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Dinosaur: On Drawing While Blind

LightHouse Interpoint is the regular literary supplement from the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Read all of the previous installments here, and if you’re a blind or visually impaired writer, feel free to pitch us.

sketch of a dinosaur in front of blue sky

“Draw with me,” my five-year-old son Langston insisted. He picked up a coloring book of the easy and cool things to draw collection and dumped out a box of crayons. They skittered across the table, and one jumped to the floor.

I stooped, picked up the crayon from the floor and handed it back to him.

“No,” I told him as gently as I could, “you can draw by yourself.”

I couldn’t tell him the complicated truth: a confession of just how unprepared I was to draw with him. He knows his color now, so I hadn’t labeled the crayons in braille. More importantly, I can’t draw.

This was something I thought he knew. Whenever we were out in public with sighted friends, waiting in diners with menus and crayons, he always asked them to draw with him, not me. Now he was issuing a challenge:

“But I want someone to draw with me!” he wailed.

My shame deepend as my voice became firmer. “No,” I said with the questionable authority which came both from my position as a parent and the fear which drawing would uncover. the fear that he would see me at my very weakest, “You can do it.”

He burst into tears. No drawing happened that day.

 

***

It was Friday afternoon, I was in third grade, and it was once again time for art class. The art room reverberated with a hum of activity. The tile floors, metal chairs, high ceilings and noisy classmates made it feel both vast and crowded. Continue reading Dinosaur: On Drawing While Blind

Notes from the Dark: Diaries of a Blind Restaurant Server

A picture of a fork silhouetted in the dark

I stood on the industrial carpet in my shiny new working-girl shoes and wiggled my foot experimentally, trying to find and follow the electrical tape that had been laid down to trace a tactile path through the room. It was my first night as a server at a restaurant, and though I’d expected to spend the evening doing my best to stay out of everyone’s way, I was already dealing with twelve guests and some overactive adrenal glands.

As a blind person, there are several career paths I’ve always considered closed to me: gem cutter, brain surgeon, air-force pilot, and of course, restaurant server. Never in two and a half decades of job searches did I come across a position for which my visual impairment was not an inconvenience – or a deal-breaker – but a requirement. So when I saw the job listing for servers at a “dine-in-the-dark” restaurant, I ignored my misgivings and soon found myself in the interview chair for this most unlikely of occupations. Continue reading Notes from the Dark: Diaries of a Blind Restaurant Server

How vs. Why: Advice from a Blind Filmmaker

 

LightHouse Interpoint is our new literary supplement, featuring written work by some of the world’s most interesting and engaged individuals who are blind or have low vision. Read our submission guidelines here.

The world of a visual storyteller is a world of promises and challenges: how to find the best shot; how to capture the best shot; how to get back to the studio without accidentally erasing the best shot. And as you can imagine, when people see my white cane, they want to know more than ever about these promises and challenges. Above all, they want to know, how do you do it?

What they don’t immediately understand is that I’ve had the good fortune to see some remarkable sights, from the sun rising over the white sands of a New Mexican desert to the moon over El Capitan. I’ve seen the joy on the face of a marathon runner breaking the tape at the finish line, and the anguish of a parent steering her child through another round of chemotherapy. I’ve been a reporter, a photographer, an editor and a filmmaker my whole life, and I can hardly remember a time where I’ve worked more than a few feet from the lens of a camera.

Michael Schwartz holds a camera

Beyond all the day-to-day challenges and promises of visual storytelling, though, filmmakers all face a more important question, the question of not how but why. I can weave those shots together, but why do it unless the story makes the viewer feel something? Continue reading How vs. Why: Advice from a Blind Filmmaker

Stump Speech: A Blind Journalist Talks with a Blind Politician

This is the second essay in LightHouse’s new weekly literary supplement, Interpoint. It’s also the second week in ‘A Month of Blind Women,’ presented by Interpoint and cross-posted at The Toast.

image of the capitol building

By Michelle Hackman

 

Cyrus Habib is a regular politician. Even if you’re a political junkie, you’d be forgiven for not knowing his name. He’s a first-term state senator in Washington State, albeit one who’s already made his way into his party’s leadership. He’s also a declared candidate in the race for Lieutenant Governor — but for all intents and purposes that is a local office, afforded none of the national stature of the governorship.

If you have heard of Cyrus, though, chances are you know him as the whip-smart, Yale-educated, Rhodes Scholarship-winning politician who – and this was probably the subject of the story you read – is also blind. Most stories about him see his accomplishments overshadowed by vague or nonsensical headlines such as “Blind Lawmaker Reflects Biography in Policy” or, in more than one publication: “From Braille to Yale.” Never mind that he is also the first Iranian-American to hold state senatorial office – and far from the first blind person in politics. For years, Cyrus Habib has seen his name in print, always chased by the word “blind.”

 

*

I have heard of Cyrus. Maybe because I’m a political journalist who’s also blind, which means he sits right at the nexus of everything I care about. Or perhaps that’s just what the five or so people who have emailed me articles about him recently must have figured. One such confidant, whose casual musings have more than once inspired the direction of my stories, suggested off-hand that I try to write something about Cyrus.

But what about? “I’d love to write about him,” I told my friend, “but I want to stay away from the ‘blind guy becomes politician’ narrative, and I don’t know him well enough to pick out a different storyline.” I got into this field to write about the high-stakes, messy minefield that is national politics, and couldn’t bear to think that anything I might write would join the slow march of glowing triumph-over-adversity headlines parading across the screen whenever I searched for Cyrus Habib’s name.

Still, I’m guilty: I read those articles. At least six of them. While none stood out as egregious, something about the articles’ tone gnawed at me. There was an eerie quality to them, all containing the same anecdotes relayed in unnervingly similar diction. It seemed obvious that Cyrus had developed a cheery politician’s vocabulary around his disability. Rather than portray annoyance, the most un-politician-like of dispositions, he seemed eager to sell his story in patient, canned detail to journalists who questioned him about it.

Underneath it all, I thought I detected bullshit. How could a Yale Law-educated legislator enjoy molding his own public identity so explicitly around blindness? Did he not want, even if privately, to focus attention on the record-shattering money he was raising or the polls he was topping? Did he not feel somehow minimized? With a mix of curiosity and distaste, I performed one more search: for his phone number.

Continue reading Stump Speech: A Blind Journalist Talks with a Blind Politician

On Being Who I Am: My Life as a Tall Blind Woman

This is the first installment of LightHouse Interpoint — the new weekly literary supplement from LightHouse for the Blind. It also marks the start of ‘A Month of Blind Women,’ a four-part essay series that will also appear on The Toast.

Image of a Paris Taxi Cab

By Georgina Kleege

When I was about nineteen, I got into a cab in Paris and the driver commented on my height. This was not unusual; I am tall, have always been tall, and was accustomed to people commenting on it. But then the taxi driver told me that in Sweden they have an operation to fix that.

“To fix what?” My French is good, but the reference to Sweden caught me off guard.

“Your height,” he said. What they did, he explained, was to cut out a section of the thigh bone, just a few centimeters. Then they’d pin the bones together and sew up the leg, and I’d be good as new, only shorter.

I should have let it go at that; should have said, “Sounds great. I’ll pack my bags and leave tomorrow.” But I was too stunned to let it go. “If they cut out part of my thigh, my calf will be disproportionately long,” I said.

“So they can take a piece out of the calf bone, too,” he said. “Then they could take a little bit out of each arm bone, and remove a couple of vertebra as well.”

I was fascinated and horrified. In my mind’s ear I could hear the sharp, metallic clink as small sections of my bones dropped one by one into a stainless steel receptacle, to the accompaniment of the melodic but muted commentary of my Swedish surgeons.

And why Sweden? I wondered. At the time, Sweden was universally associated with sex change operations, so perhaps it was natural for the taxi driver to assume that the Swedes would be able to handle this comparatively simple dissection and reassembly job. But the Swedes are, on average, tall people, certainly taller than the French, so is it likely that the Swedes would come up with an operation for a physical condition they would not define as abnormal?

I snapped out of it. “They can’t do that,” I said. “They can’t remove parts of your spine for cosmetic reasons. And anyway, even if they could, that would make my ribs too close together, and my inner organs would get all squashed. And when they sewed me back up there would be too much skin. I’d be all lumpy.”

“It would smooth out,” he assured me. “Anyway, the point is not to be in proportion. The point is to stop being so tall.”

Continue reading On Being Who I Am: My Life as a Tall Blind Woman