"We don't have to prove sh*t to anyone": Adam Pottle on his writing memoir, Voice
With a PhD in English literature, a play, and four books under his belt, Adam Pottle is a dynamic, straightforward, and absorbing writer, which makes him a fantastic addition to our new Writers on Writing Series. In this interview with Morgan Tunzelmann of U of R Press, Adam discusses how his early life fuelled his creativity, why "ableism is a monster," and how being deaf can be an advantage, in art and in life.
MT: Voice is the latest book in our Writers on Writing series. These books are part anecdote, part advice, and part memoir. In your book, you talk quite a bit about your early life growing up in Kitimat and Prince George, and playing hockey and learning the drums. What kinds of insights do you think readers—especially younger readers who aspire to write—can take from hearing these aspects of your personal story?
Playing hockey came naturally to me. I understand the game: its rhythms, its patterns. We don’t often think of deaf people as being athletic, but really deaf people are quite athletic. We understand body language and incorporate rhythm and movement into the way we speak. Even if we speak verbally, we’re quite animated. Playing sports is a natural extension of our physiological calibrations.
I love playing the drums—I’ve played since I was twelve—but I don’t wanna get all Beethoven and inspiration-y about it. That’s a common thing amongst Deaf and disabled people: we keep getting stuck in this “Look what I can do!” narrative, where we have to do spectacular things to prove we’re human and that we can succeed despite our disabilities. We don’t have to prove sh*t to anyone; we should just do what we want without having to explain anything. When I was ten or eleven, I began tapping out beats on my desk and in the car using pencils or pens or my hands. I’ve always been in tune with beats; I feel them in my gut. That’s all. Again, it came naturally to me.
There are many stereotypes about deaf people—that they are entirely isolated, that they have no friends, that a person can have either no hearing or all their hearing. These stereotypes are wrong. They’re harmful. I had some hearing. I had friends growing up. They never seemed to mind my deafness. Sometimes it was a benefit. I remember a road trip when a buddy and I went to an Ozzy concert in Edmonton. He asked that I drive while he and his girlfriend caught some sleep in the back. So while I drove down the highway back toward Prince George, he and his girlfriend were… not sleeping. I never knew. I never heard them. I didn’t find out until we got home because my buddy couldn’t stop laughing. The pr**k. But we both laughed about it. I’m glad I didn’t hear.
I did of course feel some isolation. I was the only deaf kid in my classes; some isolation was unavoidable. But some of the isolation I felt was self-imposed as a result of mental illness and internalized ableism. I didn’t think I was worthy of friendship, so I’d stay away from parties and bars. When you start to believe the hype of ableism, it eats you. Ableism is a monster, and if you yourself are disabled, it can gobble you up if you believe in it.
MT: Voice opens with a decision the younger you has to make – you have to decide whether or not to get a cochlear implant. Without giving your decision away, how might having such an implant impact you as a writer?
I’m not sure if I can answer this question properly without giving it away, so I’ll give it away: I don’t have an implant at the moment. I’m quite wary of implants. You have to drill into a person’s head and insert electrodes. I’ve seen video footage of implant surgery, and it’s disconcerting. Within my head I’ve built a Willy Wonka-esque factory where I can churn out sweet literary confectioneries. I worry that installing an implant would be like jamming a McDonald’s in the middle of the chocolate river. The effect would be jarring. I want to protect the contents of my head.
That’s how I’ve built it up in my imagination. It could of course open an entirely new wing of the factory in my mind, which would allow me to create entirely new products. But I don’t know. I’m not willing to find out at the moment.
MT: Throughout some of the book are interspersed these imaginary “conversations” between you and Lemmy, the founder of the band Motörhead. Can you comment on this choice? What do these (often very funny!) exchanges tell us about your work on this memoir and/or your creative process in general?
I never got the chance to see Motörhead when Lemmy was alive. I’m sad about that, and I’m sad that Lemmy is gone. He was a tremendous influence on music and also a conscientious person. When you hear people talk about their interactions with him, you learn that he was quite an empathetic man. We both have an interest in history and music, and I think we would’ve had a lot to talk about.
He also had no tolerance for bullshit. He got right to the point, and that’s why he gives me advice in our conversations. He cuts through a lot of my jabbering and offers necessary brevity.
MT: The second part of your book addresses your journey to learning more about Deaf Culture and developing as a writer. How do the two connect for you right now, at this point in your career?
I wouldn’t say I’m part of Deaf Culture. There’s no official membership or anything, but I’m not there yet. I don’t have a Sign name. I don’t make that decision.
I’m learning more and more about Deaf Culture through my work and through my interactions with Deaf people. I’m working on my Sign Language because it comes up in my work more and more. That’s the way my imagination tends. I recently finished a story that features a Deaf teenager who uses Sign Language. I’m losing more and more of my hearing, so my writing follows suit and leans toward Sign Language and action and movement. I discover things through my writing, and in addition to disability in general, I’m constantly discovering the depth and beauty of Deaf Culture.
MT: What are you reading right now? / Whose work would you recommend?
I’m reading The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. I’m a horror movie fan, and it feels like necessary reading. I’m also reading The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. I recently finished The Rats by James Herbert. Next on my list are Amber Dawn’s Sodom Road Exit, which I’ve been waiting to read for a while, and Iain Reid’s Foe.
I don’t read according to trends. I don’t go out and buy books because they happen to be popular right now. I read according to what interests me, what sparks my curiosity.
I recommend all of Bill Watterson’s work. Ditto Toni Morrison. Claudia Rankine. Ilya Kaminsky. Brad Fraser. I love Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It’s way better than The Grapes of Wrath. Anything by Alicia Elliott. She’s the voice our country needs right now. Camus’s The Outsider and The Plague. Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs is an extraordinary work. I’m a dog lover and whenever I think of it, it still smacks the breath out of me. Alexis has such astonishing empathy. Alice Wong, Imani Barbarin, Keah Brown.
MT: And a couple of choices:
Plane or boat? Boat. I love the ocean.
Fame or fortune? Fortune. I could quietly go about improving the world.
Scooby Doo or Tom and Jerry? Scooby Doo. All day every day. Tom and Jerry are nothing but Itchy and Scratchy wannabes.