Was I ever relieved and happy to find the East Bonner County Public Library in Sandpoint, a little over two and a half years ago. Little did I know, it would change my life.

I was living in a tent in Sagle with no plumbing and no water while hurrying to build a tiny house before the cold came. People told me to hurry because cold came quickly. I met many people who homesteaded, starting in a tent, becoming construction workers or farmers, but at a young age. My new career as construction worker and tent dweller began at age 62!

I have never been so dirty in my life. At the end of some days, I am sure I was more Idaho dirt than Susan. Sometimes I had to connect with the greater world to look up where I was or county regulations or find a service, but sometimes, I went to the library for their internet because I needed to contact the outside world, folks from my past lives to remember who I was before living in a tent. And, sometimes I needed a book for company in my tent, even though I was exhausted at the end of the day.

One day at the library, one of my old lives met my new life when a librarian, our very own smiling Annette, appeared by my computer and asked if I knew American Sign Language (ASL). She had noticed me signing to someone who I thought might be Deaf (he wasn't so I had scurried back to the computer). I said "yes" which, many of you already know, really animates Annette. I think I heard some cogs whirling between her ears. She, with her delightful charms (just in case, she adds pizza and chocolate, on a regular basis) had me teaching ASL (hopefully as regularly as I consumed the pizza and chocolate). And now, Annette has charmed me into introducing myself, so you all can attach a story or two to my name.

hands connecting


I had a strange and eventful early life, full of tragedy, comedy, and a weird family which I will tell you all about, in my memoir, published after I die. Here, I will start at age 17 when I was hit by a catering truck while riding my bicycle to high school in Los Angeles. The resulting concussion led me to be excused from all my classes, but the school wouldn't let me graduate. While my bruised brain was healing, I had the intense pain of boredom that teenagers exude so well.

Only one mile away was a state university, so I pranced over there and pretended I was a college student, bouncing in and out of classes, hearing all kinds of exciting new ideas and glimpsing worlds I never knew existed. One day, I walked into a drama class, called visual poetry. The professor was signing to almost half of the class of Deaf students, and there was an interpreter voicing for the hearing half. I was memorized. I was in love. I was hooked. I continued to attend, joined a volunteer drama group that the Deaf students started, and my life veered off into an unimagined direction.

sign language 40466 640
photo: pixaby.com

I became a sign language interpreter for a short time and taught sign language which was the only name it had in the seventies. You could say that I'm so old that I learned to sign before American Sign Language had a name. Or you could see how recently signed languages have been acknowledged as equal to spoken languages. In fact, after the name ASL, and into the present, unfortunately, equality is still elusive. The majority of doctors, teachers and parents still forbid deaf children to learn visual language. I quit interpreting, after meeting a man who was 27 and had no language because he had been born profoundly deaf, and was never exposed to a visual language.

opposite directions sign
photo: pxhere.com

Meeting him and introducing him to language changed my life even more than a car accident. I wrote the story of his journey to language as an adult in A Man Without Words. That book changed my life again, ... and again. In a tangled knot of incidents, that book and a storytelling project about how we all change each other's life led me to a traveling hobo life which led me to putting on a play of the book in North Carolina. Life, being a tangled knot of unlikely incidents and connections, led me to Sandpoint. Although northwest Idaho doesn't appear to be directly linked to Boone, northwest North Carolina, we all know the pitfalls of appearances, known in library circles as the perpetual failure of book covers to communicate book innards.

Blog posts are also limited communication conduits, so high tail it to the library where treasures abound.  Feast on the many and varied offerings, but beware. In addition to expanding your heart and mind through library goodies, saying "yes" to a librarian can change your schedule, your life, and add more pizza and chocolate to your diet.

Susan Schaller, Volunteer ASL teacher, ESL tutor and Library Garden assistant

Susan signing "deaf power"
Photo Credit: Richard Whitaker - conversations.org

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