deeply grateful to Terveen Gill for her unwavering support and encouragement. Thank you, Terveen, and everyone at MasticadoresIndia, for your kindness in making this happen.

“Koto no Yume”

In dreamland forests of my soul I hear
What deafened ears in waking cannot know
A yearning in konara groves
That lilts in silent soft-edged shadows calls

The stream conversing with the hart has hushed
Its liquid-silver voice now mute…

I’d be delighted if you would check out the rest of my poem here. Also, be sure to follow/subscribe to MasticadoresIndia–it’s a wonderful place for those who love writing.

“A Few Haiku (45)”

(c) Michael L. Utley

(#265)

scrub my memories
hang them on the line to dry
before the storm comes

…..

(#266)

summer thunderheads
the past tears a swath across
the plains of my soul

…..

(#267)

post-rain gloaming
ghost-light from an unseen sun
sorrow’s harbinger

…..

(#268)

in this endless night
even eternity flees
from my broken soul

…..

(#269)

sepulchral silence
as the stars spin overhead
in the dead of night

…..

(#270)

when my soul awakes
will I see the dawn of hope
or hope’s dying light

“Big Indian Rock”

Big Indian Rock, Lisbon Valley, SE Utah (c) Mike Utley

I was raised on a farm about an hour from Lisbon Valley in southeast Utah. It’s an out-of-the-way place of red rock formations and sage-sprinkled canyons used for cattle grazing and open-pit copper mining (and yes, both activities have damaged the land considerably). I photographed this scene one summer evening in the late-1990s as the sun slanted toward the horizon and shadows encroached upon Big Indian Rock (upper left). I was intrigued by the strong diagonal slope my vantage point provided, as well as the bold blocks of color. It was a contrasting scene due to the brightly lit rock formations and the shadows, and because I was using slide film (which has a significantly narrower exposure latitude than negative film), I was unsure if I could render the scene properly exposed and still capture shadow details. The motto for photographers who use slide film is “Expose for the highlights and let the shadows fall where they may.” My goal here was to focus on composition and color, so I decided against using a graduated neutral density filter, which would have created more balance between the highlights and shadows. I thought that allowing the shadows to block-up a bit simplified the image and helped it adhere to my philosophy of quiet contemplation in nature. Busy photographs are chaotic and cause tension, and I sought peace and stillness here, so the fewer distractions, the better. There is still detail in the shadows, but not enough to distract from the tranquil feeling these rocks convey. I like the composition here, with the two rock formations standing near diagonal power-points in the scene against the brilliant blue sky and dark shadows. The rocks glow with the warm tones of the lowering sun and contrast well against the cool blue and black hues. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

“A Few Haiku (44)”

(c) 2022 by Michael L. Utley

(#259)

fallow fields
granary of memories
not fit for planting

…..

(#260)

mackerel scale clouds
and silver shark fin moon
eventide rolls in

…..

(#261)

cool moist predawn air
condensation in my heart
stillness in my soul

…..

(#262)

evening rain
I break bread alone
in the dim stillness

…..

(#263)

memory garden
I hoe every living thing
just to kill the weeds

…..

(#264)

summer zephyrs sail
the green grain ocean
wheat waves

“Peaks & Waterfall at Sunset”

Peaks & Waterfall at Sunset, Glacier National Park, Montana (c) Mike Utley

Mount Oberlin and Cannon Mountain can be found along the Going-to-the-Sun Road which traverses Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, Montana. These two peaks cradle the remnants of an old glacier that feeds Bird Woman Falls, visible between the two peaks. In this 1996 image, I was on a very rushed one-day tour of the park with a friend when we spotted this sunset scene. I had no way to compose the image with a strong foreground object as I would have preferred as I was on the opposite side of the steep valley from the peaks, so I utilized the two trees seen here to act as a sort of framing device and to divide the image into thirds to create a more pleasing shot in my mind. The fact that one tree is dead and the other thriving was incidental to my decision to include them, but they do provide a contemplative aspect to the image, especially how the waterfall seems to feed the living tree on the right, while the dead tree on the left signifies day’s end as it contrasts with Mount Oberlin’s brightly gilded face bathed in the dying day’s last light. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50).