Sunglasses

 

You probably think that most people without sight wear sunglasses for appearance reasons.  Whether blind from birth or through accident or illness, many of us with impaired vision consider our God-given eyes more liability than asset.  Of course some people without sight can see enough that the sun’s glare also hurts their eyes.  Others wear them for protection.  Although my eyes don’t work, for instance, they still feel pain.  So when I smash into a low-hanging tree branch, I wince and probably swear.

But now there’s another reason yu might see us in sunglasses, and it’s all thanks to Snapchat. Our sunglasses just may contain built-in cameras.  So beware, because we just may be recording your every embarrassing move.

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Uber

 

 

I’m very excited.  I’m now aspiring to a second career, well, third, actually.  Wait, even fourth, third grade teacher, Teen therapist, writer, and now:  drum rool….Uber driver.  I can picture myself, driverless car, possibly a little red convertible, Dave in the front seat in harness, sitting tall, ears erect.   I’d be so conversational and cheerful, the way I was as a summer waitress at beach resorts like Nantucket Island.  Cconversational and cheerful cover bundles of missing skill sets, so touch your Uber app in a few months after Pittsburgh nails this down, of course, you know when the cars can change lanes by themselves.  Just tap Sally and Dave, red convertible, four minutes.

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Comfort zone In the last ten years, our son has lived in six different cities and taken six different jobs, all with the same company, all promotions. He is a very quick study, so gets to know the highlights of Chicago, Phoenix, L.A., Boston, Irvine/Newport Beach, and San Francisco rapidly, as well as getting to know his new bosses and his employees. “But,” I asked him recently, “at what toll?” To be sure, the changes create a lot of stress, he says. One of the advantages of growing up is that each of us often has a choice about how much stress we’re forced to undergo. We don’t have to do calculus again or another class amounting to mental or emotional struggle. We can limit the activities that make us feel like a fool. Unless we develop a disability. As a person who is deaf and blind, I am often not in my comfort zone. No matter how beautifully I keep up my guide dog’s training, he drags me to an irresistibly fragrant pole or pedestrian. No matter how graceful I want to be, I still gesture and knock over a wine glass. I step off the sidewalk and fall on a divot in a broken concrete driveway. My disabilities launch me often into a discomfort zone. And then I’ve chosen to be a writer, which means rejection and then perseverance, perspiration. I’ve elected to be a teacher, which offers the possibility of mutiny, or at least challenge, so I prepare madly and constantly. I often feel too busy and don’t luxuriate enough. But in my conversation with our son about the pressure he has been under for a decade, I heard myself saying, “But what would happen if you live most of the time in your comfort zone? What if you hadn’t been challenged and lived always in the same town, with the same job, seeing only people like yourself, doing only the things you were good at? How much would you grow?” “I hear you,” my son said. And my words struck me, too. Too much discomfort, and life could become unbearable. But there’s definitely a trap living too much in the comfort zone. How can we keep learning? How can we develop empathy, something that seems in short supply today? With that said, I’ll step from the comfort of my laptop, a.k.a. pulpit, and head up to the busy shopping area of our neighborhood. I won’t face the discomfort of physical injury, but of embarrassment from my own or Dave’s mistakes. Ah, isn’t there a statute of limitations on this emotion?

In the last ten years, our son has lived in six different cities and taken six different jobs, all with the same company, all promotions.  He is a very quick study, so gets to know the highlights of Chicago, Phoenix, L.A., Boston, Irvine/Newport Beach, and San Francisco rapidly, as well as getting to know his new bosses and his employees.  “But,” I asked him recently, “at what toll?”

To be sure, the changes create a lot of stress, he says.

One of the advantages of growing up is that each of us often has a choice about how much stress we’re forced to undergo.  We don’t have to do calculus again or another class amounting to mental or emotional struggle.  We can limit the activities that make us feel like a fool.

Unless we develop a disability.  As a person who is deaf and blind, I am often not in my comfort zone.  No matter how beautifully I keep up my guide dog’s training, he drags me to an irresistibly fragrant pole or pedestrian.  No matter how graceful I want to be, I still gesture and knock over a wine glass.  I step off the sidewalk and fall on a divot in a broken concrete driveway.  My disabilities launch me often into a discomfort zone.

And then I’ve chosen to be a writer, which means rejection and then perseverance, perspiration. I’ve elected to be a teacher, which offers the possibility of mutiny, or at least challenge, so I prepare madly and constantly.  I often feel too busy and don’t luxuriate enough.

But in my conversation with our son about the pressure he has been under for a decade, I heard myself saying, “But what would happen if you live most of the time in your comfort zone? What if you hadn’t been challenged and lived always in the same town, with the same job, seeing only people like yourself, doing only the things you were good at?  How much would you grow?”

“I hear you,” my son said.

And my words struck me, too. Too much discomfort, and life could become unbearable.  But there’s definitely a trap living too much in the comfort zone.  How can we keep learning?  How can we develop empathy, something that seems in short supply today?

With that said, I’ll step from the comfort of my laptop, a.k.a. pulpit, and head up to the busy shopping area of our neighborhood. I won’t face the discomfort of physical injury, but of embarrassment from my own or Dave’s mistakes.  Ah, isn’t there a statute of limitations on this emotion?

 

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Value of Being Among the Disabled

 

Probably 95% of my friends are not blind, deaf, or disabled, although they are slowing down with age, the great disabler. Many wear hearing aids now, as I do; some even use canes, as I also do.  But I wish that I had more regular interaction with others who have dealt with physical impairment for decades.  I almost always benefit from conversations with these kindred spirits.

Mostly we laugh about shared frustrations, like trying to find our turn speaking in a group of sighted people. I’m convinced there are nonverbal cues about who has the next turn to offer an opinion.  I shouldn’t complain, because I am hardly diffident.  I get my oar in plenty.  But I often find I begin to speak exactly when someone else has begun.  In one of my regular groups, where I’m the only Deaf-Blindie, I have this experience half the time I open my mouth.  No one in the group notices, which could be a message to me, either that I’m not terribly fascinating or that I’m too talkative.

Another experience we blind people laugh about is something we share with African-Americans and others of color—we all look alike.  In my church there’s another blind woman.  We’re similar in age, but different in every other aspect of appearance.  Yet, often church members attribute something I’ve said to her, and vice versa.  It’s pretty hilarious.

In these discussions with blind friends, I do encounter small differences in our experiences that set me to thinking. a blind digital guru, for instance, mentioned that he was tall, and I said, “I know.  Bob told me.”

“How did he happen to tell you that?” the friend asked.

“I usually ask for physical descriptions of people,” I answered.

“Really,” he said. “Well, I guess that shouldn’t surprise me; you saw till you were 26.  But born blind, I would never think to ask about someone’s appearance.”

Yet, one’s height, weight, choice of dress, and style reflect a lot of information about a person—even her lack of interest in appearance. The conversation made me think of other visual reflections of people that I don’t ask much about, like the home they’ve chosen, their decorative sense, their choice of automobile, the photos or art work they display.  I learn practical aspects of their homes—where the bathroom is, or the sharp-edged coffee table after my shin is lurking.  Such conversations prompt me to ask more questions about the visuals in people’s lives.

And always the encounters with others who are blind or disabled lead me to and from my comfort zone.

 

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Meaningful Lives In two months, two extraordinary women have died from my Tuesday night writing group. First was Tina Zubek, a children’s librarian, who was only 60 years old. Tina had just reduced her work hours at the Carnegie library so that she could have more writing time, and the decision paid off. She received recognition twice at our local SCBWI conference for manuscripts with promise. Sadly, she didn’t have time to revise and market these two books. She developed a very rare neurological condition and died five weeks later. Tina had also attended my church, an interracial congregation formed in 1968 and held the co-chair of our council. She pushed tirelessly for issues of hunger and more equal educational opportunity. She did the work of her faith, not just espousing it. She left a husband and 25-year-old son and a reputation in our writing group for being the Roger Ebert (sp) of books. Francesca Compozzi Alvin, 68, a retired Pittsburgh public school teacher, had breast cancer in 1994. After a mastectomy she seemed cancer-free. Francesca joined my Tuesday group at its inception in 2002. She wrote picture books and early middle grade novels. Regrettably, her cancer returned soon after joining, and Francesca and her doctor found one chemo drug after another to keep the cancer from spreading. Her daughter, Sara-Anne, and son-in-law, Justin, had a baby boy, Cash, whom Francesca called her “motivator.” Francesca and her husband, Lou, served every Christmas Day at the Ronald McDonald house. I met her in late 2001 at a Hunger Action Coalition fund-raiser, where she and her first graders were receiving an award. Every week these public school kids brought in canned food to donate. In our group Francesca was seen as our bright light, our sunbeam, bringing pastries or lovely soft scarves for every member. This writing group and my Wednesday night writing group have built a beautiful bond over the years. They offer compliments and suggestions to each member as she reads with a gentleness, but candor. Despite the age range from about 87 down to 35, the group members connect with such respect, admiration, and lack of competition. Clearly, our Tuesday group is in mourning. But I think of these two women, whom I loved. I feel that their lives and contributions were cut short. But I ask myself about the value of a life, any life, and its meaning. Both these women made those around them better people. They exuded the qualities I think represent the best ethics, humility, other-directedness, hard work, acceptance, forgiveness, love, and the common good. R.I.P., dear friends.

In two months, two extraordinary women have died from my Tuesday night writing group.  First was Tina Zubek, a children’s librarian, who was only 60 years old.  Tina had just reduced her work hours at the Carnegie library so that she could have more writing time, and the decision paid off.  She received recognition twice at our local SCBWI conference for manuscripts with promise.  Sadly, she didn’t have time to revise and market these two books.  She developed a very rare neurological condition and died five weeks later.  Tina had also attended my church, an interracial congregation formed in 1968 and held the co-chair of our council.  She pushed tirelessly for issues of hunger and more equal educational opportunity.  She did the work of her faith, not just espousing it.  She left a husband and 25-year-old son and a reputation in our writing group for being the Roger Ebert (sp) of books.

Francesca Compozzi Alvin, 68, a retired Pittsburgh public school teacher, had breast cancer in 1994.  After a mastectomy she seemed cancer-free.  Francesca joined my Tuesday group at its inception in 2002.  She wrote picture books and early middle grade novels.  Regrettably, her cancer returned soon after joining, and Francesca and her doctor found one chemo drug after another to keep the cancer from spreading.  Her daughter, Sara-Anne, and son-in-law, Justin, had a baby boy, Cash, whom Francesca called her “motivator.”   Francesca and her husband, Lou, served every Christmas Day at the Ronald McDonald house.  I met her in late 2001 at a Hunger Action Coalition fund-raiser, where she and her first graders were receiving an award.  Every week these public school kids brought in canned food to donate.  In our group Francesca was seen as our bright light, our sunbeam, bringing pastries or lovely soft scarves for every member.

This writing group and my Wednesday night writing group have built a beautiful bond over the years.  They offer compliments and suggestions to each member as she reads with a gentleness, but candor.  Despite the age range from about 87 down to 35, the group members connect with such respect, admiration, and lack of competition.  Clearly, our Tuesday group is in mourning.

But I think of these two women, whom I loved.  I feel that their lives and contributions were cut short.  But I ask myself about the value of a life, any life, and its meaning.  Both these women made those around them better people.  They exuded the qualities I think represent the best ethics, humility, other-directedness, hard work, acceptance, forgiveness, love, and the common good.  R.I.P., dear friends.

 

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Sloppy Generalizations The award-winning writer, George Saunders, speaks of all writing being about “specifics.” During my Wednesday night writing group, we found ourselves discussing the generic, ordinary description, as opposed to one that’s detailed, but targeted to character, plot, setting, etc. I think of how quickly we flip to generalizations in the rhetoric of the dreadful current events, of the presidential and other political campaigns in progress now, or in regress, if that’s the opposite. I’m afraid I’m as guilty as anyone, reverting to the general, though I’d rather avoid knee-jerk reactions. I’m convinced that writing helps our sloppy thinking, so that we remember that characters and events/experiences are nuanced, elaborate, conflicting. I want to be more open to expectation of interactions that are more empathic and open. In my circle, especially with family, where I expect party-line utterance, thinking I know the views, I don’t engage. I keep interaction short and off-substance or make jokes. I need to challenge my stereotypes, my bete-noirs. And possibly, although this scares me to death because I hate conflict, maybe I need to commit to more open conversation. It might lead to more complexity and more real communication. The award-winning writer, George Saunders, speaks of all writing being about “specifics.” During my Wednesday night writing group, we found ourselves discussing the generic, ordinary description, as opposed to one that’s detailed, but targeted to character, plot, setting, etc. I think of how quickly we flip to generalizations in the rhetoric of the dreadful current events, of the presidential and other political campaigns in progress now, or in regress, if that’s the opposite. I’m afraid I’m as guilty as anyone, reverting to the general, though I’d rather avoid knee-jerk reactions. I’m convinced that writing helps our sloppy thinking, so that we remember that characters and events/experiences are nuanced, elaborate, conflicting. I want to be more open to expectation of interactions that are more empathic and open. In my circle, especially with family, where I expect party-line utterance, thinking I know the views, I don’t engage. I keep interaction short and off-substance or make jokes. I need to challenge my stereotypes, my bete-noirs. And possibly, although this scares me to death because I hate conflict, maybe I need to commit to more open conversation. It might lead to more complexity and more real communication.

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Minority status

            When I became blind, I also lost a love relationship and my emotionally-satisfying work—kind of a triple crown.  In rehab I learned that the loss of sight was even fraught with more loss.  Techniques of daily living proved to be quickly “in-the-face” deficits, practical and enormously frustrating….how to pick out my clothes, to do my hair, to identify and negotiate food from plate to mouth, to step out of my house safely.  Rehab addressed these basics immediately, allowing the more subtle psychological losses to surface, the sense of social adequacy and lowered self-esteem.    What I only learned much later was that I’d also lost status.  I was no longer in the majority.  I was now a member of a minority group.

It didn’t strike me in the beginning, but as I moved through my first year as a blind person, and talked to people in other minority groups, I began to catalog some similarities.  There were stereotypes.  Not only would blind people be depressed and pretty helpless, they would also be good—no swearing, no drinking, no mischief or humor.    We would marry only another blind person and we’d know most of the blind in the country, not just the vicinity.  In the classroom or meeting, we were generally the only member of that particular minority  attending.  We represented      that group.  We were the ambassadors.  I never knew how much I’d taken to heart the words of the rehab director when I graduated, “Go and be good missionaries for the blind.”  I color my hair and clean my house excessively to be a good missionary.

What I didn’t understand until years later, though, is how much I’d identify with others in minority groups, who also experienced discrimination, whose personalities were also dominated by their minority status.  (Once in a bar when I was single, a guy putting moves on me whispered to a friend, “I’ve never had sex with a blind woman.”  Not sure if he ever managed it, but I didn’t help him achieve that.)

What I realize is that I empathize with all members of minority groups.  I immediately cut them slack, because they’ve known struggle and have had to work so much harder to keep up with those in the majority.  This doesn’t translate into a perfect connection to all, but it does mean an openness, a willingness.  And it does mean that when something like the recent Orlando shootings happens, I share the horror of the whole country, but possibly even something individual and personal.

And although it’s become almost a cliché to be grateful for one’s difficulties/challenges, or at least a cliché in my story, I am grateful to have been dropped into a minority group. And so I list the names of the victims of June 12 to say my individual, personal goodbye.

 

 

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

 

 

 

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