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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Writing or Art?

When I was a teenager, my sister Nanette gave me a book I can't get out of my head. What has stuck with me most from Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn was the advice her father gave her in a letter he sent her for her 21st birthday, "try to do one thing well—utilizing the experience of all preceding life and your own wit."

Since then, I've wondered, just what is my "one thing" and how will I know that's the thing to try to do well? I've done a lot of things, but I still ask myself that question.

My husband recently told me that he thought my real talent was watercolor, not writing. So, I ask...for those of you who have read my blog and seen my art. Which is it?

If you've had similar questions and found the answer, I'd love to hear how you figured things out.

In the meantime, here is something I've written that I'm proud of:

Power beyond words
By Pamela Baumeister

Music was Rachel de Azevedo Coleman’s whole life. Growing up in Utah as number five in a musical family of nine, Rachel was surrounded by it. Her father, Lex de Azevedo, was the music director for acts such as the Jackson Five special, “The Sonny & Cher Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” He gained fame locally, writing the music for “Saturday’s Warrior.” Rachel, never in the spotlight until after high school, sang and wrote music for her band while expecting her first child, Leah.

“I used to joke that wouldn’t it just be my luck to have a kid that was tone deaf,” Rachel says of her pregnancy. Little did she know that her baby would never hear her mother speak, let alone sing and play the guitar.

Shortly before Rachel and her husband, Aaron, moved to Los Angeles to be close to her sister, Emilie de Azevedo Brown, the couple started noticing something strange about Leah. Women at the grocery store would invariably stop and say “hi” to the adorable tot. At 14 months, Leah would lift her eyebrows, smile and open her mouth. But, no air or sound would come out.

Leah was deaf.

Rachel and Aaron mourned, but they weren’t defeated.

“There was nothing wrong for her. She wasn’t ‘missing out’ — we realized that we needed to learn something new. Maybe we needed to learn to be like her,” Rachel relates.

Signs of progress
The couple learned sign language quickly. So did Leah, who also learned to read at age 2. However, Rachel noticed there were times when Leah was left out.

When Leah was 4 years old and in soccer, Rachel noticed, “The hearing kids in our community were going a different way.” A boy on Leah’s team didn’t want Leah as his partner. She couldn’t “talk or understand” him. Rachel knew things wouldn’t improve.

Taking action, she went to the boy’s preschool and volunteered at story time. She read books and taught the children a few simple signs. At the next soccer practice, the boy signed ‘friend,’ ‘play,’ ‘ball.’ A few signs bridged the gap and, Rachel says, “changed the course of my deaf daughter’s life.”

Through Emilie’s encouragement, the sisters started Two Little Hands Productions, making videos of songs and signs. This was the beginning of “Signing Time,” a show that teaches sign language through music to kids and parents all over the world. The sisters started the venture with next to nothing.

“I was on WIC — we had Social Security — we were scraping by. We couldn’t even pay our rent. I had no idea that we’d be on PBS … I thought if I make these videos, that will change Leah’s world. When Emilie and I did our first video, we didn’t have a loan and now we have a successful, nationally recognized business,” Rachel marvels.

Miraculous sign
Rachel and Aaron decided to have another child. They soon found out that the fetus had water on the brain caused by spina bifida.

“We thought ‘Why us? We don’t even know anything about spina bifida!’” Rachel stopped herself when she realized she felt the same way when they learned Leah was deaf. “Maybe it is the same and there’s nothing wrong — it’s just different than we expected.”

Rachel and her unborn daughter underwent in-utero surgery to repair baby Lucy’s spine. Nine months after a successful birth, Lucy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

“They told us that she was retarded. She would lie on her back and stare — she couldn’t use her body in any way,” remembers Rachel.

Rachel wrote a song when Lucy was two called “Show Me A Sign.” It was her prayer for Lucy to prove the doctors wrong. Shortly after that song was written, Lucy signed “more.”

“I was stunned. After another nine months, she learned to speak. And now she speaks and signs and happens to be in a wheelchair. She is an inspiration to other kids. She gets 100 percent on her spelling tests and is in every ‘Signing Time’ show.”

One language
Rachel’s drive to make a difference in the lives of her children is now changing lives worldwide.

Rachel, Aaron, Leah and Curry Jones, the founder of non-profit Signs of Hope International, traveled to Ghana, Africa, to teach sign language to a school for deaf children. Rachel and Curry went again for a national conference.

“There’s a social stigma for deaf children, even among the educators. Having Rachel there was an ‘a-ha’ moment for them. They realized — after she got up, spoke and sang — that maybe the deaf can learn,” says Curry. ‘Signing Time’ videos are now used in the deaf school. Curry says of the people Rachel touched by sharing herself and her vision, “The children and teachers think, ‘If this American movie star can sign, so can we.’” She has created a paradigm shift for that area of Africa and it’s spreading.

Curry goes to Africa four or five times a year with Signs of Hope International.
“They talk about Rachel every time. She made quite an impression.”

“I refuse to let my circumstances have me.”
Rachel’s “honesty and candor and her willingness to share this personal experience with people has been not only a tremendous coping tool (for her), but also a tremendous gift (for others),” shares Emilie.

“As women and mothers, we are in a great position to make a difference. We can easily use our circumstances as an excuse to not do what we’ve got the potential to do. I’m sure I have a get-out-of-jail-free card for being depressed and saying ‘my life is really hard.’ I just have circumstances that I don’t expect — but who doesn’t?” muses Rachel.

Emilie says, “She is just like you and me — a woman trying to hold it all together. All the while, she is absolutely committed to changing the world.” 

Here is something I've painted that I'm proud of:

I have several other paintings and drawings posted to this blog, if you feel that you need more to go on for a judgment. Where do you think my talent lies? I won't be offended with your judgment, I just need more than my husband's opinion to consider. I probably won't stop doing either one, but I'll likely focus my efforts on one.

Thanks for your help!


  1. Do you have to choose? I think you do both beautifully. I say do whichever inspires you at the moment. Sometimes it will be watercolor, other times, writing.

    1. Thank you for your kindness. I don't have to choose, just want to know if I should focus my attention on one or the other. I need to find ways to fill the gaps financially and have made way more money writing than doing art...that said, I haven't really tried to sell my art. Time will tell.

  2. You write well, Pam, but I agree with Carl. I think your writing is good, but your painting is unique. It has your personality in it, and that makes it special. I also agree with Emily, you shouldn't stop writing, but if you ask me, watercolor wins the arm wrestling match. Love you!

    1. Thanks, Amy. I thought you might say that. :) I won't ever stop writing, because I love it.


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