Let’s start off by…what’s today?
And we can also introduce ourselves. So my name is Jill and I’m one of the interns at SPACE on Ryder Farm.
My name is Eli and I am one of the writers at SPACE on Ryder Farm.
Where are you from, Eli?
I’m from Winnebago, Illinois, which is a small rural farm town in Northern Illinois. I went to high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, and then I went to acting conservatory in New Jersey, at Rutgers.
No way! I really considered applying there.
It was really great. Really challenging.
What are you working on here at SPACE?
I am writing a book for children/young adults specifically dealing with and told from the perspective of a little girl who wears hearing aids, like I do. I wear hearing aids in both my ears. I work at a startup. Basically, hearing aids aren’t covered by insurance and they cost three thousand dollars for one.
Yeah, and there’s no real reason. They’re considered cosmetic. In some cases. Like private insurance.
That makes absolutely no sense.
Yeah, so this company that I work for, they’re working to lower the cost by selling them online and cutting out the middle man. While working for them, I did some blogging, and I became a lot more informed about hearing loss culture than I was before. I read all of these horrible stories about people who grew up with hearing aids and refused to wear them, and they’d fall behind in school because they couldn’t hear.
They refused to wear them because of a self-conscious thing?
Yeah. They didn’t like the way they looked. So, they couldn’t hear, so they didn’t have a lot of friends and they didn’t do well in school… Some of these stories were really, really sad. Like some of these people, it took them many, many years to turn their lives around. It was so shocking to me because I grew up pretty much thinking I was cooler than everyone else because I wore hearing aids. I never felt self-conscious.
You had the complete opposite experience?
I thought I was some superior being because I had hearing aids, and it made me different and unique. I knew that that was a cool thing, or would be eventually. And I wanted to combine my love of writing and that topic.
Where have you found is your best place to work here?
That’s the best place to be.
I tried working down in the living room for a while and then I tried the corn crib. And then the second day, I just accepted it. And that’s worked really well for me, so it’s good. I’m just really introverted and writing in front of people, I get self-conscious. In my room, I can be totally relaxed and totally private, and I really like that.
How’d you make the decision to write a children’s book? Had you been writing things beforehand? Is this one of your first writing endeavors?
Yeah, this is one of my first writing endeavors. I’ve always written in journals. Poems and those sorts of things. But like a lot of millennials, I just wasn’t getting a lot of traction. Also, I grew up in such a rural place. That’s where I’m most comfortable. I decided to look for residencies where I could sit and write in places like this, and be out of the city in a place where I feel most comfortable and also have a project and accomplish it and have it be something that I care about.
Have you gotten a lot done here?
I have! A lot, a lot.
Do you create a timeline for yourself?
Initially, I was like, oh! I’ll finish this up here and then I’ll send it to my illustrator and it’ll be done by the end of the summer. Now, it’s sort of expanded. It’s become a little bigger and longer than I thought. So, I need to figure out how that works with the timeline now.
How long do you think it’ll be?
I don’t know. I can almost see it turning into an almost young-adult novel sort of thing.
It’s morphing into something entirely different.
Yeah, it might be or it might…someone suggested maybe just two different projects, so I don’t know. It’s still in the early stages, I guess. I’m finding it’s harder to be like, “This is what I’m going to write and this is the genre and this is the audience…”
How do you even approach writing a children’s book?
Well, that’s a really good question. Because that’s the question: what makes a children’s book a children’s book and not something else? What topics are appropriate and where are those boundaries? I’m figuring all that out.
You were talking about how when you were growing up and had a hearing aid, you thought it was really cool. How did other people react?
I think I set the tone for it. There was one guy in first grade who called me “hearing aid girl.” And I was like, “That’s not really a creative insult.” I was not very impressed by his attempts to bully me. But I think I kind of was like, “Oh, I should be upset by this.”
I went home, and I told my mom. I said, “He called me hearing aid girl!”
And she said, “Well, are you?”
And I was like, “Well, uh, yeah.”
And she was like, “Okay. So?”
And I was like, “Yeah. Okay.”
From there on, I don’t think it really bothered me. But I think generally, most people don’t know until I tell them because I have long hair, so you can’t even see. I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing having a disability. There’s a great disability advocate named Stella Young who passed away last December. Her big thing is, “I’m not a hero for getting out of bed.” She was like, “The way people talk about disability, it’s so condescending. I go to the grocery store and people are like, applauding me.” And that’s just ridiculous. I’m just like you guys. There are people along the way who have tried to champion me in a way that sometimes feels uncomfortable. But, by and large, no one’s ever been really negative about it.
Though my kindergarten teachers kind of sucked. They were like, “She doesn’t listen.” My mom was like, “She can’t hear.”
So your hope with the children’s book is to make people feel the way you did growing up?
Yeah. There’s another great children’s book out right now about hearing aids called El Deafo, which is really, really cute. It’s about a rabbit. And I think the difference between my book and that book is…something I want to explore is living between two worlds. Because when I take out my hearing aids, I don’t hear, at all. I can hear very few things. But when I put them on, I can hear, again.
When do you take them off?
I take them off when I go to bed. When I swim…shower. The two worlds are so starkly different. I think, for a lot of kids, living in between those two things can be difficult to understand. Like, I was always afraid to take my hearing aids out at night, because I wouldn’t be able to hear if, like, a burglar came. I was always terrified. So I had the reverse thing. I was always afraid of taking them out. Now, it’s just about being comfortable with and without them and accepting that it’s just a different way of experiencing the world. Having them out. Being “deaf.” There’s nothing wrong with that, either. And if you’re not disadvantaged, then you don’t have to be afraid. It’s just a different world. You’re gonna focus on different things. You’re gonna focus on the way people look at you instead of what they say. So, that’s something I would say is a goal, if I were to speak about goals.
If you were to be reincarnated as a farm animal, what farm animal would you be reincarnated as?
Uh…a retired polo horse. They’re so beautiful. Yeah, I think a horse. Or a cat.
Have you seen Porch?
You haven’t seen the cat!? Actually, I haven’t seen him recently. He’s usually everywhere. He’s an orange cat that just kind of roams around.
Well, I think if I was going to be any animal, ever, I would be a monkey.
Why a monkey?
I feel like, if I were an animal, that would be the one that has…my essence I guess?
Interviewed by Jill Carrera