Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Josh Swiller (page 2)
 Talking with
Josh Swiller
page 1
page 2
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page 4

 
Where do you live now and what do you do for a living?

I live in Cold Spring, NY, about 90 minutes north of New York City. I’ve been a social worker for a couple years. I started in 2004, a year after I completely lost the rest of my hearing – I gave up speech and communicated in sign language and worked at a school for the deaf in Queens, counseling students and coaching the basketball team. After having surgery for a cochlear implant in 2005 and then acclimating to it, for the last year I’ve worked as a hospice social worker in Brooklyn. It is immensely rewarding, wonderful work.

Do you see yourself as a writer or was this just the one story that you had to tell?

Well, I plan for this book to be a springboard to other ones. I’ve been living an off-the-margins life for years, bouncing around the globe, living at a Zen center, spending a year as a forest ranger, working as a carpenter in rural Georgia and in Manhattan, plastering the apartments of David Bowie, Edie Falco and the like. I spent three years making and selling sheepskin slippers up and down the East Coast. I spent two years living completely in the deaf community, unable to hear at all. Through it all I never stopped writing. And now that I have my foot in the door, I plan on getting more of it out.
     First up is a non-fiction book about hospice. I’m really excited about it. I’m deeply interested, as a writer and a human being, in exploring spiritual insight and wisdom and our attitudes towards life and death. I hope I can do the subject justice.

The descriptions of your childhood intertwine moments of hilarity when you’re interacting with your siblings with sober reflections on how you felt increasingly isolated from the world. Do you think your family will be surprised by what they read here? Do you think your struggles reflect a common experience for young children who are deaf?

Well, my family won’t be surprised at my descriptions of sibling humor. To this day, my three brothers are the funniest people I know. And, if anything, they’d say I pulled my punches in my descriptions of childhood. Our house growing up was full of knock-down drag-out brawls and while I was prone to disappearing for long periods in quiet introspection and long books, I learned to really enjoy the scrums as well. They were a release and also, oddly enough, a connection, and they taught me to be fearless — but not, unfortunately, how to pick my battles.
     I wouldn’t say this full-contact coping style is common in deaf children, but I think that the emotional injury behind it is. Being a mainstreamed deaf child is a particular animal — you are constantly fighting your disability to navigate situations that are so effortless to everyone else, and so you begin to hate the disability and by extension, you begin to hate yourself. I’ve seen this internal struggle a lot with the deaf children I’ve counseled over the years, and it often takes them years to get past it. The gifts that disability bears are subtle and take time to mature.

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