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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Safety vs. Independence



As a Deaf-blind person, I’ve faced the conflict between safety and independence several times. On a recent week-long trip to England with my husband, I confronted this concern once again.

During the actual six days of our visit, my husband had to work or be in meetings at least two. I actually relished the prospect of those two days alone to finish up a writing project.

Dave, my guide dog, was back home in Pittsburgh. We’d boarded him, since England required expensive veterinary paper work, another costly chip, and a fee for Pennsylvania state forms, so I made do with my cane. Our room had access to food and a bathroom, though inconsistent we fi and front desk help. No problem. I planned to utilize MSWord, not the internet. I also wasn’t marvelously oriented to the inn, let alone the neighborhood, but I assumed the room provided all my needs. And so, it did—the first day.

The second day, however, it failed me. My husband didn’t return when expected. At first, I didn’t worry. The archives must have been open longer than he’d thought, and he was taking advantage of the additional time. When he still hadn’t shown an hour later, though, I worried. I couldn’t access him by phone or e-mail. He could have been locked in the castle tower containing the manuscripts by accident or even design—mugged and beaten on the walk home. He could have had a heart attack, even though he didn’t have any health problems. He was certainly old enough for surprise illnesses.

And if any of these things had happened, he wouldn’t be able to reach me by phone or e-mail. Plus, probably the archivist had no contact info for me, no idea of my whereabouts. A mugger wouldn’t care, and the paramedics couldn’t reach me, even if they’d tried me in the numerous Alexanders in Bob’s cell’s contact list.

I tried to quell the hysteria by rational action. I thumped to the front desk, hoping to get help to call the archivist whose name I did know—desk unoccupied. I tapped back to my room. In another half hour I’d begin knocking on strangers’ doors or, worse, screaming for attention. And that’s when Bob appeared, buoyant, breathless with excitement.

“The archivist could stay till 6, and, Sally, I found every record I needed.”

I slumped on the bed. “we can’t do this anymore. I’m on foreign soil, and I’m not independent here. I should never be without cell and e-mail reception unless I have a land line or solid mastery of the building and the neighborhood.”

Bob sat. “Oh, God, that’s true.”

We realized we hadn’t faced the potential risks of disability, older age, downed electronics, etc. Clearly, in new terra firma, we needed to prepare responsibly and take certain measures to ensure safety. Big wake-up call for future travel!

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