Archive for the ‘Life in General’ Category

I’ve just finished quasi-watching the political hijinx known as a U.S. presidential debate, and this could well be the reason that I’m filled with a perverse desire to justify my extended hiatus from this space. In homage to my motivator, I will therefore gloss over my past history and evident shortcomings and focus instead on the silver linings in my extended blogging absence, no matter how tarnished they may be:
1. I’m still alive. Perhaps a little weary from a period of considerable personal turbulence, but kicking nonetheless
2. I haven’t exhausted the running list of prospective blog topics that still resides on my desktop. Not even close, actually.
3. I haven’t been spamming your blog readers or twitter feeds
4??? No, that’s about it, I’m afraid. :p It’s pretty clear now that I’m really not so hot at this whole consistent blogging thing, and any readers I had could well be forgiven for jumping ship. But perhaps against all odds there are some intrepid souls who have stood their ground on
the shifting sands of my blog commitment. If that’s you, I’m very sorry. And I will try to get back in gear.
So…anyone out there??? Bueller??? :p

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First things first — thanks to all who took the time to fill out my blog evaluation survey! Your feedback was really valuable, and I’m delighted that you all want me to maintain my current focus! Btw, for those who haven’t filled it out yet and want to do so, be my guest!

Now that you’ve recommitted me to my previous blogging path, be prepared to be taken deep into a web of neuroses also known as my mind. Yes folks, today I tackle what will no doubt be the first of many posts on this topic, since it’s one that has had to assume a fairly prominent place in my life. I’ve written before about my body image struggles, but I never felt the urge to expand on those thoughts as the problem spiralled out of control. I was trying everything from Weight Watchers to a personal trainer, but the weight kept piling on, climbing higher and higher every month. I finally reached a point of actual terror for my health and decided to take more decisive action — I sought medical help and now attend a full-service clinic run by a physician and devoted entirely to weight loss. It takes a multi-faceted approach and features a diverse staff of doctors, dieticians, physical trainers and psychologists. I was greatly relieved to learn that I am sound as a bell health-wise, even with my weight at an all-time high. Still, I realized full well that this could change at any moment, and I embarked on a dedicated quest to shed the pounds once and for all. Making wholesale changes to your lifestyle has a way of triggering the soul-searching reflex, and I’ve come to an interesting realization over the past few weeks — blindness and weight loss are just about the worst combo ever!

Think about it. Common weight loss wisdom suggests you won’t be able to slim down unless you zealously monitor every bite of food that enters your mouth and radically step up your activity level. Neither of these things jibe whatsoever with the life of the average blind person. I’d be perfectly happy to measure out precisely three ounces of hallibut for my evening meal or an exact one ounce of goat cheese to top off my lunch-time quinoa salad…except I can’t read the display on my inherited kitchen scale. As for reading the callorie content on my breakfast cereal of choice and determining the designated serving size, I may as well try to drive a car. Measuring out level tablespoons worth of olive oil can be tricky with the standard-shaped utensils, and slicing that whole grain harvest loaf into dietician-sized slices relies a little too heavily on hand-eye coordination for most blinks’ tastes. Then there’s the exercise component. Mosts sports require the average blind person to ask a sighted friend or family member for help, a request they may not be able or willing to accommodate as regularly as necessary for sustained benefits. Gym equipment is increasingly difficult to manage, since digital displays and touch-pad controls are quickly honing in on their more accessible, push-button cousins. Blind folks who struggle with mobility issues are as likely to take to the streets for an independent walk as they are to play Pictionary (it may happen, but isn’t too likely :)). Even if they do take the time to learn a route or two and attain the comfort level to travel it independently, they soon get tired of literally covering the same ground every time. Add in the fact that the blind population is chronically under-employed and often lacks the financial resources to make the right food purchases/enlist professional help, and you have a serious conundrum.

Many of these issues don’t really apply to me, so I am in no way using my blindness as an excuse for my current size. I have a great job with a more than adequate income. I live with a partner who’s well able to read me labels, coach me on how to use the treadmill in our building’s workout room and generally pitch in where it’s needed. My fleet-footed guide dog sets a brisk clip on our walks and gives me the confidence to stray far from the routes I would only tackle as a cane user. The rest of it is all too familiar to me, however, and I’ve had to get creative in finding the right coping strategies. Fortunately there’s an answer to everything. Measuring ingredients becomes a snap when I’m careful to buy very concave measuring spoons that hold the fluid in place while I use my fingers to make sure I’ve reached the rim. Ditto for measuring cups, which are the dieter’s best friend provided they come in the right units. A simple set of detachable scoops in 1, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4-cup measurements will give you all you need to accurately portion out solid food, while a single one-cup liquid measure gets me through on the fluid ingredients. The vessel is small enough that I can tell when it’s half-full vs. three-quarters empty, and it also prevents me from overdosing on any one ingredient. The manual dexterity to produce perfect bread slices has only come with practice, but a really top-knoch, razor-sharp chef knife did wonders to help me refine my technique. Even the label challenge can be conquered with some help from my friend the internet. Calloric and other dietary details for just about all common brands are readily available through a simple google search, while SparkPeople is the perfect accessible web tool for the enterprising cook who wants to get a callorie breakdown of her latest random creation. The web is also, of course, a bottomless source of first-class recipes on days when creativity is running low. The only issue left to sort out in my own kitchen is the problematic scale, and technology will likely solve that one for me too when a talking unit is released (there may very well be one out already).

There’s no doubt that this new effort is very labour intensive, as it would be for anybody. My blindness compounds the effort I put into the program, but may also be arming me well. I’ve become accustomed to working my way through issues that may seem insurmountable at first blush, and resourcefulness has become my watch word in all facets of my life. It’s also bred in me a certain level of determination that I know I’ll need to draw upon if I hope to succeed at this weight loss game for good. It hasn’t let me down yet. With some luck I’ll cross the 15-pound threshold tomorrow…perhaps my blindness and the qualities it’s given me may prove to be an asset afterall.

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A picture of me dressed in the outfit I wore to usher in my 30's. The bottom half is all black, with mock crock 2-inch heels, microfishnet hose and a pencil skirt that hits just barely above my knees. I've paired all this with a deep red top that has a pattern of black flowers, and I've synched it in at the waist with a wide black belt with a mock croc buckle. Around my neck I am wearing five strands of similarly sized white pearls, which are knotted in a cluster at the front and lie evenly around the sides and back. I'm wearing deep red lipstick and my hair is loose around my face.

Dressed for success...bring on the 30s!

I’m not usually much for birthdays, but turning 30 last week brought on a flood of reflections. Allow me to indulge a little and share some of them:

1. I had a very sheltered childhood. It was full of happiness, love, fun, privilege and safety, and yet it’s not a time I would choose to relive. I prefer the independence of adulthood, despite the insecurity that comes with it.
2. I had an uncharacteristic progression as I grew up. Most people dread their teens, and though mine started off disastrously, they proved to be a wonderfully fun and happy time. It was the reverse for my 20’s, which started out blissfully but were trying and sometimes even painful on the whole. Fortunately they ended better, and I’m hoping lessons learned will form a good foundation for the next decade. And yes, I’ll discuss the good parts.
3. I am gregarious and friendly, but at heart very insecure and sometimes even melancholy.
4. Fear of doing wrong has been a persistent theme throughout my life, and to this day I am incapable of dismissing others’ opinions to the degree I probably should.
5. My blindness has become more of an issue as I aged. This seems counter-intuitive, but makes sense upon further reflection. The protective childhood I had instilled me with a boundless confidence and the firm belief that lack of vision would never interfere with my personal plans. Maturity brings reality checks, and this has been a major one that I confronted in the latter half of my 20s. Blindness will put up barriers from time to time, and not all of them can be overcome to my satisfaction. I’ve learned to deal with it, and ultimately it’s better to be stripped of that delusion, but sometimes it’s still hard to swallow.
6. A lot of my natural impulses, emotions and characteristics have been toned down as I got older. I’m still sensitive, emotional, social and any number of adjectives, but to a lesser degree than I used to be. The only trait that seems to have intensified over time is my impatience.
7. Though insecurity is a key part of my makeup, I’ve gained assurance in other areas. I’m a nerd, and am finally proud of it. Nerdiness is the kiss of death to an anxious kid, but tremendous fun as an adult when you can surround yourself with like-minded people who love the books, music, films, games and passtimes that make you most comfortable.
8. Those preferred passtimes haven’t changed a whole lot from when I was 20. My musical horizons have broadened in large measure due to my boyfriend, who has introduced me to some artists I used to ignore, but my general preferences were well-established as I exited my teens.
9. My priorities, however, have changed immensely since then. I remember at 20 being determined to be as interesting a person as possible. This meant exploring people, places and art forms that would provide me with limitless material for sparkling conversation, profound writing and the like. This hilariously idealistic notion has been set aside, thank goodness. At 30, I now want to be successful, and this entails a lot more than just financial security (though that’s there too). I want to be competent in as many areas as possible (career, house-keeping, relationships, social endeavours, etc).
10. I am on my way to achieving some of those goals. Much to my surprise, I find I’ve been able to create and maintain a home that my boyfriend and I are happy to return to each day and that I’m eager to welcome my friends into at any time. I’ve found an interesting career, but haven’t excelled the way I hoped. I’ve rebounded from some savage lows and no longer feel like a social dud as I once did. Still, this goal is far from accomplished, which ultimately is a good thing…it’ll keep me honest!
11. I need to be kept honest and focused on a goal, because I have discovered an inherent lack of drive that trips me up surprisingly often. I was an over-achieving teen who has turned into a very ordinary adult, and it’s entirely due to my own lassitude. It frustrates me and fills me with self-recrimination sometimes, and I must get the better of it.
12. Many things have suffered from this lack of drive, but music is probably the most notable. I devoted much of my teens to piano and singing and achieved a fair bit of success in both. My time in classical choirs gave me some of the most joyous experiences of my life, and I took great pride in completing the second highest level offered by the Royal Conservatory of Music. I have let it go, and I don’t know why. I miss it, but can’t seem to get going again. One major barrier is the lack of affordable, decently transcribed braille music. It’s a genuine problem, but sometimes I wonder if I’m using it as a cop-out.
13. Reading and writing have helped fill some of the void left by my music, and I’m happy to report that the quality of my scribblings has improved over time.
14. My figure has gone much the same way as my music, and this actively triggers my self-disgust. I let it get this way and can’t seem to reverse things. I must do it for a variety of reasons, especially health, but my own paralysis in this area frustrates me more than I can express.
15. There are flipsides to all this, of course. While I’ve let myself down in some ways, the trials of my 20’s have made me realize that I’m a stronger person than I once believed.
16. I make my 20’s sound like a decade of unending misery, and it wasn’t like that at all. I gained a lot during that time, chiefly a partner who genuinely loves me and who I deeply love in return. We’ve supported each other through a great deal, and I honestly believe we’re better for the experience. His 20’s were rocky in the extreme, and I’m hoping our 30’s will prove more fun for us both. Fortunately our shared sense of humour ensures much laughter in our current home, and hopefully in the future ones we hope to own.
17. Other gains from my 20’s: independence, a great education, amazing guide dogs (both my retired golden retriever McClure and adorable little black lab Reva), a sound and engaging career, a deeper appreciation of my family, wonderful friends (many of whom have seen me through from my teens), a more sarcastic sense of humour, better awareness of my good and bad qualities and better knowledge of how to balance them.
18. Lighter discoveries have revolutionized my list of guilty pleasures, which now include Harry Potter, American Idol, and V.I. Warshawski from Sara Paretsky’s series. More substantive fun finds include pot luck parties, tea, hydrotherapy, the novels of Khaled Husseini and Kazuo Ishiguro, the fun in fashion and style, thai food, the buzz you get from actually working out properly, film (learning to appreciate it more), tv comedy like 30 Rock and Arrested Development, and the music of Eva Cassidy, Donnie Hathaway, Tori Amos (most of the time), Opeth (most of the time), Jeff Buckley and Giacomo Puccini. 🙂
19. I’ve lost a number of things in my 20’s, and I really only miss a handful of them: my self-confidence, my physique and a couple of key friendships.
20. I used to be big on new year’s resolutions, but have now totally eschewed them in favour of more general guiding statements. For example:
21. I’m nostalgic by nature, but can’t let that get the better of me — I have more of my life ahead than behind me, and that should be my focus.
22. I am not too young to cry if I need to.
22. I am not too old to sing and dance when the mood is upon me.
23. I’m probably too old to keep a favourite stuffed animal in my room, but I don’t care — here he stays. 🙂
24. I am definitely too young to hate long flights of stairs and/or steep hills. Must change that.
25. When embarrassing moments attack in my 30’s, I must always remember that it will never be as bad as the time my prosthetic eye fell out during a job interview at age 27. 🙂 A well-developed sense of the ridiculous has kept me laughing so far and can’t be spared now!
26. I’ve had extraordinarily good luck throughout my life. I’ve been at the right place at the right time to meet incredible friends, land influential jobs, even find my current apartment. One of the biggest strokes of luck I’ve experienced was the timing of my birth. The rapid advancements in technology make this a great time to be blind, and I’ve benefited enormously from them all. That said, there’s a traditional streak in me — when it comes to personal contact, give me a phone call over an email/facebook message every time.
27. I have personal qualities that I should nurture through the next decade: cheerfulness, humour, empathy and my ability to truly listen to others all come to mind.
28. Less admirable ones, like selfishness, impatience, oversensitivity and excessive bluntness, should be weeded out as much as possible.
29. Self-care is not shameful, and indeed is probably now more important than it used to be. By insisting on getting enough sleep, taking care of my skin and making time for myself to work out, I’m not being frivolous — I’m using forethought and ultimately benefiting more than just myself. I want to extend this to care for broader concerns, such as living in a more environmentally friendly way.
30. Getting older feels good! I only recently stopped referring to myself as a girl, thinking of myself as a woman for the first time. It’s empowering, and I’m ready for more!

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I wanted everything to be perfect when my teachers came to dinner. It was to be a milestone in my nearly 15-year relationship with them, as it was to be the first time I felt I was giving something back. Mr. and Mrs. C had shepherded me through high school, teaching me so much more than the lessons in latin and classical civilizations they planned so carefully. Their example of a well-suited married couple who managed to work comfortably in the same school set many of us a shining example of what matrimonial harmony should look like. Their compassion and humour levened even the dryest subject, and their quiet competence made lessons in archaic languages seem both effortless and fun. Indeed, his humour, her empathy, and their shared sense of intellectual curiosity made them unlikely favourites among the student body, and their inherently uncool classes were always enrolled to capacity. The special attention they paid me helped restore my confidence after a bruising few years in the private school system, and I gradually came to see them both as mentors rather than mere teachers. Their presence at extra-curricular piano recitals filled me with gratitude, their phone calls and emails never failed to make me smile, and the regular dinners they treated me to through my university years became highly-anticipated social occasions.

Once ensconced in apartment and equipped with the culinary skills to give them something worth having, I lost no time in inviting them for dinner. A phone call in June secured a date in July, and I filled stray moments planning menus of increasing complexity. The week of the gathering I phoned to confirm and received a dreadful shock: Mr. C, who had beaten cancer once before, was showing every sign of a relapse. He was suffering from chronic fatigue, considerable pain and shocking fluid retention, all of which kept him from enjoying the retirement life he’d only begun enjoying a few months before. Two days before our scheduled soiree, he got word that his cancer had indeed returned, this time as isolated cells floating in his entestinal area rather than a single, concentrated tumour. Despite his obvious weakness, Mr. C wouldn’t hear of cancelling our dinner, and I resolved to make it worth his while in any way I could.

Mr. C’ s diet restrictions, which became legion after his diagnosis, cast my menu meditations in a whole new light. He cautioned me that he likely wouldn’t be able to eat more than a few bites, but I was determined to make those few mouthfuls as enjoyable as possible for him while still providing a good dinner for the rest of the guests. My original plans included such inappropriate fair as red meat and my specialty spicy guacamole, which clearly wouldn’t do for a man in my teacher’s condition. Smoked salmon spirals took the place of the guacamole, while spanakopita and homemade hummus rounded out the selection of appetizers. Dinner was to be an Italian-inspired dish, as an homage to Both Mr. and Mrs. C’s favourite type of cuisine. The veal piccata I had planned was easily changed to chicken piccata, served over angel hair pasta and alongside fresh steamed asparagus.

A picture of my chicken piccata in a large frying pan. About eight chicken breasts are covered with a smooth, creamy sauce with a few capers floating in it.

Chicken Piccata

A light, seasonal salad seemed like a worthy addition, and I decided a simple combination of tomato, mango, red onion and basil (with a simple vinaigrette) would complement the meal while hopefully tempting less robust appetites.

A picture of my tomato and mango salad in a metal bowl. The dominant colours in the dish are red from the tomatoes, yellow from the mangoes, and green from the lavish helping of basil leaves.

Tomato and Mango Salad

I suspected Mr. C wouldn’t be up for much in the way of dessert, but that wasn’t going to prevent me from trotting out a dish reserved for my most special guests. My homemade tart, with shortbread almond crust and lemon curd both made by hand, is a time-consuming enterprise that always proves to be worth the effort. My lavish decorations — comprised of fresh seasonal berries — allow me to indulge my taste for aesthetically pleasing objects while deluding myself into believing I’m actually serving up some nutrients, and even my sugar-averse boyfriend usually comes back for seconds. Fresh fruit was available, too, for those who wanted an alternative.

A picture of a large lemon tart sitting on my kitchen counter. The tart is 11 inches in diameter and has a scalloped crust. It's filled to the rim with thick lemon filling and scattered with fresh strawberries and blueberries.

Lemon tart

My delight at receiving Mr. and Mrs. C into my home was tempered with shock at his condition. At least 30 pounds had melted from his frame in the three months since I’d seen him last, and his usually jovial voice had been replaced with the tremulous quavers of an old man. His agile mind was unimpaired, but his probing questions, political barbs and witty repartee were punctuated with long stretches of silence while he tried to recover his strength. He insisted on trying every dish I had made despite my insistence that he eat only what he felt like. He was quick to praise every one, even lamenting the fact that he couldn’t indulge his wish to tackle a giant slice of lemon tart. When the focus shifted to conversation, he thanked me repeatedly for giving him a break from the house he’d been confined to, saying the evening out did nothing but good for his spirits even as it taxed his strength. As we hugged goodbye, he thanked me for putting so much effort into the evening, and I promised to out-do myself when he was well enough to return.

Little did I know that I would never get that chance. The evening at my home was the last social occasionMr. C ever attended. His rapidly deteriorating condition prompted some emergency chemotherapy treatments, which stretched into a month-long stay at a local hospital. He warded off blood infections, pain, and every imaginable discomfort before briefly returning home, where he died in late August.

Bitter-sweet emotions colour my recollection of that evening, which could have been so commonplace at any other time. I rejoice that I had a chance to host him in my home, while regretting the messages of thanks I never got to pass along verbally. I hope, however, that my gratitude to him was communicated another way. Knowing he recognized and appreciated the effort I put into his final dinner out, I like to think the small details spoke to him in ways I didn’t. I hope they showed that, by at least one student, he was loved.

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Some time ago I indulged in a little rant about things sighted people do that drive the average blind person mad. The post generated a lot of interesting discussion, for which I thank everyone. But despite the different perspectives introduced by my lovely readers, the conversation remained a bit one-sided and failed to explore the flipside, i.e. the things blind people do to contribute to prevailing social stigmas and irk their fellow blindguys in the process. My perspective may well wind up rousing the ire of some other blind readers, but bare in mind mine is just one opinion. I’m also speaking in fairly broad strokes aboutpeople who are only dealing with vision loss i.e. don’t have additional physical, neurological or psychological issues at play too. So here you have it, my personal take on the top five most detramental things blind people do to themselves:

1. Acting helpless
In disability discourse, blindness is frequently referred to as a handicap. While it undoubtedly places limits on certain activities, career options etc, some people have chosen to treat blindness as a barrier to doing much of anything. Some have had this attitude ingrained from childhood when concerned adults took responsibility for everything and expected nothing of the blind person. One anecdote concerned a young child whose parents did so much for him that it distorted his sense of reality. If he dropped something, he would immediately start to look for it on the table rather than the floor because his parents promptly picked it up for him. In his own words, “everything comes back to the table.” Such acquired helplessness is difficult to break through, but it can be done if the inclination is there. Worse, to me, are those who simply decide to use their blindness as a cop out. In my experience, these people refuse to learn independent travel skills, make no effort to maintain a decent living space, opt to rely on social assistance and simply choose to turn their lives over to others to manage. This drives me beyond crazy. Attitudes like these undermine the efforts of those blind people who wish to be more proactive and integrate into mainstream society. Many of those people find this to be a struggle, and lack of effort from some of their peers contributes to the troubles they face. Like it or not, visible minority groups are frequently stereotyped, and the actions of a few are often wrongly believed to represent the whole. People who are on social assistance because their job hunts have been unsuccessful should never be confused with those who remain on the dole just because it’s easier. Assuming blindness is the only issue you have to contend with, there’s no excuse for being helpless! You can still walk, talk and use your head. Kindly do so! 🙂

2. Being sloppy
I’ve sounded off at length about why I feel it’s important for blind people to dress well. I don’t even necessarily mean adopting the latest fashion trends — in this context, a neat, presentable appearance is enough for me. I have encountered a number of blind people who actively dismiss all aesthetic questions simply because they don’t understand the issues or don’t care about them. In my estimation, doing so is a mistake. People who look unkempt, either through clothing or grooming choices, reinforce the stereotype that blind people are incapable of looking after themselves. This is not an image I appreciate having to fight against, and I suspect others share my sentiments.

3. Giving attitude to would-be helpers
A few years ago my fully-sighted brother was walking down the street and spotted a gentleman standing at an intersection looking confused. My bro stopped to see if the guy could get his bearings, and after watching him turn this way and that in a vain attempt to get oriented, thought he’d offer some help. Having spent his life guiding his sister and listening to her pet rant about people who make assumptions about the kind of assistance someone might be looking for, my brother walked up to the man and simply asked, “excuse me sir, do you need me to give you a hand?”
“NO!! Fuck off! I can do this myself,” came the irate reply.
That kind of reaction raises my blood pressure. It’s rude, disrespectful and just plain uncalled for. There’s self-advocacy, and then there’s shooting yourself in the foot. Like the boy who cried wolf, people like this may find that help won’t be forthcoming when it’s finally wanted. Sighted readers, if you’ve had similar encounters, please don’t tar us all with the same brush; most of us will appreciate your offers of help, even if we don’t take you up on them!

4. Overcompensating for your blindness
People who try this tack are at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum from those I described in my first point. These are people who take an almost ostrich-like approach to their blindness and do their damndest to pretend it doesn’t exist. White canes or other symbols that would brand them as blind are summarily dismissed and never used. They’ll plunge into any activity on the grounds that they can do absolutely anything they want and refuse to be held back by people or circumstances. They may even shun other blind people for fear of being lumped in with them. This kind of approach has definite merits, but can easily be taken too far. People who subscribe to it are potentially putting themselves in danger by disregarding basic safety precautions or engaging in activities that just aren’t a good idea. Being adventuresome and taking up something like skiing (with sighted guidance) is great, but pretending you’re perfectly able to drive a car crosses the line. It’s also naive and interestingly enough doesn’t always garner the respect of the sighted community. I had an eluminating experience while working as a counsellor at a camp for blind adults and children. My primarily sighted coworkers didn’t really accept me on the team until I laid down limits on the things I felt comfortable doing. The day I declined to take a totally blind guest out for a canoe paddle and instead recruited some sighted help for the job, a colleague told me they felt better about having me on board because I had proven I was “in touch with reality.” People who refuse to accept facts are treading dangerous ground. Polyanna-esque approaches seldom work, and their naiveté may land them or someone else in trouble.

5. Assuming sighted people don’t understand or don’t care
Note to people who fall into this camp: You know how you hate it when you’re stereotyped or marginalized? You’re not alone. No one digs that, including sighted people (emphasis on people). Making assumptions about their attitudes towards you and your blindness is hypocritical in the extreme. Some people with vision may not be tuned into the issues you deal with, but many others are empathetic, broad-minded, thoughtful and even inspirational if you free them from the constraints of labels. Creating an “us vs. them” dynamic serves no purpose. It alienates you from potential friends and resources, belittles people who have done you no wrong and reinforces the stereotype of the embittered, cynical blind person who’s angry at the world and everyone in it. Do unto others, please and thank you!

So there you have my two cents worth on this admittedly touchy subject. Got comments? I’d love to hear them. And if you want to hear more on this or any other topic, feel free to drop me a line in the suggestion box.

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For most of my childhood, I never thought of my blindness as a limitation. It was just a fact of life, and while it set me apart from my peers and let to bouts of isolation and the odd misunderstanding, I simply never troubled to imagine what life with sight might be like. I sincerely believed that all doors were open to me and that I could do just about anything I wanted so long as I truly commited to it. Perhaps I absorbed one inspirational speech too many during those halcyon school days, but with adulthood has come the realization that this approach was hilariously naive. This is not to say that I now feel hampered by constraints and self-doubt — on the contrary, I still have a fair bit of confidence in what I am able to accomplish. But experience has forced me to acknowledge that blindness does pose some genuine limitations, that there are tasks I simply will not be able to take on in my lifetime and that carving out my personal niche involves graceful acceptance of these facts. I truly don’t mind this except in one area…my job.

I was strongly discouraged from my chosen career path on account of my blindness (a bad move, since that usually just makes me more stubborn). An eminent former journalist once told me that I should not attempt to break into his industry because I would not be able to fulfill many duties expected of the modernday reporter. He pointed out that taking pictures, shooting video, laying out copy and even dabbling in online design are best accomplished in sighted hands. He skated over, but implied just the same, that I would be unable to engage in the hardcore front line reporting that’s the industry’s bread and butter. And he not-so-subtly implied that I’d never be able to find a job due to my inability to take on these basic tasks in an evolving and increasingly-competitive field.

My subsequent feverish search for journamlism grad school programs spoke volumes of how I felt about his advice, but basic honesty forced me to acknowledge some truth in his words. I knew I would have a difficult slog ahead, assuming I even got into my program of choice, but I felt it was worth a try. My acceptance into the program, success in its courses and on-campus publications and subsequent employment at a mainstream news organization initially left me feeling triumphant and somewhat smug…and yet, there are times like this weekend when I revisit our conversation and tacetly agree that he was right on many points.

The past few days have been an extraordinarily busy time for most media outlets in my city as we prepared to cover the G20 summit. My newsroom was no different, assembling a veritable army of reporters and editors to tackle the myriad issues and problems that were bound to arise in the days leading up to the meetings. I was nominally included in this effort and contributed with a couple of human interest/buzz stories plus plenty of editorial support, but I was not on duty when the leaders touched down and was consequently not around for the main action. When protesters took to the streets, reeking havoc in areas we all thought of as safe and tranquil by urban standards, my colleagues swung into action with unbridled enthusiasm. Even the top brass grabbed video cameras and plunged into the fray, anxious to get into the thick of the action and thoroughly document events as they unfolded. Cloistered in my home, several kilometres from the chaos, I felt nothing but envy for their total engagement in an important, breaking story. Had I been at the office that day, my editors would have barred me from joining the throng, expressing well-founded concern for my safety and accurately surmising that I would not be able to look out for myself as my sighted colleagues could. I would acknowledge their good judgment, agree they were right and sit down at my desk, all the while deploring my inability to play on the same field. My coworkers and I share a driving passion for news and a furvent desire to tell stories, discuss issues and generally keep our world under a certain degree of scrutiny. But they can engage with that world in ways that I cannot, and that reality leads to frustration and occasional bouts of anxiety for my future in the industry I’ve come to love. Sure I can contribute writing and editing skills that have always been the hallmarks of sound journalism, but my inability to dive in and get my hands dirty on a breaking story has the potential to hold me back. Front-line breaking news coverage is a right of passage in this field, and it’s one that I will likely never go through because of factors beyond my control. These factors are at work even in less extreme news scenarios — I can’t hop in a car and dash to a hastily organized press scrum, nor can I assess the scene of a breaking story and get the ball rolling on the basis of my observations. It’s something I fear may hold me back in my career aspirations, as my erstwhile advisor predicted. Of course there are other ways of getting stories (which I use frequently) and other obstacles to career success that have nothing to do with my blindness, but there’s no denying that my lack of vision is a complicating factor that can’t be ignored, at least by me. My company has made every effort to make it a moot point. A blind reporter was indeed a tough sell at job-hunting time, and while other media outlets took a pass, my organization was willing to roll the dice and give me an internship which turned into full-time work. They’ve given me every possible technological and personal accommodation and been utterly fabulous in every way, and I am eternally greatful for the vote of confidence they’ve given me. I will always owe them my best efforts, which in this case involves accepting what limitations I have, putting my petty emotions aside and moving on. But a little vent in here can’t hurt, can it? 🙂

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It may sound foolish when someone puts off confessing something that’s immediately obvious with a simple glance. I am not a skinny girl, much as I might wish to be, and my size has caused me considerable angst over the past few years. Despite the fact that someone can note my size as easily as they spot my blindness (my silhouette and my guide dog make both facts equally apparent), I have always balked at the idea of admitting that I am a plus-sized woman. I haven’t let my denial shape my clothing choices — my preoccupation with fit drove me to the plus-size/woman/above average sections at most stores years ago, but admitting that I had exited the realm of mainstream fashion was a blow to someone who has always struggled with body image. Even at my slimmest I was never what one could consider small, though I was comfortably in the size eight to 10 range. My struggles with weight have escalated as I aged, taking a sharp turn for the worse when I moved out on my own. My abject failure to keep my weight in check caused me powerful feelings of inadequacy. I was raised on a healthy diet and knew full-well what constituted a good food routine, but as I discussed before, my culinary skills are entirely self-taught and a certain amount of trial and error was required. When the trials went poorly, I’d cop out and just order in. And even as my experiments met with more success, it took me ages to learn to use callory-intensive ingredients in the right ways. By the time I got it right, the damage was done and my figure had changed.

A long spell of self-castigation ensued during which I struggled to come to terms with my new and not-so-improved body. I hated sitting on public transit for fear I was crowding those around me. Walks with my guide dog were marred by fears that everyone was staring at the ungainly, chubby blind chick who was hogging all the sidewalk space. Getting dressed in the morning became a nightmare, and even meetings with my adored family became anxious affairs. Their criticisms of my weight and appearance, though warranted to some degree, bit deep and compounded my emotional state. My most unfortunate urge to indulge in “emotional eating” would then kick in, and to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, the circle game was afoot. My fashion choices suffered along with my self-esteem and social life. The idea of showing off my upper arms filled me with dread, I was convinced I had no waist to showcase, and I was loath to expose my tree-trunk-sized calves for any reason. But gradually I decided to approach my size much the way I handle my blindness, i.e. trying not to be frightened by the status quo and resolving to make the most of my present situation. Weight loss takes time, and I already resented the feeling that my life was on hold until I tipped the scale at a more reasonable number. I forced myself to start seeing my slender friends again and was greatly relieved at their understanding of my uncharacteristic lapse. I tried to ignore my unhealthy thoughts when out in public and began focusing on proactive steps I could take to improve my appearance. Angie and the You Look Fab community have been invaluable in helping me to make the most of my current physical assets and keep my style current. If I can’t have the body I want at this very second, at least I can wear flattering, up-to-date clothing that boosts both my confidence and my style quotient. I still don’t love my calves, but I wear knee-length dresses and summer pants at a more flattering length because life’s too short to hide completely. I rejoice in the fact that I have a proportionally small waist and now actively try to highlight it, and my upper arms will see the light of day if the weather gets hot because I’m just entirely too cranky and unpleasant to be tolerated if I’m overheated. 🙂

Being attractively dressed and looking polished has become even more important to me in recent years as I strive to overcome the negative social stigmas associated with being overweight. My size and my blindness have put me at two social disadvantages, and although one is of my own making, I feel an extra onus to counteract the stereotypes they evoke. Being entirely realistic, blindness does present some limitations and fatness (for lack of a better word) can sometimes accurately convey an impression of laziness,, carelessness or lack of productivity. Taken in tandem, the two could combine to form a deadly first impression — one that I am eager to dispell from the get-go. Many blindness-related limitations exist solely in the imagination, and being overweight should never at any time be synonymous with the negative associations I’ve mentioned above. Weight struggles have myriad causes and just as many effects. In fact, some people take pride in their size and are able to conduct their affairs with total confidence.

I envy these people, for I can never join their ranks. I loudly applaud the size-acceptance movement for the emotional liberty it has granted hundreds of people, and I delight in the fact that size-biased industries like fashion are finally starting to take a more broad-minded approach.
But my current size does not make me happy. It threatens my health, dampens my confidence and curbs my enthusiasm for some of my favourite pursuits. I am working towards long-term weight loss, a process which can be both empowering and demoralizing. My occasional failures can take an emotional toll on me and cause me to withdraw from ventures I am genuinely engaged with. When this blog falls victim to one of those spells, plese understand where it’s coming from. I will try not to let those lapses happen often, and it is my hope that coming out as plus-sized, so to speak, will help hold me accountable in a variety of ways.

Thank you for getting through this admittedly self-indulgent rant. A lighter tone next, I promise. 🙂

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Guilty of neglecting this blog to a shameful degree? Too true. Apologies, readers — a hiatus of this length won’t happen again without some advance warning! Sadly, quasi-abandonment is not the only thing I have to accuse myself of.

In previous entries I’ve discussed the unusual social behaviours and bizarre conversational liberties that people sometimes fall into when interacting with a blind person. I don’t think it’s reaching too far to suggest that those actions are driven by biases and stereotypes about the blind. It’s easy to assume that people on the receiving end of such treatment are somehow free from such influences, but as I can sadly attest, that’s far from the case.

Last weekend I travelled to New Jersey to take part in a training weekend for the guide dog school that matched me with my wonderful girl. I was among a handful of students asked to help promote the school in our local areas, and I had to fly down to the States to take part in a weekend of corporate-style training about the organization’s mission, programs etc. I planned for the weekend with excessive care — drafting presentations, rereading preparatory material and of course agonizing over outfits float my boat a little too much, I think. 🙂 But I was brought face to face with my own blindness stereotypes the day before my departure while finalizing travel logistics. The training organizer, who is blind himself, took it upon himself to coordinate transportation from the airport to the hotel where we were all staying. Five blind travellers, arriving over three widely-spaced terminals, were to congregate at the pickup point by following only the most cursory instructions. I think the ones sent to me read something like “get up to the departure level, go out any exit and turn right until you get to a railing.”

My reaction to this missive let me stunned by my own hipocracy. I wouldn’t have hesitated to give such instructions to a sighted friend, but found myself scratching my head at the perceived inadequacy for a blind person. Did this guy seriously expect a bunch of blindguys to follow these vague guidelines, meet up with each other and find our airport limmo without turning it into a gong show of epic proportions? Of course he did. And of course he was right to do so. The five of us met up no problem, connected with our car quite easily and made it to the hotel half an hour ahead of schedule. But I still couldn’t believe my own thinking.

I realized that I was guilty of applying stereotypes learned in early childhood, as well as my own foibles, to a situation where I’d be expected to be more than usually open-minded. I grew up listening to advice that directed me away from blind peers. I was encouraged to mix more with sighted kids for fear of “being lumped in” with those who shared my disability. I had blind friendships, but many of them were hard-fought and not many of them have survived. That kind of thinking taught me to function in the sighted world, but also left me with some biases that I struggle to combat to this day. Even now I’m rarely drawn to groups with a blindness focus (further deepening the irony of this blog), and my friends and romantic partner all have at least some degree of sight.

My expectations for the weekend rendezvous were also shaped by my own projections. I’m a nervous traveller at the best of times and prefer clear, detailed directions in most aspects of my life. Last weekend’s scenario flew in the face of my usual preferences, but that proved to be quite a good thing. The experience was both eye-opening and liberating. It boosted my confidence both in my guide dog and in myself and reacquainted me with some of my more unfortunate thought processes. Note to self: practice what you preach!

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A funny thing happened tonight.

So I walk onto the elevator in my apartment building, press the button for my floor then promptly offer to do the same for other passengers streaming in. A few people gave me their floor numbers, which I promptly punched in, but then had to listen to a rather unusual monologue from someone sharing the lift. One gentleman proceeded to ooh and ah about the fact that I’d found the elevator buttons and managed to press the correct ones. To hear him talk, you’d think I’d morphed into MacGyver, produced a clove of garlic and a roll of duct tape from my pocket and whipped up a cure for the common cold. It honestly made me feel very uncomfortable, and judging from the awkward silence that prevailed in the elevator, I wasn’t alone. I’m the first to acknowledge that this man meant well, and for this I tacetly thank him, but the whole incident brought me back to an observation I’ve made from time to time — people seem to take more conversational liberties with me than they do with my sighted peers.

Let me clear one thing up right away — these conversational liberties are rarely, if ever, insulting in and of themselves. Today’s little encounter is actually quite typical of the sort of thing I mean. People seem to feel the need to shower me with praise when I accomplish every-day tasks (running down the subway stairs to catch a train, walking down the street, producing the correct change when paying for something at a cash register). I’ve always wondered why they felt such comments were necessary. What is it about a person’s blindness that makes it ok to eschew conversational norms and verbalize things they likely wouldn’t say to a sighted person? Have you ever been complemented for “knowing your way around so well” while taking a stroll through your neighbourhood? Has someone ever told you you were “very pretty” while standing in line to buy a set of measuring spoons? Has your prowess on the escalator or knack with a turnstyle ever singled you out for public adulation? :p It may sound like I’m exagerating, but I assure you I’ve received comments on every one of these things. I’m grateful for the complements and appreciate that people mean well, but truly don’t understand why people feel such remarks are necessary. Sure I have daily challenges to overcome, but so do countless others. It takes genuine courage for someone who is severely agorophobic to brave public streets, while a person with an eating disorder is undergoing an intensive internal battle every time s/he does something as straight forward as sit down to dinner. Such people are forced to plum their personal resources just to get on with the business of living, but I bet they don’t get recognized for doing so. Their struggles are internal and less obvious to the public eye and somehow seem to command a different level of social etiquette. Personally, I wish it weren’t so. I’m not advocating for wholesale praise to be showered on everyone who’s getting on with their day — in fact quite the opposite. In my opinion, you do a great deal more to bolster someone’s confidence when you accept their “achievements” as a matter of course and silently afirm your confidence that they can overcome whatever obstacles they face.

That isn’t to say that people can’t ask questions. I actually love it when people overcome their shyness about my blindness and spit out whatever queries they might have. Had my elevator co-passenger simply turned to me and asked how I was able to identify the buttons, for example, it would have led to an exchange that was both more natural and fruitful for all concerned. But maybe I’m alone in finding questions less awkward than arbitrary praise that I usually feel to be undeserved.

So tell me, who’s the oddball? Have I gone off half-cocked because of a bizarre incident or am I making sense? Have you ever noticed different social standards being applied to certain groups?

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A few recent amusing/infuiriating street encounters have forcibly reminded me that some people really don’t have a clue how to interact with blind people. They seem to think they either have to apply a whole different set of social norms or discard common courtesy/sense completely when talking to someone who isn’t looking them straight in the eye. I’m here to tell y’all, it don’t work like that. 🙂 For your edification and amusement, I bring you the top five things most blind people are secretly begging you not to do.

1. Interfering with a guide dog while it’s working
The unbeatable guide dog school where I acquired my darling Reva put it best — addressing or touching a guide dog while it’s in harness is tantamount to grabbing the stearing wheel of a moving car. Please, don’t do it! If a service animal is in harness, it means it’s on duty and is not to be disturbed in any way. And unfortunately for all dog-lovers, that includes talking to them (especially in patented dog voices that we all use when confronted with unparalleled cuteness). I’m sure Reva and her ilk hate the rule as much as you do, but it’s there for a reason

2. Assuming someone needs help and immediately acting on that assumption
Note to well-meaning people everywhere: if a blind person is standing around looking confused, s/he may well need help. Grabbing that person’s arm and arbitrarily dragging them off in the direction *you* think they want to go is not the answer. Such interferance is also frowned upon if the blind person is walking down the street. Both these things happen, and they’re just flat out not cool! I for one appreciate what you’re trying to do, but would be eternally grateful if you asked me whether or not I need help before busting in and trying to take over. If I’m standing still near a corner, I’m probably just waiting for a friend outside the nearby coffee shop. If I need your help, I’ll be the first to thank you for your timely offer of assistance!

3. Describing something as “over there”
The following is a real-life exchange from the streets of my city:
Me: Excuse me, sir, I’m looking for the Indigo store. Have I passed the entrance?
Random dude: No, it’s right over there.

That, my friends, doesn’t help. Nor would saying “just across the street,” “just down here” or “yes/no.” This request calls for a little proactive help. Had he told me the store was three doors back, or if he’d opted to walk me to the entrance himself as so many lovely people do, he would have saved me time and blog space. 🙂 This is a case where I know I for one would welcome more direct involvement! The same goes in indoor settings, whether someone is trying to find the bathroom or reaching for their cup of coffee.

4. Speaking extra loud/slow
The annals of history are littered with phenomena that science has been unable to explain. To me, one of the most enduring is the mysterious force that makes people speak louder and talk more slowly when interacting with a blind person. It’s entirely possible that the disease that took someone’s sight has also compromised his/her hearing or cognitive abilities, but to make that assumption is to administer a social slap in the face. Blondes, would you like it if people started dumbing down their language the moment they took note of your hair colour? Sadly, this happens to blind people all the time, and it drives me batty.

5. Using politically correct language for daily activities
I cannot tell you the number of people who have asked me whether I saw something on tv only to backtrack, feel bad and ask instead if I “heard” it. Dude, I watched tv the same as you, and yes I thought Jack Donaghy was hilarious in the last 30 Rock. Dr. Funke’s 100% Natural Good-times Family Band Solution also did a bang-up job in that Arrested Development rerun I SAW last night. One could argue that tpolitical correctness has a time and place, but I contend that it doesn’t belong in descriptions of every-day activities. Exchanges like the one I describe leave all parties feeling awkward and reinforce the notion that blind people are shut out from common sighted activities. Political correctness also robs people everywhere of language, which pushes a whole other set of buttons for me.. Put it this way: I see movies, look at my options and watch my mouth at work (most of the time). Feel free to speak to me and blind people everywhere as you would to anyone else.

There’s a flipside to all this, too — blind people sometimes do things that reinforce negative stereotypes and contribute to the sort of tensions I’ve noticed from time to time, but that’s something for another day. For now I’ll just say this — part of the reason I work so hard to dress well
is because the situations I’ve described above happen a lot less often whhen I’m fashionably turned out. Right or wrong, that’s been my experience.

How about you? Have you come across odd behaviours that people inexplicably apply to you? Have you ever seen the situations I’m talking about?

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