Some writers suggest that authors write, not to impart truth, but to discover truth. In the first few books I published I didn’t quite understand this notion. But as I wrote the memoir, Taking Hold: My Journey into Blindness, I understood. I always knew that losing my sight also triggered the loss of my first serious relationship as well, so blindness was really a double-barreled loss.
But as I wrote Taking Hold, chronicling my hospitalizations in January, February, March, etc., describing the arrangement I’d made for the school principal to hire a permanent substitute for my students, I kept filling up with tears. I’d enjoyed all my third grade classes completely. When I’d return to the classroom after each hospitalization, the students were more distant, often calling me by the sub’s name instead. It struck me then as I sniffed away the tears at my computer twenty some years later that blindness had been triple-barreled. I’d also lost the career I’d loved.
The superintendant of schools in California hadn’t ruled out my ability to teach: “I‘d love to have you teach again for us, Sally. Just prove to me you can still do it without sight.”
But I couldn’t in good conscience go back into a classroom—my Braille was too slow to keep up with the third grade readers and my discipline, too dependent on visual cues—the gleam of mischief in the eye.
I believed that blind people could teach this age group, though, particularly those blind teachers who had lost their vision early enough to master Braille and train their hearing to discipline auditorily. But that didn’t describe me. So I went to graduate school and changed to a career in social work, where I again engaged young people, those who were depressed or acting out. Only after my children came into the world did I turn to a career in writing.
And, surprisingly, becoming a writer opened the door once again to teaching. Schools invited me to speak and read my work and give tips for budding writers.
During school appearances teachers sit with their students in the assemblies and handle any disciplinary issues while I stand onstage or in front of the room with my captivating visual aid, Flossie, (German shepherd guide dog), and talk about plot and characterization. Often in speaking about certain ingredients of good writing I use my disabilities to make the literary points clear.
I invite a student volunteer to the front of the room and say, “I can’t see the audience, obviously. Can you describe what you see?”
My volunteer usually tells me that he sees “people and teachers.”
Then I give him a paper towel holder to peer through, and I ask him to describe one person in detail. After the student gives a full description, I say how important specific details are in our writing. Usually in the q and a that follows, kids will ask just what I do see.
“Mist,” I say. And even now, I can get misty-eyed at the gift of having a beloved career restored.