Brunonia Barry

I feel compelled to write about Brunonia Barry, the author of The Lace Reader and two subsequent novels.  I read The Lace Reader years ago and enjoyed it very much.  But that’s not the reason for the compulsion.  I met a man who told me he worked in marketing for Harper Collins and some other publishers, marketing various authors.  “The most famous author,” he said, “was Brunonia Barry.”  Because I recognized the name, I was impressed, but didn’t think any more about it.

The very next day I had an e-mail from Goodreads with a letter to readers from Brunonia Barry.  I love coincidence, so wanted to write this short post to publicize Barry and her books.





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Lighten Your Blog I just received a chiding from my computer inbox. In a message from one of my few blog followers, my screen reader spoke the subject line as “lighten your blog.” It also referred to my blog that I would soon enter a new career, as an Uber driver with driverless cars on the horizon. Turns out the subject line was “liked your blog.” But ha! My hearing loss heard it otherwise. Maybe my hearing acuity is influenced by guilt???? Do I, Sally Alexander, ever get too opinionated and preachy? Amazing that technology can not only frustrate an humble me, but take me also to task!

I just received a chiding from my computer inbox.  In a message from one of my few blog followers, my screen reader spoke the subject line as “lighten your blog.”  It also referred to my blog that I would soon enter a new career, as an Uber driver with driverless cars on the horizon.  Turns out the subject line was “liked your blog.”  But ha!  My hearing loss heard it otherwise.  Maybe my hearing acuity is influenced by guilt????  Do I, Sally Alexander, ever get too opinionated and preachy?

Amazing that technology can not only frustrate an humble me, but take me also to task!



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The word privilege has come up often this year.  Though it’s not being highlighted in dictionaries as are such words as “deplorables” or “bigly” or “nasty,” it’s certainly been used a great deal, with regard to “White privilege.”

As a White person, I didn’t attribute my privilege recently to a recommendation to go to my favorite shoe store in Shady Side for a pair of “nude” heels.  “The ones Brian has there will go perfectly with the dress.”

But when I thought about it later, I realized that there was a pretty huge assumption with the label “nude.” I began to think of other less glaring kinds of privilege that I accrue because of my skin.  Were I behind a wheel, driving, and in a few years, remember, I might become an Uber driver, I wouldn’t be stopped by a policeman for a broken tail light. People don’t cross to the other side of the street at dusk because of me—or do they?  I do think I give an emotional charge with my disability.  Some percentage of people in the population are afraid of me.  But not because of my expected criminal intent.

This got me thinking about the combination of my Whiteness and my disabilities.  I’m not the garden variety White person.  Disability does subject many people to discrimination in employment, housing, education.  In past blogs Ive pointed out the experiences I’ve had with this, but do admit that I’ve had less than my share.

But I did recently experience discrimination or at least serious oversight. Bob and I attended the Michael Chabon talk at the Carnegie usic Hall December 9.  Though sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s English department, some Pitt group celebrating the humanities, and several other very astute groups, the venue offered no amplifiers.  Now I attend the Drew-Heinz lectures there every season.  Always they have an ample number of amplifiers for the enormous crowd.  And mind you, Chabon was a sell-out crowd.  How can educators not have thought of hearing issues of the public in the 21st century?  I was so shocked.

”We don’t have any,” I was told after pursuing this for a half hour. “We don’t provide them. But you can sit near the speaker.”


And I did—probably 35 feet away. I also had brought my amplifying equipment that connects to my hearing aids.But for 90 minutes I couldn’t decipher more than an occasional word.  A friend sat in the first balcony.  He has perfect hearing and said most people had trouble hearing because Chabon was interviewed.  His mic was too far from his mouth and he kept hitting it, making a kind of exploding sound that I did hear.

Attending a lecture that I cannot hear is really torture. In 2016 there’s no excuse for such oversights.

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An Anniversary I will not be celebrating, Nov. 27, 2015

One year ago, November 27, 2015, the now President-elect ridiculed a disabled reporter named Serge Kovaleski.  Kovaleski disputed Trump’s claims that hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9-11 attacks.  While Kovaleski spoke, Trump waved his arms around and held his hand in front of his chest in the position of a claw.  Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects joint movement.

I’ve written before of the pass that’s given to disabled people re: malevolent treatment.  Certainly disabled kids get teased and bullied.  But that ceases in adulthood.  Instead those of us with disability face benevolent discrimination—well-meaning able-bodied adults often react as if they know better what we should do and think.   Now I’m the first to admit to being “out of it” at times.  My blindness alone makes me goof, as when I asked a nun (in habit) if she were dating anyone.

But generally I can think for myself.  And most of the disabled people I know earn respect for the difficult challenges they face.  Insulting any of them, any of us, breaks a societal rule, if not a moral one.  It’s pretty pathetic.  But it seems that our future president is an equal opportunity derider.

Now there are many graver problems with our future President than his taking on the disabled  for humiliation.  And even if we had started our lives with $200 million from our fathers, our lives would still be harder than most.  But they are richer than Mr. Trump will ever know or understand.

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Gwen Ifill, superb journalist



One of my heroes died today.  Gwen Ifill, an astute, funny news reporter, host of PBS’ “Washington Week in Review” and cohost of the PBS “News Hour” died at 61.  I’m just sooo sad about this.  Bob and I together watch very little TV.  I need someone to narrate the visuals, so can’t do it independently, and Bob rarely watches anything regularly.  However, he’s been caught many times in random acts of watching, using with the sound muted, standing, planning to take a 10-minute break which turns into a half hour—all the time standing.

But “Washington Week in Review” was our show. We scheduled around it on Friday nights.  Recently I attended a conference that began on Friday night, ruining our mutual sharing of the show.  A friend offered Bob her hotel room while he waited for me, and uncharacteristically he accepted, because the bar he waited in didn’t have “Washington Week” on the TV.

We loved Gwen.  Without fail, at the end of the panel discussion, Bob and I stepped away, saying, “She is sooo great.”

She was insightful and incisive and energetic and wonderful at drawing out the four journalists asked to appear that week. She kept the discussion humming along and managed to add a point or clarify or correct, all with rare brevity.  And she was delightfully humorous and just so respectful.

In the past six months I’ve lost three dear friends, and today I’ve lost a hero. All who have appreciated the best possible fair, accurate news coverage must share my sadness.  RIP, beautiful soul, beautiful Gwen.

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Appropriation vs. Assimilation

Jodie Picoult just wrote a book that deals with racial issues.  She interviewed black women for over a  hundred hours, I understand, in order to write the book.  The book hit number one on the fiction best seller list.

In taking on this book, Jodie stepped into a  controversy that has been going on for years.  I remember meeting a new author in the early 80s who had published two books, one with a female Japanese protagonist, the other with a Black South African protagonist. Although the books were well-reviewed, she faced a lot of criticism for appropriating the stories of others.  The author was an American white woman.

Here is how I define these terms.  Appropriation is the taking over of something, and in the literary sense, it’s the taking over by the dominant group of the material of the less dominant.  Assimilation is the assuming of qualities in the majority.

As a newly blind person, I faced issues of appropriation and assimilation long before I became a writer.  I made a conscious effort to continue many of the nonverbal communication techniques of the sighted world.  I tried to remember to use facial expression.  I encouraged myself to keep gesturing, even though that often ended in contact with someone’s off-limits  body part.  But I bristled when people used my labels as emotional  negative ways, i.e., blind to her faults, deaf to our entreaties.  I criticized the icon, Helen Keller, for her adopting sighted language in her writing, even as I accidentally said, “See you later.”  I wanted to wear fashionable clothes and make-up to fit in to the sighted population. But I also wanted to express life as I experienced it.

So when I joined a writing group and met this particular author, I felt that she had every right to develop characters from cultures other than her own.  Not only should we write what we know, I thought, but we should write what we can truly learn about.  This woman did her research, so why shouldn’t she tell the stories she wants.

But then she told me, “I’ve been writing a book about a blind boy.”

“Now hold on,” I almost said.  Fortunately, I caught my hypocrisy and said, “I’d be happy to read it and offer suggestions.”

But I’m running into this problem as I try to market a biographical novel about a blind slave.  A month after sending it to a publisher, I received a rejection, saying that it would be difficult to publish a book about the exploitation of an African-american in this climate .  The book is multi-voiced in third person with very beefy research behind it.  And I think my window into the character is my blindness.

But I have a friend that I respect so fiercely who absolutely would not read or see “The Help,” because, as she put it, it was another White person telling our stories.”  This woman is a superb and successful writer.

So I still do dismay.


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Keeping my Edge

If I were to review my blogs, I’d probably find that I’ve spent a good amount of time saying how disability is good for me.  I remember talking about being out of one’s comfort zone as a positive.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned that blindness has made me a better listener, even as I sometimes strain to hear in noisy situations.  I’ve pointed out  the pluses in being in a minority group insofar as it can foster empathy and purpose and action.  Truth is that I really believe it all.  In my case disability has been redemptive.

Until last night’s conversation with my son, I’d thought about blogging about the flip side of disability, the falls I take, the bruises I self-inflict. I’ve taken to wearing a visor around the house so that the brim hits the tabletop or open door before my face does.  I’ve tried to find cushiony knee pads to protect my knees not only from falls, but from bumps into the piano bench or other annoying obstacle.

But last night our son talked about his work in corporate America, and I realized again the degree of stress involved. I heard myself saying that 60-hour  plus weeks constitute too  much stress.  But his response was that getting too  comfortable would make him “lose his edge.”  And that clicked with me.  Challenges keep us mentally sharp, and so again, I slip into the optimist about the overall good of my situation.  My minister last Sunday spoke of our suffering mattering—that our stress and our difficulties, we hope, should be meaningful.

And that’s where my personal experience doesn’t translate to so so much of the suffering in the world, past and present.

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