Are you speaking?

Another hectic month of academic juggling, teaching, grant reviews, grant writing, manuscript reviews and handling, manuscript writing and submission, handling the affairs of the departmental graduate committee and concerns of incoming students, college wide graduate council (in which I was tagged to head a subcommittee looking into enhancing student recruitment) and on and on and on. But in addition to this hefty mission, I find myself delivering a lot of seminars. In short, speaking a lot.

Perhaps I should talk less and listen more? My all-time favorite singer/songwriter/poet, Joni Mitchell, put it aptly in her song “Talk To Me,” with the following poetic lyrics:

There was a moon and a street lamp
I didn’t know I drank such a lot
‘Till I pissed a tequila-anaconda
The full length of the parking lot!
Oh, I talk too loose
Again I talk too open and free
I pay a high price for my open talking
Like you do for your silent mystery…

Do I talk too much? Probably. But this idea of a lot of speaking brought back a rather vivid and funny repressed memory from the first week of my arrival in the US almost 14 years ago.

My partner, my 3-month old daughter and 12 year old dog arrived at Washington’s National Airport with 6 huge suitcases/duffel bags–little did we know that we would essentially never bring the rest of our (un)worldly possessions from Israel. More than most refugees, renegades or immigrants, we were fortunate enough to be met by a welcoming committee: my father and his wife, who came specifically to help us get settled in our new environs.

Fast forward. Apartment rented, car purchased. My father, coming from Canada had a medical meeting lined up in Washington. He often attends such meetings to keep up in his field, and in some cases may benefit from small tax breaks. Where was the meeting? Gallaudet University, which happens to be a world leader in liberal education and career development for deaf and hard of hearing students in eastern DC. Not a particularly pretty area of the city, and we were followed for several blocks by some mean-looking guys who eventually caught up with us, but left us alone when they realized we weren’t who they were looking for. Now that was a relief!

Eventually we made it to the campus, and navigated our way over to the registration area so my father could sign in and get the exact meeting schedule. As he was beginning to fill out some forms, the woman behind the desk said to him, “Are you speaking?”

My father, somewhat taken aback at the thought of presenting, said “No!”

The woman smiled at him and proceeded to give him the rest of the information about registration in a flurry of hand motions that, of course, were sign language!

So next time I complain about speaking too much, I need to recall that it’s better than not at all. After all, my signing is more than just a little rusty.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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