McSweeney’s Audio Issue Plain Language Translation
By Kelsie Acton
This is a plain language translation of the whole Audio Issue. This means that it says the same things as the Audio Issue in ways that are easier to read. It can be read on its own or you can read it before or after reading or listening to the pieces in the issue. Andrew Leland talks in his introduction to the descriptive transcript about how some people really like things that are hard to read. This translation is for everyone who wants or needs something easy to read. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’re in pain. Maybe you’re neurodivergent, which means your brain works in ways the world isn’t set up for. Maybe you find reading difficult. If so, this translation is for you.
This issue of McSweeney’s is an experiment. This issue comes in a box full of papers and things. Each piece in the issue puts reading and listening together in different ways. The best way to enjoy this issue is to keep the website open as you read. This is so you can play the sound as you look through the box.
The only piece that doesn’t have both sound and writing is John Lee Clark’s Against Access. Often people make copies of art for deaf or blind people. Deaf people are people who don’t hear everything hearing people hear. Blind people are people who don’t see everything sighted people see. DeafBlind people are people who don’t hear and see everything hearing and sighted people hear and see. People make copies of art so a blind person can hear writing or a deaf person can see sound. But deaf and DeafBlind people often get copies of art that are boring. Or the copies of art make deaf and DeafBlind people sad because the copy reminds them that the world forgets deaf and DeafBlind people exist. John Lee Clark does not want deaf and DeafBlind people to feel that way. So John’s piece has no sound in it. It is just writing
Thinking about reading and listening makes me think about access. We wanted to make this issue of McSweeney’s as accessible as possible. This means we wanted people with disabilities to be able to enjoy every part of this issue. The website has sound and it also has writing. This writing is a descriptive transcript. This means there is writing about the things and papers in the box and writing about the sound and music on the website.
I’d like to thank Radiotopia. They were really important to making this issue happen. Thank you to Julie Shapiro and Audrey Mardavich. Please get started reading and listening!
Julie: Hello, I’m Julie Shapiro.
Audrey: And I’m Audrey Mardavich.
Julie: We work at Radiotopia. We’re really excited to work with McSweeney’s on their first sound issue.
Audrey: We’re both big fans of McSweeney’s.
Julie: McSweeney’s is about trying new things.
Audrey: Radiotopia is too.
Julie: We were excited to look at writing, story, sound, and accessibility.
Audrey: We got to work with people we really like, like Ian Chillag and Sharon Mashihi.
Julie: And Claire Boyle and Andrew Leland.
Audrey: We’re going to share some sounds. See if you can find them in the pieces!
[They play some sounds]
Julie: If you have headphones, wear them.
Audrey: Happy listening.
Julie: Happy reading.
Audrey: Happy feeling the things.
Julie: Happy looking at the art.
Audrey: Happy listening.
This piece is written by Andrew Leland. It is about the descriptive transcript for this issue. Andrew tells some stories to explain why McSweeney’s made the descriptive transcript.
What does accessible mean? Often it means how difficult writing is to read. Sometimes people like writing that is harder to read.
A few years ago, Andrew got an email from Kevin. Kevin emailed about a different meaning of accessibility. Kevin is blind. It is hard for Kevin to read McSweeney’s. To read McSweeney’s, Kevin has to make the words much bigger. Which is very difficult. Making the words bigger makes Kevin tired. An easier way for Kevin to read would be for him to listen. Kevin loves to touch the paper version of McSweeney’s. But he wished you could listen to McSweeney’s too.
Kevin’s email made Andrew think about accessibility for people with disabilities. People with disabilities have bodies and minds that work in ways that the world isn’t built for. It’s hard to live in a world that isn’t made for you. Access is making something for the way the bodies and minds of people with disabilities work. Andrew is also blind. So Andrew thinks about accessibility a lot. But Andrew hadn’t thought about the accessibility of McSweeney’s.
The people at McSweeney’s wondered if they could make an issue that you could touch, see, and listen to? An issue you could touch, see, and listen to would be an issue for everyone.
The people at McSweeney’s learned that people have to think about access when they start to make their art. This is the only way to make it really accessible. Andrew gives the example of The Vessel. The Vessel is a big piece of art in New York. The Vessel has a lot of stairs. The point of The Vessel is to go up stairs. The Vessel has an elevator. But it only goes to a small part of The Vessel. It is not the same thing as using the stairs that make up The Vessel. The people who made The Vessel didn’t care about people who can’t take the stairs. This hurts the feelings of people who don’t use stairs. It’s an example of bad access. Everyone at McSweeney’s wanted this issue to feel like good access. They want people with disabilities to feel like they are important and thought about.
This issue is about how sound and writing can affect each other. There are things to listen to, read, and touch. That’s why this issue has a descriptive transcript. The descriptive transcript has writing about the sounds and music in the issue. The descriptive transcript has writing about how the objects in the issue look. This is so you don’t have to see or hear to enjoy this issue. It also has plain language translations. Plain language is for people who don’t read hard writing. Plain language translations are versions of the writing that are simple and clear. The descriptive transcript was made by artists so every part of this issue would be beautiful.
Making art accessible doesn’t make it less good. It just means that everyone can see if they like the art.
These are eleven voicemail messages left for the people who work at McSweeney’s.
Voicemail One: A woman talks. She wants to forget something. She wants to remember other things. But she remembers what she wants to forget. She forgets what she wants to remember. She plays a voice memo. A voice memo is when you store sounds on your phone. It’s two people saying hello. The woman can’t remember making the voice memo. But she can’t forget that she made it.
Voicemail Two: A man tells someone that he is outside. He is moving his hand so someone will notice. He doesn’t know which door he should go to. He’ll keep moving his hand for a long time. He hopes this person sees him.
Voicemail Three: A man calls McSweeney’s to tell the people who work there that he is very upset about the ice cream truck. The ice cream truck keeps playing music. It only plays the Mister Softee song. There are six seconds of silence between the end of the song and when the song starts again. The man keeps hoping the silence will stay. But the music keeps starting again.
Voicemail Four: A woman says, “Hello. I don’t know what’s going on. What’s going on? What’s going on? What’s going on? Hello?”
Voicemail Five: A man calls someone he loves. He tells them that there have been a lot of fireworks. Fireworks explode with a loud noise. They make pretty colors and shapes in the sky. The fireworks made him think about the loud sounds. The loudest sound in history was when Krakatoa, a volcano, blew up. A volcano is a mountain that explodes. When Krakatoa blew up, the sea flooded an island. This means the sea covered the island. The dust in the air changed the color of the sunsets. The dust made the earth cold for years. The man thinks about this and dreams that the fireworks are the sound of the earth breaking. He misses the person he is calling. He loves them. He hopes they’re okay.
Voicemail Six: A woman sings. Then she says, “I hope you’re doing okay. I miss you bye!”
Voicemail Seven: David calls McSweeney’s. David works at a radio station. He has an email from Paragon Machinery Company Ltd. Paragon Machinery Company makes things that make other things smaller. They want David to talk about how great they are on his radio show. David is not usually interested in this. But today David invites Paragon Machinery Company to come on his radio show and talk about how great they are. Paragon Machinery Company sends an email saying they don’t want to talk to David. David is really confused. But David has a lot of other emails. David is going to talk to someone else he wouldn’t normally talk to. He will let everyone know what happens.
Voicemail Eight: Bianca calls to tell someone she will be late. Bianca is doing something she calls extreme sledding. Sledding is when you sit on something and slide down a snowy hill. Something happens to make Bianca shout, ‘bail!’ a lot. Then the message stops...
Voicemail Nine: There are some sounds and then the message stops.
Voicemail Ten: A person says, “I’m sorry I missed your call. I was sitting outside. Uhh. Talk to you later. Bye, bye”
Voicemail Eleven: Your phone calls you. Your phone wishes it could see you. It says it’s sorry for always bothering you. It wishes you would touch it and spend time with it. It wants to hang out on the couch for hours and hours. Your phone talks like your ex. It’s like you dated your phone and it wants to be together again.
This is a story about Dr. Janet Herman. It is told by Andy Slater. You will also listen to tapes Andy discovered. The tapes were made by Dr. Herman about her research. The tapes and the story are probably not real.
When Andy was a kid he thought he could hear ghosts. He would hear strange sounds. But the sounds stopped when he got a little older.
Then, Andy found out about Dr. Janet Herman. Dr. Herman was studying Blind people who would see things that couldn’t be explained. But some of the Blind people also heard things that couldn’t be explained. Dr. Herman was interested in the sounds that couldn’t be explained.
Dr. Herman thought some Blind people could hear the universe in a way other people couldn’t. Dr. Herman thought there are other worlds that exist close to our world. Some Blind people can hear these other worlds. Dr. Herman wanted to hear the sounds from other worlds too. She taped hours and hours in hopes of hearing these sounds. She heard nothing. The university she worked for thought she was wasting their time. She stopped doing this research.
Andy found out about Dr. Herman and went looking for her tapes. A librarian found the tapes for Andy. Andy was trying to make the sound on the tapes clearer when he heard the sounds Dr. Herman was looking for. The sounds were too high or too low for human hearing but Andy could change the tone of the sounds. Then Andy could hear the sounds Dr. Herman was looking for.
You can listen to the sounds of a session. Wendy F hears two women speaking in a language she doesn’t know and playing music. Charles S hears someone dancing on their hands on a wooden stage. Dani W hears someone writing a math problem on a chalkboard. The writing goes on forever. There are several other people recorded. All of them hear very strange sounds. You can also look at pictures of the people who heard the sounds.
You can look at a letter from some lawyers. The lawyers ask Dr. Herman to remove Wendy F from the study. Wendy F’s family is upset that she is telling them about the sounds she hears.
You can look at a letter from a tape company. It tells Dr. Herman that there are no sounds on the tapes that can’t be explained.
You can look at a letter from Dr. Herman. Dr. Herman quits working for the university because no one believes in her work.
You can look at a picture of a machine that Dr. Herman made. She made it to help people hear the sounds from other worlds.
This story is not real. It takes place in the future. People are starting to leave earth. People are starting to live in space. This story is about Ebony Devine. Ebony Devine is a performance artist. This means they do things to make people think. This story is told through news footage about Ebony Devine diving from the international space station to earth.
This story talks about racism. It talks about police killing young Black people because they are Black. It can be hard to read about racism. If you want to skip this story that’s okay.
Ebony Devine is the first person of color and the first non-binary person on the International Space Station. They feel like being on the space station and jumping off it is important. People are leaving Earth for space. Ebony will be in space and go back to Earth. Going back to Earth says that Earth is important and a good place to live. But Ebony is also scared and tired. Jumping off the space station is scary. Being the first person to do things makes Ebony tired. Ebony will dive in a special suit. They will go very fast and get very hot. But the suit will protect Ebony from space and from the heat. The suit will also record all of Ebony’s thoughts and feelings as they dive from space to Earth.
Ebony will land in a small pool in Santee Hills in Nevada. Some people in Santee Hills are excited about Ebony’s dive. Some people are upset. They don’t want news people and visitors coming to their town.
Ebony’s jump is being paid for by Roman Powers. The people on the news mention him a lot. The news people keep talking about the hashtag BackToEarth.
Ebony starts their jump. People type nonsense on the internet. There are many sounds and words. Maybe they are Ebony’s thoughts? There are words from the poem, Whitey on the Moon. Whitey on the Moon is a poem by Gill Scott-Heron about a Black family who can’t pay their bills. At the same time, the American government pays to be the first people to put a man on the moon. It is about America paying money for things white people think are important and thinking Black people don’t count. Ebony thinks the names Quarice Derrick Hayes, Curtis Jamal Deal, Darius Smith, Tamir E. Rice, Tafahree Maynard, and Kenny Watkins. All those names are the names of young people who are dead. The police killed all those young people because they were Black.
The people on the news come back. They talk about a contest. Roman Powers will give some people tickets to leave Earth and go to space. We don’t know if Ebony gets to Earth safely. We don’t know if Ebony going back to Earth will change anything.
This piece is about a toy catalog. A catalog is a book that lists things for sale. The toy catalog is from a company called KidzWorks! Toys. The toy catalog is full of very strange toys. The toy catalog is not real.
If you want to know about KidzWorks! Toys you should know about Greg. Greg started KidzWorks! Greg started making toys when he was a kid. His first toy was called Mommy 2. Mommy 2 was very sharp. So sharp that Mommy 2 was dangerous. Greg works in an office with 18 corners. Corners are where two sides of something come together. In Greg’s office there are 18 places where the walls come together.
If you want to send the toys you ordered back you can call 928-563-6257.
There is an ad for Squip the Doll Who is Alway Damp.
Squip is wet. Would you like a wet boy?
There is an ad for Corners the Talking Square. The person writing the catalog doesn’t know where this toy came from. Corners showed up in the toy factory one day. More keep showing up.
There is an ad for the Let’s Shave Family of Toys. There are three different sizes of razor. A razor has sharp blades to take the hair off people’s bodies.
There is an ad for What Happened to Beth? Maybe this toy is a board game? You have to find out what happened to Beth.
There is an ad for 2Blox. What can you make with just two blocks? A castle? A fire truck? Probably not, but why not try!
If you need to talk to someone about your toys please call 928-563-6257.
Gulp the Toy You Can Swallow. You can eat this toy!
An ad for Help! Help! is a board game. It’s about being lost on a desert island. It is not fun. It’s based on a true story.
There are many more toys. All of them are probably dangerous. All of them are a bit scary.
If your child is in danger please call us right away. 928-563-6257
If you call the number you hear the KidzWorks! phone options. There is information about sending back Crabbo the Friend Who Pinces and Corners the Talking Square. Why should people send them back? Maybe people should send them back because they hurt kids?
This story is about being sad because you’ve lost someone. It is about a woman. We never learn her name.
This story mentions alcoholism, which is when someone has to drink a lot. If this will upset you it’s okay to skip this story. The story is not real.
The woman goes to the sea to see Walter and Lilly. Walter and Lilly fight a little. Walter is sad. Walter wants to drink alcohol. Lilly doesn’t want him to. Walter leaves. Lilly wants to show the woman a rock.
Walter looks at Lilly and the woman going down to the beach. The beach is covered in seaweed today. Seaweed are plants that live in the water. Often they are very long.
Lily goes into the water. The seaweed circles her legs. The woman thinks Lilly looks like she is changing into a sea creature.
The woman wants to know what Lilly wants to do about Walter’s sadness and drinking. Lilly doesn’t answer her.
The woman sees silver on the beach. The silver is lots and lots of minnows. Minnows are tiny silver fish. The woman takes the minnows from the beach. She goes into the sea. She is trying to put the minnows back in the water. There are so many minnows. There are fish eating minnows. Fish eating fish that eat the minnows. Seals eating fish that eat the fish that eat the minnows. Seals are round animals that live in the sea.
The woman thinks that there must be sharks waiting to eat the seals. Sharks are big fish with big teeth. She doesn’t want to be eaten. She goes back to the beach.
Walter looks at Lilly and the woman. He is in the water now. He swims closer. Lilly and the woman don’t recognize him.
Lilly shows the woman a big rock. The woman climbs onto it. She can see everything. Lilly tells her that it’s called the widow’s stone. Widows are women whose husbands are dead. Women watch for boats from there. They don’t know if their husbands are alive or dead. They watch and wait. They hope to see the boat their husband was on. If they see that boat then their husband is probably alive.
There’s a hole in the stone. The woman can see all the way down to the ground. There are little plants growing there. The woman feels sad. She feels the sadness of waiting. The sadness of waiting for someone who is dead to come home. She cries. Her tears water the plants on the ground.
Lilly says she sees Walter. The woman sees a seal. The seal is Walter. He is no longer a human man. Maybe Lilly has lost Walter. Maybe she is a widow now.
ClearVoice is a story about ClearVoice, a device that lets people hear other peoples’ thoughts. ClearVoice isn’t real and the story isn’t real. The story is also about two people who try out the new device. Some parts of the story talk to you about how to put ClearVoice in your brain. Some parts are the woman and the man talking. You are meant to read the writing and listen to the sounds at the same time. Sometimes the sound and the writing are different. The places that they are different are clues about the end of the story.
ClearVoice: ClearVoice lets you talk mind to mind! You will know that people understand you. Dr. Simons is in charge of helping you put ClearVoice in your mind. She would like you to do some simple things like think your name and tell her if you saw a light.
Woman: I work in space. I work with another person, my partner. Our work is really noisy. And we wear special equipment so we can’t write or sign to each other. So we wanted to try ClearVoice.
Dr. Simons: Please think of something that only you know. Once you start talking to other people with your mind this will help you. People are alone. Things will be better after ClearVoice. Right now, you feel sad because you are alone. With ClearVoice you won’t be alone. You will be very, very happy.
Man: I work with the woman. I really like the woman. I would really like to talk to her.
Dr. Simon: ClearVoice uses classical music. The music is Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier.” Bach’s music has a pattern. Then the pattern changes and then it comes back to the first pattern. Can you focus on the sound of the music?
First the music is simple, and then there are people singing. The people aren’t good at singing. But suddenly they are good at singing.
Woman: Can you hear me?
Man: I can hear you!
Woman: This is so exciting.
Dr. Simon: Congratulations on putting ClearVoice in your mind! Now you have music attached to your thoughts so people know how you feel.
Woman: Do you remember when you fell at work?
Man: I remember.
Woman: I grabbed you. And then afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about touching you.
Man: I remembered you touching me for days.
Woman: This is a lot like touching you.
Dr. Simon: Now that ClearVoice is in your mind you will be very, very happy.
Man: Should we work?
Woman: I can’t remember what to do.
Their conversation becomes confusing.
Dr. Simon: You should tell everyone you know about ClearVoice. If everyone gets ClearVoice everyone will be one mind. This will be better than just being you.
The women and the man talk but they are confusing. They are different. They are ClearVoice. You can’t understand them anymore.
This story is about bad news. It is also about death and how we live after death. It will mention police killing Black people because they are Black. It will talk a lot about death. In it the aunt of the person telling the story dies. If reading about these things will be upsetting you can skip this story. We don’t know if the story is real or not.
If you read along there will be missing words. The missing words are for you to guess at. The piece doesn’t have a clear story. It is meant to make you feel and think. Some of this piece is true but we don’t know how much.
A person will talk to you. There will be a bell. If you don’t read as fast as the sound thinks you should you can stop the sound and move on when you want to.
Is it playing?
I turned off the news. But the news is always there. I see myself in the news. I see myself when the police kill another Black person. I see myself when a Black person fighting for Black people dies in a police cell. I see myself when someone shoots a child near my house. I keep telling myself I am not dead yet. People are dying. But I am alive.
Are you watching this too? I can’t look at it.
My family has a history with death. When people die we make them look alive again to bury them.
Was that you on the news?
When people die we feel sad. We feel connected to the person who died. It feels like they were ours. Who have you lost?
The sound is confusing.
Are you there? Can you hear it?
Let’s try the radio now. You hear it? I hear it too much.
Are you there?
The first time I knew about death I was little. My aunt was pregnant. She and my mom were very happy. The day my aunt had the baby my dad picked me up from school. He said, “Your aunt had the baby. The baby is so beautiful.”
There are some missing words. Maybe my aunt died?
Now the baby is twelve. He misses me. My mom says that I remind him of his mother. How? My aunt died. The baby never knew his mom.
Where were you when you heard the news? There are some missing words. Things are confusing.
I see myself on the news.
I was in a waiting room. A woman came in and asked, did she die yet? I was angry. I was not dead! Then I understood she was talking about the tv show.
Do you wanna be a star? I think we live after we die. People talk about us on the news when we die. That’s like living. Maybe we’re alive in some other world. I know that we’re all made of the same stuff. That stuff is the stuff that makes up stars. I believe that we live forever as stars.
This piece is a story about a man telling someone about his life. The man is speaking. It is not real but it could be. The man and the other person are at a restaurant. The man is a doctor.
This story talks about racism against an Indigenous person. In the story people say mean things about Indigenous people. The story talks a lot about men hurting women because they are women. It can be upsetting to read about racism and men hurting women. If you need to skip this story that’s okay.
I worked with Mel. Mel was a young nurse. Mel is also Cree. The other people who worked at the hospital would say mean things about Indigenous people. Mel was thinking of leaving because of this. I didn’t want Mel to leave. I told her to tell her boss about this. Mel did but the other staff were angry with her. They made her job harder. Mel left. So I talked to the nurse manager. I said that white staff stayed longer than Indigenous staff. The nurse manager was angry. The nurse manager started making my job really hard.
I wanted to leave. I got a job at a small hospital in Western India. When I was there I treated a woman who was badly burned by her husband and her mother-in-law. The woman died. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference. So I went back to Canada.
I started to read more books by women. I got interested in women’s health. I started doing abortions. This is a medical procedure that takes away the tiny things that would become a baby. I saw a patient. I thought her boyfriend was mean to her. I was worried that her boyfriend would hurt her. So I called her. But Ellen, my nurse assistant, was worried. She thought calling the patient would make her boyfriend more likely to hurt the patient. So Ellen went to our boss. I got in trouble.
Sometimes I worry I am a bad man.
There are pictures from the doctor’s life on a piece of paper. You can make up your mind what the pictures mean. Maybe the pictures show that the doctor is a selfish man. This means he always thinks about himself first and not other people. Maybe the pictures show that the doctor is trying as hard as he can.
This story is not real. There are two ways this story ends. You can read or listen to the first way, or the second way, or both.
This story talks about families not believing people about their medical conditions. It talks about white people killing Black people. It includes upsetting details about how the white people killed Black people. If you don’t want to read about this and you want to skip this story that’s okay.
Fire plums are fruit. Fire plums taste really good to most people. You can get the fire plums that are sweet from the Wildlands. The sweetest fire plums are guarded by a wolf. The fire plums that are bitter come from Port Yooga in Virginia. Those fire plums grow on a tree. This tree was where white people hanged Black people for being Black. Hanging means that white people put a rope around the Black people’s throat. The other end of the rope is on the tree. The Black people couldn’t breathe so they died. Most fire plums come from an island in the Caribbean called Birmin.
Fire plums taste so good they are a reason to live. But some people are allergic to fire plums. If you eat or touch something you’re allergic to your body tries to protect you. The way your body protects you can sometimes hurt you more than the thing your body is protecting you from.
Percy is allergic to fire plums.
When Percy was little, fire plums made his mouth itch. But no one believed him.
Percy grows up and marries Sharaina. Sharaina loves fire plums. Sharaina does not believe that Percy is allergic to fire plums. She put a fire plum in his dinner. Percy didn’t know the fire plum was there. The next day Percy can’t move half his face. Percy goes to a doctor who tells Percy to put fire plums on his face.
Percy puts the fire plums on his face. The next day his face hurts. He has blisters everywhere he puts the fire plums. Blisters are when there is water under your skin. They can hurt a lot. Percy goes to another doctor. This time, the doctor tells him he is allergic.
Sharaina believes that Percy is allergic to fire plums. But she keeps eating them.
One day there is a big storm. The big storm blows down the fire plum trees in Bimin. There are no more fire plums at the store. Sharaina is sad and angry. She can’t sleep. Sharaina wants Percy to go to the Wildlands to get her fire plums.
Percy walks towards the Wildlands. He comes to the place in the road where he could go to the Wildlands or to Port Yooga.
Percy walks to the Wildlands. He walks a very long way. He finds the fire plum tree. Percy wants water and food. Even though he is allergic he wants to eat a fire plum. He reaches for a fire plum. He eats the fire plum. He feels strange. He is allergic, but the fire plum tastes amazing. The wolf comes. Three big birds come. The wolf and the birds fight. The wolf wins. The wolf lets Percy take fire plums from the tree.
Percy goes home. Sharaina eats the fire plums. They taste like nothing. She is still sad and angry.
Port Yooga Ending:
Percy walks to Port Yooga. In Port Yooga there are many, many trees where white people hanged Black people from. They have no fire plums. Finally, Percy finds the tree with fire plums.
Percy takes the fire plums. A man appears. The man is on fire. The man on fire is Floyd. One day, long ago, white people hurt Floyd and set him on fire for being Black.
Percy tells Floyd he needs the fire plums for his wife. This makes Floyd angry. The tree is a place where Floyd and other Black people were hurt. People shouldn’t want to eat its fruit. Floyd shows Percy a golden axe to cut down the tree. An axe is sharp and you use it to cut wood.
Percy takes a whole bag of fire plums. But he stops and looks at the axe. Now, he wants to use the axe. He starts cutting at the tree. He cuts for a long time.
In this piece, John tells you about his life. He tells different stories to make his points. His stories are true stories about real things that happened. This piece is about access for deaf and DeafBlind people. Deaf people are people who don’t hear everything hearing people hear. Sometimes deaf people can speak with their hands. Those deaf people speak sign languages. DeafBlind people are deaf and they don’t see everything sighted people see.
This story talks about DeafBlind people not being told really important things about the world. Sometimes when DeafBlind people aren’t told things it is dangerous for them. If reading about this would upset you, it’s okay to skip this piece.
John used to love baseball as a kid. John was born deaf and became blind. As he became blind baseball stopped being interesting. John tells this story to show that sometimes you need to see or hear something. Otherwise it is boring. The sighted and hearing world is often boring.
John tells a story about the start of Protactile. Protactile is a language where people use touch to talk. Protactile is not about access to the hearing and sighted world.
Sign language interpreters are people whose job is giving access to the hearing and sighted world. Sign language interpreters aren’t supposed to share their beliefs about the world. But sometimes this means they leave out important information. When DeafBlind people started using Protactile they didn’t need interpreters. DeafBlind people found they could talk better without interpreters.
Often sign language interpreters are hired to give access to just one thing. This means deaf and DeafBlind people only have access to an activity, not to the full world. This means deaf and DeafBlind people have less power. To show this, John tells two stories. The first story is about the day 9/11 happened. John was in university. He went to class on that day. His sign language interpreters asked if he had heard about the planes. He said no, but they didn’t explain. He had to find out why everyone in the class was sad and scared later. The second story is a story about a friend of John’s. John’s friend went to the doctor’s office with a Protactile interpreter. The interpreter asked if the friend knew about COVID. John’s friend said, no, they weren’t interested in COVID. Immediately the interpreter explained about COVID. Both 9/11 and COVID are important events that changed the world. Protactile interpreters make sure DeafBlind people know about the world.
John teaches Protactile interpreters. He tells Protactile interpreters four things. First, DeafBlind people know what they are doing. Second, interpreters will do their jobs better if they share their point of view about things. Third, it takes a long time for a sign language interpreter to tell a DeafBlind person everything the sign language interpreter sees in the room. DeafBlind people don’t have time for all of those details. DeafBlind people want to get to the point. DeafBlind people want just the important information. Fourth, DeafBlind people learn for themselves by touching the world.
Sighted and hearing people think there’s only one world. We think interpreters can let DeafBlind people know about every detail in the world. DeafBlind people don’t want to know every detail, they want to know the point of something. John explains through the card game Uno. There is Braille Uno with dots you can feel. Those dots tell people what color and number they have. But playing this way is slow. DeafBlind people have a version of Uno called textures and shapes. In textures and shapes you don’t have to read what you have in your hand. You just know. So it is fast and fun. You can talk to other people as you play it. There are many worlds. DeafBlind people don’t need the hearing and sighted world. They have their own.
Sighted and hearing people are worried that DeafBlind people aren’t interested in the sighted and hearing world. But sighted and hearing people don’t know what they miss out on. To show what sighted and hearing people are missing out on, John tells one last story. John has a poem put on a website. The people who run the website want a photo of John to go with his poem. He says no. Instead of a photo he explains what it’s like to touch him and talk with him. Other DeafBlind people do the same. John tells us what it is like to touch and talk with these other DeafBlind people. The way John talks about the other DeafBlind people feels warm. It feels like love. It feels like being part of someone’s world.
For this piece you can read along in the book while the sound plays. Sometimes the sounds will be different from the words. This story is not real. The story is about Joseph.
When Joseph was a child he had a rubber pig. It made noise. Its name was Piggy. Joseph would talk to Piggy. When Joseph was a child his whole family wanted Piggy. Joseph had to save Piggy from his family a lot. Joseph knew that if he didn’t love Piggy, Piggy would leave. Then, someone who looked like Piggy would come. But it would not be Piggy.
Now, Joseph is grown up. He is having a hard time. He can’t work because of COVID-19. He is very nervous and sad. He needs Piggy. He goes to his parents house to see Piggy again.
Joseph finds Piggy. He tells Piggy about COVID-19. Joseph tells Piggy he feels sad and strange. Joseph wants a new life, a different life. But Piggy can’t teach Joseph anything or give Joseph a new life. Piggy sings about how Piggy can’t make Joseph feel better. Piggy is just a toy.
Joseph is disappointed. He thinks that this must not be the real Piggy. Joseph understands he’s not young anymore. Piggy was an important part of Joseph’s childhood. But Joseph needs to live his life without Piggy.
Piggy is the real Piggy. But he’s mad at Joseph. He wants Joseph to go love someone real, someone who is not a toy.
This is a story about friendship. The story is probably not real. It is told in the form of an interview with Maddie. Maddie hosts a podcast about minimalist music. A podcast is a sound file that you can play on the internet. Often people make podcasts about a particular topic every week or two weeks. Minimalist music is music made of very simple sounds. Sometimes Maddie plays minimalist music on the podcast. Sometimes Maddie talks to people about minimalist music.
Maddie tells us that Thompson Augustus Shaw made minimalist music. He was very good at making minimalist music. Sometimes he recorded sounds around him and that was his music. Shaw recorded for a sound company called Hertz. Maddie interviews Arnold J. Wentz who was in charge of Hertz. Wentz and Shaw used to be friends.
Wentz tells a story about Shaw. Shaw had a girlfriend called Devereux. Shaw and Devereux went to a beach called Amagansett. Shaw heard some sounds in the waves which were important. Shaw thought if he could record those specific sounds and everyone listened to them there would be peace.
Wentz, Shaw, and Devereux went back to the beach to try to record the sounds. Shaw worried that he wouldn’t be able to record the sounds. He worried that the birds on the beach might make noise. So Wentz brought Annie Chen, who was going to help by scaring the birds away. Wentz, Shaw, Devereux, and Chen go to the beach. They carefully set up the recording machines. They do some drugs. But even though Chen scared the birds away they can’t record the sounds. That was the day Wentz fell in love with Chen.
Shaw and Wentz tried to think about what could have ruined the sounds. Maybe the way the ocean moved needed to be different? Maybe the wind was wrong? Maybe they needed lots of water in the air?
They spent months and months trying to record the sounds. They spent years trying to record the sounds.
Eventually Wentz asked Shaw to put his name down as someone who made the recording of the beach sounds. Wentz wanted people to know he made the sound recording. But they hadn’t recorded the sound yet. Shaw was very angry about this. They stopped being friends.
The point of the story is that everything is music. Sounds are music and silence is music. Talking about music is music. Falling in love is music. Friendship is music.
If you look at the box there is an annotated playlist. This is a list of minimalist music that Wentz thinks you would like. Some of it is real music and some of it isn’t.
This piece is about how the hearing world needs to learn to listen to deaf people. Deaf people are people who don’t hear everything hearing people hear. Sometimes deaf people can speak with their hands. Those deaf people speak sign languages. This piece was written by Katie and Christina. The stories Katie tells in this piece are true. Sometimes Katie and Christina ask you to do things. The things they ask you to do are about learning to listen without your ears.
Katie starts by telling a story about watching Chisato Minamimura do Scored in Silence. Chisato is a deaf dancer. Scored in Silence is a dance about the deaf people who lived in Nagasaki and Hiroshima when the Americans dropped the atomic bombs. Katie could feel the sound in Scored in Silence. It was magical.
Katie explains that hearing people think deaf people live in silence. Hearing people think sound only belongs to them.
Katie first understood this was wrong at a party. The part was filled with people talking in sign language. The party didn’t feel quiet. Sound can be seen and felt.
Christina and Katie would like you to look out the window. What sounds do you see? Do you see a door thudding close? Do you see leaves rustling? Do you see children playing?
Katie explains that Chisato says everyone’s senses are different. Chisato has hearing, but a different kind of hearing. A friend of Katie’s, Jeffrey Yasuo Mansfield, agrees. Deaf people hear differently. This made Katie think. She wondered if deafness is not missing hearing, but just hearing differently?
Christina and Katie would like you to grab your phone or something that plays music. Put in earphones. Turn up the volume on your music. Go for a walk. Look at people. What do you know about people just by looking?
Katie asks, do we think humans should be sad that they can’t see all the types of light? There are many types of light and people can only see some of them. If we aren’t sad about this we shouldn’t be sad for deaf people.
When hearing people don’t listen to deaf people we silence deaf people. Katie talks about how her grandparents, who were deaf, could see sounds. They saw their pets, the shadows of a moving tree, a plate hitting the floor.
Christina and Katie would like you to go somewhere that people will be behind you. Can you see the noises they make? Do they have a shadow? Do people and animals look at them?
Sound can also be something you feel.
Christina and Katie would like you to notice vibrations. Vibration is shaking. Can you feel the rumble of a car? Can you feel a cat purr? A door close?
Doctors measure deafness by what people can’t hear, like planes. But a deaf person can feel a plane.
Christina and Katie would like you to compare the vibrations in your kitchen. How is the coffee maker different from the dishwasher? How is the dishwasher vibration different from the microwave?
Chisato once listened to a concert using a chair that changes the sound of a lot of people playing music into vibrations. Gallaudet University, a deaf university, has a rock concert every year. The concert is in a room that makes really good vibrations. This let the Deaf students hear the music with their bodies.
Christina and Katie would like you to blow up a balloon. Hold the balloon near a speaker and feel the vibration. Try different music. Dance!
Chisato wanted to know what music made what vibrations. So she started making dances where you can see the sound. She started giving people who watch her dances a type of belt that vibrates with parts of the sound. Now, vibration is a part of her dances.
Hearing people believe deafness is silence. So hearing people don’t talk to deaf people. Hearing people don’t learn from deaf people.
In Scored in Silence, Chisato listened to deaf people who lived in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. She wanted to know what they saw and what they felt.
Hearing people need to listen to deaf people. If hearing people don’t listen to deaf people they make deaf people not important. This hurts deaf people.
Here is a list of deaf and hard of hearing artists you could listen to or watch:
Listen to musician Evelyn Glennie
Listen to Warren “Wawa” Snipe, pioneer of “dip-hop,” or “hip-hop through deaf eyes”
Watch dancer Antoine Hunter, who started the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival
Watch sound artist Christine Sun Kim
Watch filmmaker Alison O’Daniel
This is a piece about randomness. Randomness means there is no reason things happen. There are three short stories. The stories are not real. The short stories are not connected to each other. There are nine sounds. The nine sounds are on the website. Keep your phone or computer open to audio.mcsweeneys.net. When you see —> in the writing, hit the —> button on the website. This will play one of nine sounds at random. When you see *INSERT SYMBOL* press that button on the website. This will play the sound you just heard.
The point is to notice how the sounds and the stories together make you feel.
One of the stories, Fathers Day, 1991, talks about thieves killing someone. If this will upset you it’s okay to skip this story.
Story One: Fathers Day, 1991
April Montoya works at a bank. Lucas is a guard at the same bank. April and Lucas often have sex in the bank basement.
A few days before Fathers Day, 1991, Lucas and April go to a party. April doesn’t want to kiss Lucas in front of other people. April doesn’t want other people to know they’re having sex. Lucas doesn’t care. Lucas might be in love with April. They look out at the city together, and listen to the sounds it makes. —>
The last time April and Lucas have sex in the bank basement April listens to the sounds the building makes. The building sounds like it’s alive. —> April sees a light.She looks and the light is coming through a crack in the wall. The crack is in the wall of the room where all the money is kept. Lucas tells April, “They talk about stealing from the bank.” But when April asks Lucas who is talking about stealing he doesn’t answer.
The night before Fathers Day, 1991, Lucas comes to April’s apartment. Lucas tells April to stay home from work the next day.
On Fathers’ Day, 1991, people steal from the bank. These people kill Lucas. The police do not know who stole from the bank or who killed Lucas.
April has to take a polygraph test. A polygraph test is where the police ask you questions about a crime. A machine reads your heart rate and blood pressure and how fast you breathe to see if you are lying. The police ask April questions about the bank. This makes April think about the sounds in the basement. —> April doesn’t tell the police that she was having sex with Lucas. She doesn’t tell the police Lucas came to see her before people stole from the bank. But the polygraph test says she is telling the truth even though she is lying.
Then, April finds out she is pregnant with Lucas’ baby.
Story Two: The Sound Thief
This story is about a person who can take sound. When he takes sound there is no sound in that place.
He starts by taking the sound from the device that plays his roommate’s music. The device doesn’t play music anymore. A day later he opens the fridge. A strange sound comes out of it. —> He doesn’t think about the sound and goes back to taking other sounds. Then, there is another strange sound. This time the strange sound comes from a car. —>
He takes more sounds. He learns that when he takes sound from one thing, the sound has to come out of another thing. He likes it when sounds don’t match the things they come from. So he keeps taking sounds. One night he goes out to sit by a dumpster that he took the sound from. While he is sitting there, a movement thief comes along. A movement thief makes things and people still. The movement thief takes the sound thief’s movement. The movement thief will have to deal with strange things happening. But the sound thief is still.
Story Three: Reney, mostly
In 1984 Reney and her mom and Pitch left Oklahoma. They move to a small home in Texas. —> Reney’s mom and Pitch fight. Reney hates them fighting. She thinks about telling them to stop fighting, but she doesn’t know how. This is what she would sound like if she tried: —> She goes up a tree to get away from the fighting. Reney’s mom and Pitch fight about money, but they make up.
In 1985, Reney, her mom, and Pitch are in their truck. The truck’s lights make it so they can see at night. —> Reney is trying to study. They see a rattlesnake. A rattlesnake is a poisonous snake. This means that you get sick if the snake bites you. Reney’s mom and Pitch get out of their truck with a gun. Reney is in the car. Reney thinks about Christy, their roommate in Oklahoma. Christy used to play records for Reney. Reney wishes Christy was there.
Reney hears a gunshot. She runs out of the car. Reney’s mom and Pitch shot the rattlesnake. Reney uses a stick to hold the rattlesnake in place. Pitch is angry with her. He yells. Reney is upset. —> She goes back to the car. She cries. She thinks about being hurt by the rattlesnake’s sharp teeth. —>
Reney doesn’t understand why her mom and Pitch go driving late at night. She doesn’t understand why Pitch was angry.
One day, when she is much older, she will understand.
These pieces are about your home. They are not real and some of them don’t have clear stories. They are to help you see your home differently.
In this tour a person tells you about their kitchen and their family. They will ask you to do things in your kitchen.
I put on the kettle. The kettle makes me think of my grandparents. I have many memories. I remember eating cake with them. I remember my grandfather telling me about how to make thunder and lightning in the theatre. You turn a large basket full of stones. Once, I went with my grandfather to a market. We went to buy a gift for my grandmother. We bought a kettle.
If you want, go to your kitchen. Make tea. Pour two cups. One cup for you. Do you wish you could drink tea with someone? Pour another cup for that person. Sit down and drink the tea.
This is a story about two people, a man and a woman, who stop dating. It is not real. This is also a story about a mattress and a bedroom. A mattress is the soft thing you sleep on. The woman wants you to listen to this story while you lie on your own mattress.
The story shows the man being mean to the woman. It also talks about how you cook lobsters. The man dies at the end. If any of these things will upset you it’s okay to skip this story.
The woman meets the man when she delivers flowers to his home. His agent sent him flowers. An agent is a person who gets jobs for actors. The man is an actor.
When the man and the woman start dating they are in love. She drives her truck to deliver flowers. He is going to play Hamlet. The man wants to move in with the woman. She won’t let him.
The man gets angry. He makes fun of the woman’s face. He says her face looks funny from sleeping on one side of it. The man says the woman’s mattress makes her ugly.
One night, they go out for dinner. They eat lobsters. Lobsters are an animal that live in the water. They have a shell. To cook lobster you take lobsters and put them in boiling water while they are alive. The woman hates this.
That night the woman and the man have sex. The man tells the woman that he wants to be famous and die onstage. Then he tells the woman she is ugly. The man wants the woman to change her face.
The woman tells the man her face has done its best. She breaks up with him.
One week later she gets a new mattress. The woman can’t move the mattress into her house herself. So she calls the man. He comes.
The man tells the woman he has been hot since they broke up. His body is 15 degrees hotter than normal.
The man takes the mattress up the stairs. Then he falls over. The man is dead. The woman takes his body down the stairs to her flower truck. She takes his body to the theatre. She puts him on stage. She shines a bright light on him.
She goes home to her mattress. She sleeps on it.
This piece is by Sharon Mashihi. It is for listening to when you are a bit sad. It will talk about your wall as if your wall is a person who knows you.
Sharon tells you that Judaism says that babies know everything before they are born. When babies are born an angel touches them on their upper lip. They forget everything. So everyone has to learn everything over again.
Sharon likes to think all that knowledge lives in different places.
Sharon thinks about all the things walls see. All the things walls know. Sharon thinks God is something that helps us understand the things we need to know. Maybe God is in the walls.
Sharon would like you to find a wall in your home.
Look at the wall. Look at all the little bumps.
Sharon has her left hand on the wall. Put your left hand on the wall. Rub your hand on the wall.
Maybe there are other ways you want to touch the wall. Can you tap the wall? Run your fingers gently along it?
This is your wall.What does it see you do? What does it know about you? Does your wall like the things about you that you don’t like?
Sharon thinks that if you spend time with your wall you can get to know yourself. You can get to know the very best parts of yourself.
Touch your wall. Touch your wall with loyalty and softness.
Lean against your wall. Rest your weight into it.
When Sharon is alone with her wall she thinks about all the things she has lost like love. She tells you about an ex-boyfriend named Jerry.
Sharon and Jerry fought about what color her shirt was. Then Jerry left. Sharon knows that being with Jerry was terrible. But she still feels like she should have tried harder to make the relationship work.
Sharon has dated a lot of men like Jerry. And she let all of them go. Even though she knows that was the right thing to do she’s mad at herself. Do you have something you’re mad at yourself for doing? Are you mad even though you know it was the right thing for you to do?
Sharon tells you that even if you’re mad at yourself, your wall remembers why you did the things you did. Your wall knows you make good decisions.
Press your body up to the wall. Rest your cheek against the wall. The wall is holding you. Take a moment to feel that.
Your wall knows a lot. Most importantly, your wall knows that it loves you.
Your wall loves you.
This tour is a way to get you ready to create. Maybe you write. Maybe you paint. Maybe you do something else. No matter how you create this tour will get you ready to start. It is magical. The room is not like it is in real life. You can imagine yourself in this study.
The room calls to you. You can say, “Here I am.”
Going through the door into the room is an important step. Maybe you get on your knees to mark when you go into the study.
You can look at your study. You can see the sunshine coming in the window. You can hear the river. Your table has doors to other worlds. There are flowers growing on your desk.
Today you will make something.
To begin to make something you need your pens. You take out two black pens, one clear pen, and one pencil. You can write your name in pencil. You can write “here for dreaming” in the pen. You promise to dream. You promise to make something. You can look at the blue sky.
You look at your books. Your books are places that hold writing. Writing is other people’s thoughts. Books are like other people’s minds. Maybe today you want the yellow books. You gather them. Maybe as you pull each yellow book out you can say hello and thank you.
When you have lots of books you could say thank you again. You could say thank you to the ceiling.
You can go to your comfy chair. In your comfy chair you can hear the river best.
Music plays. Maybe you dance a gentle dance on your way to your chair.
Look at all the yellow books you have. They are all different ways things could happen. Pick one. Open it. Lean back in the chair. Read from it. Start dreaming. Start making.
This story is about a man. We learn how he feels about his life from bathrooms he goes into. Bathrooms are the rooms that have toilets. The story is probably not real.
The man went to a party. The party is at his friends, Aaron and Yvonne’s house. The man takes Jess to the party. Jess and the man have gone out on a few dates. Aaron and Yvonne’s house has nice bathrooms.
Jess loves the small bathroom at Aaron and Yvonne’s house. Jess tells the man there is a bidet in the bathroom. A bidet is a device that washes you with water as you sit on the toilet so you are clean.
Yvonne shows Jess the bigger bathroom. The man decides to look at the smaller bathroom. The bathroom is pretty and pink. The toilet has buttons and lights. Aaron sees the man in the bathroom. Aaron is very proud of the bathroom.
The man and Jess go back to the man’s apartment. They have sex. They go to sleep. The man wakes up early. The man goes to the bathroom. There is a note from Jess. Jess does not want to see him again.
The man looks at his bathroom. The tub is yellow from years of people washing in it. The toilet is wobbly. The walls are dirty. Sometimes water comes through the roof. There is a spider. The person feels sad. His bathroom will never be like Aaron and Yvonne’s. His life is not like Aaron and Yvonne’s.
In this piece a person will tell you their thoughts about laundry. The thoughts don’t tell a story. It’s supposed to make you feel things and think about things. The things the person thinks about might be real.
There is a test laundry in Northern Ontario. A test laundry means a place where people try different soaps and ways of washing to see what works best.
You’re going to do laundry with me. But first, think about the world outside. What color are the leaves? Is there snow?
Please sort your laundry. Is everything in its right place? No light clothes with dark clothes? I wonder about remembering and forgetting. Dirt on clothes is like memory.
Please load the laundry machine. You can choose your setting. Add the soap. Add money if you need to.
Today we think of the world and nature making people and clothes dirty. But, a long time ago, people made their own soap. They made soap from things they found in nature. So nature got clothes dirty. Then nature cleaned clothes.
Long ago people had to know a lot to clean their clothes. They had to know what the clothes were made of. They had to know what made the clothes dirty. They had to know what got that kind of dirt out of those kinds of clothes.
Please get your clothes ready to put away. Sometimes when you lose someone, you miss the person’s things. You miss the person’s clothes.
How does the test laundry test soap? How do they get their clothes dirty?
There is a laundry in Hanoi. There, people clean lots of clothes together. Maybe they clean your clothes with the clothes of people you know. The people who work there mark clothes with colored thread so they know which clothes belong together. Then they dry the clothes and wrap them in plastic. The plastic keeps in the heat. When you open it the clothes will be warm.
Stop. What can you smell right now? How did you learn to dry clothes?
When the French wash gloves they put the gloves on. They wash them in turpentine. Turpentine is a strong smelling oil. They wash them like you wash your hands.
You have been helpful. Your clothes will be ready soon.
Kelsie Acton is an access consultant, researcher, and dance artist. She’s delighted with the fact that, as someone who is neurodivergent with auditory processing differences and sound sensitivities, she got to work on The Audio Issue.