Elsa, Helen Keller, Seattle discussed on The Experiment

The Experiment
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Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Elsa says that the ghost of Helen Keller has messed with her life in such tangible, real ways that it's affected how her life has played out. And she's come to see that it's not just her life, but all of our lives. Our brains that are haunted by Helen Keller in a pretty surprising and insidious way. So allow me to just take you back to where the haunting all began for Elsa. Yeah. Okay, so we're going, we're going to the mid 90s Seattle, nirvana's on the air. Elsa, little Elsa is on the she's on the floor in her third grade classroom. Sitting next to her classmates. I had giant Coke bottle glasses, like the 1990s were not kind to low vision children. And her teacher pulls out a picture book about Helen Keller. I distinctly remember seeing the illustration that sort of everybody sees, which is where she's standing there with her hand underneath the faucet that the pump, signing the word water into any Sullivan's hand and like, I just sort of remember being like, well, I know I can't see and I can't really hear that well, but this isn't me. She said she knew, of course, that she had some trouble seeing. I ran into things a lot. And some trouble hearing, which became particularly apparent during verbal spelling tests. The words that I was hearing my classmates say weren't the words that I was supposed to be writing down. Oh, so like they'd say fly and you'd spell sigh or something. Yeah. But whenever someone would compare her to Helen Keller, which she said happened a lot. It was always, but I'm not like that. And I think that's because I was always told, like, but you're not really blind, but you're not really. Like, Elsa says her family had always told her that there was nothing really different about her. You know, your glasses are just a little thicker than other kids. The hearing aids were just, you know, to help me a little bit. And so I consistently would try things that were probably not a good idea, but things like downhill skiing. Horseback riding. Oh, you're moving. Or, oh, I'm looking at the screen. You've got an awesome sword. Yeah, this is an early 20th century German dress sword. That's so cool. I have been fencing since I was 9. How does how does that work? Wouldn't it be scary if you can't really see the swords and things? Fencing is actually not about seeing a sword. You're dealing with the fact that you actually can feel tension in somebody else's blade. I see. Okay. Yeah, so anyway, Elsa is a kid was doing all this really rad stuff, including the everyday adventures that any kid has in childhood like. Climbing trees. There was this one tree in Ravenna park in Seattle. It's enormous. Because of how big this tree was, a lot of light didn't filter through, so it was kind of a dark Heidi place. And I remember being able to sort of use one spot to kind of lift myself up. She knew this tree really well and knew every branch. There was sort of a sloping tree bit. And she would just go higher. And I remember it was a lot of lighting and higher, more like whole body contact with the tree. And eventually I could get all the way up to the top of the tree. How did you feel there? I felt safe there. So I felt like an escape. So one day I was up in the tree and then the sky opened. There was a huge rainstorm. The tree had changed the environment of the tree had changed. What if I slept and now I can't figure out how to grab onto a different spot? And it was kind of like, well, how do I get down safely? And suddenly she got lost. But the texture of the tree had changed, and everything about how I interact with my space is about texture. She did feel like she knew the world, but then you add rain, and then she suddenly lost in this tree. She knows so well. I literally couldn't get out of the tree. There were things that I definitely didn't know the limits of until they sort of smacked me in the face. She said her childhood was scattered with moments like these. Moments, no one else could really relate to. Moments where she wished there was someone who got it. And she said this sense of frustration and loneliness with those frustrations really came to a head when her family moved to New York City. When she was in the 9th grade. In Seattle, my family drove with me to school. Right in the or if I was getting up every morning at 6 45 and getting on the subway. I would just stare at the ground. 'cause otherwise I would trip and fall. And so one morning, it's taking forever for her to get to school. Like with stairs, I would stop at each step and shuffle my feet out and then I would take a step down. And she arrives late to her classroom. My English teacher stopped me at the door and she was like, Elsa, I'd like to talk to you for a second about your classmates essay. He wrote his essay about you and how he admires you and I would like him to read it out loud in front of the class this morning. And I was like, what? She says okay. Goes and takes her seat. And he stands up in front of her class and reads his essay in the first line of the essay as I admire Elsa because she's like Helen Keller. And I just wanted to like think several thousand feet below the surface of the earth. Why? I mean, I think I would have been embarrassed, like, why are you making a big deal of me doing things that everybody else does? Like everybody else goes on the subway. Everybody else goes up and down the stairs at school. And why do you admire me for doing them? Did you again have the and I'm nothing like her? Was there also that part of it? He's wrong. I think it was even more like, oh, maybe I am a little bit like her. Like, I think it might have been the first time I started to realize that there could be something. And for Elsa that thought was terrifying. Because when she thought about what became of Helen Keller as an adult, she lived with a her teacher and her teacher's husband. Because I just supposed to live with my parents and my grandparents, like what was I supposed to do? The images Elsa had of Helen Keller's adult life. Painted a kind of nightmare for her. There was Helen Keller wearing pearls and smiling. Holding a flower. There she was holding a book. There she was. Holding hands Sullivan's hand, sitting on Anne Sullivan's lap. As the grown-up slowly growing grayer and grayer. It seems through the photos. Her smile, getting wider and wider. She just becomes more and more of this very like, stayed artifact. Would you want to be compared to somebody who's entire.

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