End of the Era of the Handshake

 

Dr. Fauci suggest that the covid-19 just might be ending the era of the handshake. Should this come to pass, I understand completely and will comply. But as someone totally blind, I will grieve the loss. Some might ask why I’d consider this a loss—handshaking is so formal, even nerdy. But I was nurtured to touch, to hug. My dad was a warm-hearted, charismatic guy without a single sleazy bone or impulse. Had he lived longer, he probably would have had to curb his exuberant greetings.

So, nature plus disability has fed my appreciation of touch. Through the sense, my guide dog communicates all sorts of messages. If he pulls harder, another dog is ahead. If his tail beats into my leg, my husband, kids, or grandkids are approaching. If I feel the harness dip down, Dave is committing the sniffing crime.

Touch not only gives me vital information as I walk independently, it grounds me in reality. If someone says hello, a hand clasp locates the person. My hearing loss doesn’t allow for solid directionality, so I may not face the person accurately. The touch of the hand tells me about size, height, weight, age, and strength, even a bit of personality. It ensures that a real human is before me, not a disembodied voice.

Touch has been so important to me over my life with blindness. I used it in every aspect of parenting, feeding, dressing, diapering, and transporting. Because I couldn’t see my children, I held, hugged, tickled them. I parented them in the manner of a mama chimp, with them in a front pack, backpack, encircled around my shoulders, dangling from one arm. It’s how I grandparent. My grandkids catapult into me. They leap into my lap, crawl onto my shoulders, and swing up to wrap their legs around me. After I leave, our daughter feels crowded, swamped by her kids. “Space,” she calls. “Give me space.”

You see, she can see the two cuties. She doesn’t need the total entanglement I crave. So, no handshakes? The end of this era translates into a wide litany of nos for me. But maybe masks, rubber gloves, protective gear will be ever-necessary. Through the gear, I can still keep track of them, all knotted together and intertwined. I can still fulfill that chimp in me.

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Harriet Tubman–banned?

 

 

About a year ago, I blogged about a nasty attack on an innocent Braille cell. Turns out that President Trump banned workers in the Trump tower from installing Braille numbers on the elevators. Now I’ve been known to attack a Braille cell, to go after it with a fingernail when the bumps clump together tighter than unstirred quinoa.

“But it’s required by law,” the workers protested, “the A.D.A.”

“I don’t care if it’s required by the A.D.D. or the I.U.D. or the U.t.i.” (He said something like that).

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was a new ban, this time announced by the secretary of most cabinet posts in the Trump Administration, secretary of the treasury—Steve Mnuchin. “No Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill under Donald Trump’s watch.”

Harriet Tubman, banned? The most famous American slave escapee? The most famous “conductor” of the underground railroad? A Union spy during the Civil War?

Isn’t that like banning I don’t know—someone heroic, inspired, I mean, someone like, um, Moses?

But wait, Harriet was Moses!

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Ash Wednesday and Coal Ash

I just read that coal ash pollution is leaking into the ground water at nine power plants in Pennsylvania, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project. This pollution leaves arsenic and other chemicals behind. At one former coal plant near Pittsburgh, arsenic levels in the ground water are 372 times the PA’s safe drinking water standard. And this isn’t just happening in PA. More than 90% of the sites that store coal ash in the US have levels of contamination exceeding the EPA health standards. what is as horrifying, if not more horrifying, is that I find these stories adjacent to news reports exposing one senior official after another using their government positions for personal gain. How many Alabama tornadoes or continued ocean oil spills will it take to turn our leaders back to addressing the human-made climate change that so jeopardizes our children’s and grandchildren’s futures? On this day before Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance and remembrance in the western Christian church, Maybe we can awaken to more long term needs of our planet.

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“The Uninhabitable Earth”

The Uninhabitable Earth is a book to be published in April of this year and a book I’ll purchase in multiple copies, for multiple people. The author from the New Yorker Magazine, David Wallace-Wells writes that the goal of only 2% global warming is the floor, not the ceiling. At this point, we have put so much carbon in the air that warming less than that is impossible. This amount most likely means that 150 million people will die from air pollution, excessive heat, and multiple severe storms the like we haven’t experienced. Wallace-Wells says something so startling that one would think it would be seared into my memory forever, but in truth, the horror of the statement sent all my brain cells to combatting it. But I think he said that simply in the last 25 years, we’ve put more carbon into the atmosphere than was emitted in 15 million years. Now, please know to double-check that statistic, but what he said was so grim that I have felt desperate. By 2050 life, even in Scandinavia, will be impossible for periods of time because of extreme heat waves. And talk about an immigrant emergency as some are today—2050 will make that the truly “Trumped-up crisis many think it is. But sarcasm aside, how many of us will be alive in 2050? Not I, but my kids and grandkids, so many people I desperately love. How can we go on using the energy of the 19th and 20th centuries? China, even Saudi Arabia, are funding all sorts of solar and renewable projects, and we’re bringing back the energy that had gone bust in the 1950s. Help!

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Mary Oliver, RIP

“…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

 

This is an excerpt from a poem by Mary Oliver who died yesterday in Florida at the age of 83. Years ago, I hosted a spiritual enrichment group early each Monday morning, and we spent a year just reading her poems, an exercise I never regretted.

During this time of divisiveness and conflict in our country, so many of us search for music or books or movies to uplift us; we want to be around affirming people and uplifting activity. We want antidotes to the whirling hate around us. Nature provides so many opportunities to dwell in the positive and the creative. Mary Oliver’s poems nurture us and cocoon us from all that combats love and truth and intelligence and kindness and wonder.

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Most Profound Pet Peeve

 

 

If I had to choose my fiercest pet peeve, I would select the literary, pervasive, erroneous stereotype that the blind are always desperate to touch another’s face to “see” what he looks like. No, sighted writers who do not do their research! Some of you I absolutely love, but you didn’t get your blind characters right. How many blind people did you query?

In this period of Own Voices, why do sighted authors think they can delineate characters who are blind accurately without research? Those of us who can’t see have multiple opinions and tastes, likes and dislikes. Only if people interact and interview many will they begin to portray someone blind authentically.

And trust me, most of us do not want to feel your face the minute we meet you. In fact, we may be best friends with you for decades and not want to touch your face–ever.

First, feeling the face is an intimate experience. It takes all the ppreliminaries that a kiss would take—conversation, sharing, connecting, relating.

Second, Feeling the face does not tell us what you look like; it tells us what your face feels like. It’s tactile, not visual.

And unless we’ve seen before and have a visual memory, we will not form a picture of you from feeling up your face, no matter how long we engage in the practice.

When I was becoming blind at 26, I wore occluders during many of my classes in the rehab program, so that I’d begin to trust my other senses and not rely on the partial sight I had. So, I experienced stores and all kinds of places tactilely and automatically formed a picture of them. When I removed the occluders, those places never resembled my image—not even close.

So, too, the experience of a face touched. After a teacher at the rehab facility asked me to touch his face, which I uncomfortably did, I caught sight of him, and he looked nothing like I’d imagined.

Yet, too many times, I’ve encountered the charge to “touch my face and see what I look like. I’ve encountered it one-on-one, and I’ve encountered it in groups, where the leader at a seminar draws attention to me, asking me to touch his face… Once, a friend who knew my aversion to this stereotype, whispered, “tell him you’d rather touch his penis to see what he looks like!”

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Publishers looking for Diverse Books

 

Two publishers, looking for books dealing with diverse characters and subjects, have sprung up. One is Versify, an imprint of Houghton-MifflinHarcourt, and now possibly the only one of that group to accept unagented submissions. Kwame Alexander, The Crossover and other poetic and fabulous books, is the founder. First books come out in 2019.

               Kokila is the second imprint I just learned about that focuses on books for diverse audiences that will also read unagented material. Ramata Tripathi is involved here, and I had an excellent and very thoughtful critique from her several years ago at the LA SCBWI conference. Writers and book lovers, check them out.

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Antipathy to Braille

Years ago, in a rehab program, I took a Braille class with other students, who, like me, had become blind in their adulthood. We discovered that this ingenious 6-dot alphabet was not difficult to memorize, even all the shorthand contractions. But it was difficult to feel. We scratched with our fingernails to determine how many bumps and where they were located, i.e., was that dots 1-4-5 and a “d” or 1-2-5 and, therefore, and “h?” And when the individual letters formed words, how could we feel one letter from another? Then, one line of words from another. We also often began reading a paper of Braille upside down and had to read many words to figure out that we weren’t reading it upright. It was challenging.

But the effort became more arduous because our instructor was determined to teach us Grade 1 and Grade 2 Braille in a 15-week session. Within 6 weeks, people in the class were falling behind, but she would not be deterred and pushed us forward.

Turned out that the greatest threat I could give members of that class was “I’ll send you a note in Braille.” So those students, except for one or two plus me, formed an antipathy to Braille.

Possibly other blind people have had encounters with similar instruction and formed a deep revulsion to Braille. But I recently read about a surprising new enemy of the tactile system–President Donald Trump.

Now this was a shock. Doesn’t he have bigger things to pick on than a tiny Braille cell the size of a fingertip? I mean, what’s up with this fight?

Turns out that he opposed Braille numbers on his elevators in the Trump Tower. “Get them off of there,” he ordered some underling.

“But Sir, it’s against the law.”

“No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower,” he reportedly said, which really hurt my feelings. I hadn’t planned on downsizing to an apartment there, but knowing that I’m barred from it, well, it kind of raises the rebel in me.

and really, what does he have against renting to a blind person. Two per cent of us come with sweetheart dogs, but, oh, wait. I actually read that he also has an antipathy to dogs, too. Gosh. Dogs and Braille cells, pretty threatening stuff! Who would have known?

 

 

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The Opposite of Love

 

A young adult book called The Hate U Give maintains that we all experience this emotion. Interestingly, the first letter of each word in the title spells thug, suggesting that we turn ruffian, criminal, violent when we express the emotion. I’ve only known two or three people that might never have experienced this feeling, but probably even those few have hated at one time or another. Dave, my guide dog, alone seems hate-free.

For over two years, I’ve been stunned by the effectiveness of President trump’s messaging. He really has his finger on the pulse of his base. His fans seem to hang on every word, if excerpts from his rallies in Florida and in my old “stomping grounds,” Wilkes-Barre, PA are typical crowd reactions.

The emotion he stirs is a familiar one to me. My mother was a character out of Hillbilly Elegy, by which I mean, full of anger, but strong as a rock. Our household was acrimonious, and particularly my parents argued. Often in my extended family today, there are spats, even outright fights, that blow over, and then there’s great affection shared.

But growing up in discord, I didn’t want any part of the fighting, the anger, the hate. I still felt it all, but I always found that, when attacked, I just grew so upset I couldn’t speak.

My husband didn’t grow up in a combative household. His parents had escaped Hitler, so they’d known hate and enough of every kind of violence for a lifetime. their home in the US was calm. After Bob and I married, we mostly confined our disagreements to our bedroom, away from the kids.

Thinking about President Trump’s rallies, I remembered a sermon recently. The minister asked us what we thought the opposite of love was. Most of us responded, “hate.”

But he argued that it was fear. And fear begets anger and resentment and hate and scapegoating.

I heard a commentary on others who had worked to the emotions of a crowd—Adolf Hitler, certainly, but also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and I added: Nelson Mandela. These last four men spoke to emotions, but to the power of positive feelings, of dreams and hope and freedom and justice for all. When those four men were speaking, we also experienced severe divisions in our country. We had terrible human and economic suffering, so much separation of class and race.

Maybe it’s too simple to say today that most of us are fearful. It’s fairly easy to stir up all our venom. Fear is a reality, I’m afraid, (ahem), and we must face it and think how to tackle it, moving forward with love and wisdom. Hate is easy. Love is not, except for my furry Davey-man.

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Literary Crime

Literary crime

 

I’ve been struck this week by two crimes of a literary nature. Naively, I’ve thought lovers of books, reading, writing, the publishing world would be too elevated to sink to theft and fraud, but I’ve been wrong.

First, I learned of a literary agent who accepted clients, but never sent out their manuscripts. When they nudged her for feedback from the editors, the agent forged letters from them. Only recently was she discovered and exposed. What possible gain could she glean from such fraud and inaction? Maybe access to another’s creative work which she could pass off as her own? I haven’t heard that anyone has uncovered her motivation.

Then, I read of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s rare books heist. A long-term archivist and a book store owner joined forces to steal and sell volumes from the rare books section of the main library. The theft over many years added up to a loss of over $8 million before the two thieves were discovered. At this point, the library has only recovered an eighth of that money. The archivist claimed to have been paid a little over a hundred thousand dollars during a period of twenty years or so. The book store owner probably accumulated much more. Still, the motivation for such criminal efforts eludes me.

 

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