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Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

First things first — thank you all so much for the incredibly kind responses to my guest post on Inside Out Style. The comments came from perfect strangers, long-time friends, role models like Angie> and bloggers I’ve long admired like Sal from Already Pretty. I value them all equally and can’t properly express how much it all means. For those who are new to my blog, I love fielding questions from my readers about pretty much anything blindness-related. If you’ve got some, please drop by the suggestion box and ask away!

Did you know that yesterday was special? I sure didn’t until I conducted my daily purge of the work inbox (Yeah, that’s how I roll on Saturdays 🙂 ). I came across a handful of statements from various political entities all offering fulsome praise for something called International Day of Persons With Disabilities. That’s a special occasion alright — an occasion for me to vent my long-festering distaste for stuff just like this.

Hang on a sec. A blind woman who believes in equality and has devoted much of her efforts to achieving it for herself is foaming at the mouth because of an international initiative that aspires to give others the same shot? What’s going on? You may well ask, but the best you may get is a fumbling attempt to defend a position that could rightly be called selfish. In fact I have not the slightest issue with the UN’s stated aims in launching this so-called day. Raising awareness of the chronic underemployment and marginalization many disability groups face is about as praiseworthy goal as you can find, and the agency certainly grasps the severity of the problem. The vision, though vague, is above reproach:

Take Action: A major focus of the Day is practical action to mainstream disability in all aspects of development, as well as to further the participation
of persons with disabilities in social life and development on the basis of equality. Highlight progress and obstacles in implementing disability-sensitive
policies, as well as promote public awareness of barriers to the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in their societies.

It’s the way in which the vision is executed that draws forth my wrath. While the UN undoubtedly means for this day to kickstart a dialog that would last the year round, it’s lucky if it generates something resembling cocktail party chit-chat. More often than not, these 24-hour-long calls to action do nothing more than pay lip service to the concept, mirroring the treatment the target population receives during the other 364 days of the year. What good is a day of platitudes that simultaneously celebrates individual successes while stoking the fires of powerlessness with a litany of depressing facts and figures? There’s no fear-mongering, since the issues under discussion are very real and are likely under-reported, if anything. There’s just an ineffectual approach that leads to the sort of patronizing behaviour that characterizes so many dealings with the disabled, both individually and from the organizations that profess to help. The takeaway message from days like this is easily distilled from these mixed signals — “Oh dear, how horrible for them! They are so much less fortunate than most — let’s be extra nice and understanding.”

Such sentiments are well-meant, but unproductive. Kindness and understanding, while valuable, won’t be enough to bring about change — particularly if they only manifest themselves on arbitrary days of action and the weeks immediately proceeding them. In my view, those estimable personal qualities can only have some impact on the community if they are used in service of conversation. Not idol chatter, but genuine engagement that has the potential to peel back layers of preconception and even misunderstanding to reveal core issues. Those issue (more…)

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My grade one teacher probably thought she was wasting her time the day she ordered me to stay away from my friends. Her stern warnings about cutting myself off from sighted students had little theoretical chance of registering, after all, drowned out as they were by the incessant laughter of the two fellow blind kids sitting at the lesson table with me. The clatter of our braillers, the chatter of our audio books and the click of the abacuses on which we mastered math calculations was more than enough to compete with the scratch of pencils emanating from the classroom next door where our sighted peers were also hard at work. As far as my blind buddies went, her words certainly fell on deaf ears. They couldn’t understand why our merry trio should split up during the only fun time scheduled in the day. What good would it do them to seek out “seeing guys” simply so they could be excluded from a game of tag or soundly defeated during the first round of Red Rover? They shrugged off her reprimands for spending too much time together and openly defied her the day she meted out punishments for avoiding sighted classmates, likely assuming I bore them company in their feelings as I always had before. They were wrong, however, and so was my teacher. Her words hit home, the very place where I had heard them for the first time, and proved oddly prescient in my dealings with the two worlds I inhabit.

I grew up with the notion that blindness was to be rejected as much as possible. This attitude may have seemed normal to my parents, who welcomed a fully sighted infant into the world and brought a blind toddler home from the hospital nine months later after cancer destroyed both retinas and threatened to do much worse. They grieved, as any parents would, fearing that their child would be doomed to a life of limited prospects and social isolation. No daughter of theirs would spend her life weaving baskets or tuning pianos, they vowed..and so their active pursuit of a “normal” life began. Not for them the nursery school where most blind children attended…They found it lacking and promptly enrolled me in an alternative program featuring mostly sighted children of varying abilities. They had always planned for me to get my earliest education in French, the language spoken by all my maternal relatives. Why should blindness change that? Kindergarten passed in a blur of Allouette and Le Petit Prince, all of which shielded me from any knowledge that I was different.

My parents’ alternative leanings prevailed when primary school began, too, deciding to send me to an integrated day school where both sighted and blind students learned side by side rather than the residential facility specifically for the blind that many other families advised instead. That integration was emphasized to me as I prepared to switch schools, and indeed I felt no qualms. Hadn’t I spent my final days of kindergarten promising to marry the sighted guy who sat next to me on the carpet and sworn we’d build a house next door for our other friend so that we could always stay together?

But something strange happened when I arrived and met my blind classmates. They were more like me. Not in appearance or attitude or even sense of humour, but in ways that were even more fundamental. They understood concepts the same way I did, had the same curiosities about the sensory world beyond what most kids wanted to explore. This was never discussed, of course, it was just understood. So well, in fact, that we gravitated towards one another and formed a clique so tight that it aroused the anxiety of our erstwhile teacher. She understood, as my devastated parents had, that the mainstream world didn’t function like this. A blind person hoping to make his/her way among sighted peers would need to master their frames of reference and acquire the confidence to literally walk their walk. My friends, both more rebellious by nature than me, ignored this traditional advice and went about doing things their own radically different ways. For me, that wasn’t an option. My teacher was just reinforcing the lessons resonating in my earliest memories. Her cautions were no different than my mother tilting my chin to teach me to look at others when I spoke, or preventing me from rocking back and forth when forced to stay stationary. Both Mom and my teacher were only trying to negate the impact of my blindness and make it as easy as possible to act sighted. Why should I fight against that?

Their lessons paid off. By grade four I had transferred to my neighbourhood school, joined an extra-curricular choir and become an enthusiastic piano student. Periodic bullying commonly experienced by artistically inclined kids was compensated by the true friends I made, many of whom remain close to this day. I maintained regular contact with my two blind pals of primary school days, but no longer could we weave an auditory world around ourselves. That time receded further into my memory as middle and high school flew by, all in the company of sighted friends who embraced me and absorbed me fully into their everyday lives. The trappings of blindness that I did carry, such as my cane and braille textbooks, were conversational icebreakers rather than isolators. As I aged, my parents’ wishes became my own. Feeling grateful for the ability to mesh in a world that I knew was not easily accessed, I made it my goal to assimilate into it as much as possible. I never actively denied the limitations of my blindness, but sincerely believed it would never hold me back from anything substantive.

Reality checks came thick and fast starting the summer I worked at a camp for blind people. I chose the job as a poor man’s alternative to the regular camp I’d attended for years, which very understandably declined to hire me because of my inability to be a lifeguard. 🙂 While there I saw many examples of people who had become isolated from mainstream society and the bitterness such solitude could spawn. I felt a kinship to these people, yet also experienced internal tension as I fought to distance myself from that feeling. Things were different for me, I told myself. This sense of connection was downright dangerous and could jeopardize my chances of being normal! Such were the absurd musings of a seemingly confident teenager who was fighting to stem the rising tide of insecurity. Challenging one’s place in the world was terrifying and not the way an ordinary person spent the summer, after all, so I quashed the questioning voice and continued to do so for the next several years. University made it fairly easy to keep my head in the sand, feeling as it did like a continuation of my high school experience. Learning skills from my sighted housemates, going on tour with sighted choir friends and landing satisfying jobs at major corporations that epitomize mainstream life only deepened my sense that my blindness was an occasional inconvenience rather than a salient part of my personality. But there’s nothing like a change of career into an inherently questioning atmosphere to force a person to do some soul-searching and face the facts they find there.

Breaking into journalism first taught me that my facade of sightedness wasn’t going to pass muster under real scrutiny. I was outright told I couldn’t do the job and should pursue a career in academia instead. I flouted that advice and excelled in the journalism graduate program I attended, but received the same message when it came time to get a job. Only persistence, networking and extreme good luck got me the break I needed, first at a national newspaper and later at the wire service where I work to this day. The five years I’ve spent there have taught me a lot about the truths I tried to ignore. I am blind, no matter how much I may be able to ignore it. There are barriers in the sighted world I will never be able to cross, despite my own efforts and the best intentions of those who try to help. Being blind comes with frustrations and challenges that only a select few can truly understand. Pursuing that understanding is healthy, not a sign of sliding standards.

There’s a flipside, too. Too often I hear blind people rail against the iniquities of “the sighted world.” They lament that those who can see simply don’t care about the struggles taking place on the other side, or are simply too busy succumbing to the superficial lure of pretty exteriors to engage with someone who doesn’t fit the mould. Such thinking is grossly unfair — the disability world’s equivalent of reverse racism. Why should stereotypes and truisms be applied to sighted people if they’re not acceptable to the blind? Why does an “us vs. them” mentality have to exist? Don’t the concept of blind and sighted worlds only deepen the divides that circumstances have entrenched without any help?

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to that teacher from so long ago, as well as to my adored parents that worked so hard to smooth my path. Their lessons created a dissonance that I still struggle to resolve, but also gave me access to a community that I could so easily have shunned. The conflicts I felt growing up seem so much simpler now. My blindness is a part of me, much like my dark hair and love of writing. Just as I wear red to play up my colouring and read voraciously to keep my language skills sharp, I must embrace my blindness and bring it to bear in a way that helps bridge the two perspectives I’m lucky enough to have. One of the people I love most in the world lives this reality in a much more concrete way, having neither enough vision to be considered legally sighted nor enough telltale signs to let the world know he struggles to see. He’s channelled that experience into a profound empathy for nearly all around him and a sincere desire to help in matters great and small. I wish to emulate him by helping connect the dots for blind and sighted alike. If I can facilitate dialog between groups that may not instinctively connect, then I have indeed found the place where I belong.

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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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There are dozens of reasons why people try to dress well and are willing to put effort into devising appropriate outfits for a variety of occasions. Most of my reasons are directly informed by my blindness, and dozens of others were discussed in depth over on YouLookFab in a fascinating thread on why people want to look their best. One of the common themes emerging from that thread is one that resonated strongly with me, but seems to miss the mark with a lot of others I’ve encountered lately. Is the notion of showing respect through clothing choices going out of style? Based on a few recent experiences, I’ve got to wonder if more people shouldn’t crank the Queen of Soul’s classic anthem for the spelling impaired while getting dressed!

I’ve attended a number of weddings already this summer, and those occasions have clearly demonstrated the wide array of fashion standards people apply to these occasions. I personally believe weddings require you to put your best foot forward as a mark of respect to the bride and groom. With some luck, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime day for them. They have spent hours working through guest lists, logistical arrangements and endless other details in an effort to make the day as special as possible. Regardless of the vibe or venue, most couples have also dedicated significant financial resources to their special day. To me, it’s imperative to dress in a way that acknowledges both the significance of the event and the extraordinary efforts required to make it happen. To my way of thinking, turning up in jeans would send the message that this occasion is no more important than a get-together at a local bar. Unless the bride and groom have specifically indicated that they’re going for a casual vibe, I’m going to arrive in a cocktail dress and heels with my hair done and my evening makeup in place. I take my cue from the venue to some degree, but I happen to believe this type of dress code is applicable regardless of the location. Just because the festivities aren’t being held at a posh venue doesn’t mean they didn’t require a significant financial commitment. Dressing up for a wedding is just a fundamental mark of respect in my book. My boyfriend is of like mind and insists on wearing suits to all but beachfront weddings. But based on what we’ve seen at the first two weddings of the season, our approach is far from universal.

My boyfriend took it upon himself to do some people watching and made some discoveries that left our collective jaws agape. Men wearing golf shirts? Check. Women in dresses more suitable for poolside barbecues? Uh-huh. None-too-dressy capri pants? Mm-hmm. Jeans on both genders? You bet. Even flip flops were in evidence. The real winner had to be the woman who turned up at a beautiful waterfront yacht club sporting denim cutoffs and a spaghetti-strap tank top. I realize that some people are trying to contrive a dressy appearance from within narrow budgets and limited wardrobes, but you can’t convince me that shorts and a tank were the best she could do. There are bargans to be had, and even making the effort to pick up a simple pencil skirt and blouse on sale would show greater appreciation for the bride and groom. It’s a privilege to be invited to a wedding, not a right. The outfits my boyfriend spotted didn’t reflect that fact at all.

In general it seemed easier for women to miss the mark with their clothing options, probably because we have such a vast array of fashion options at our disposal. But men were by no means exonerated. My boyfriend was particularly affronted by adults wearing juvenile-looking ties that were either tied too short or featured patterns you’d expect to see on a six-year-old at his first formal function. He contends that only collared dress-shirts fit the bill for occasions like this, while acknowledging that jackets may be a bit hot at certain outdoor venues. I’m personally delighted by his sartorial standards and was thrilled when he wore his suit despite some relatives’ assertions that “khakkis and a golf shirt would be just fine.” Our outfit choices were directly proportional to the amount of effort the bride and groom put into their wedding day, and we could therefore enjoy the weddings confident in the knowledge that we were paying them the respect they deserved. We were by no means the only ones who chose to dress up, but even if we were, I don’t think either of us plan to change our approach any time soon.

The situation is a little merkier when you enter the realm of what I’ll call hybrid dress codes. I usually balk a little when I see things like “cocktail casual” or “biker chic,” since that involves striking a sometimes tricky balance. My personal strategy is to err slightly on the dressier side of the scale in question. The outfit I wore to a recent “cocktail casual” party, for instance, featured one of my smarter-looking day dresses that got sassed up with cocktail-worthy accessories. According to my fellow party-goers, that strategy served me well and my ensemble fit right in.

A picture of me in an outfit I wore to one wedding held at a slightly more casual venue. I'm wearing a knee-length black dress with white polka dots that change slightly in size as you go down the dress. It has a not-front below the bust, a deep v-neck and a waist-tie at the back. I am holding a dark red clutch in one hand and wearing dark red lipstick. I have accessorized the dress with sparkly silver sandals and a double-strand of white pearls.

A wedding held at a more casual venue still calls for a dressier getup

A picture of my boyfriend and me posing at a wedding. I am wearing my turquoise cocktail dress along with sparkly strappy silver sandals, a double strand of white pearls and diamond stud earrings. I am holding a rectangular silver satin clutch in my left hand. My hair has been blow-dried and is worn in its usual bob, but it has more volume than usual. I've applied a little eye shadow, blush and dark red lipstick. My boyfriend is standing on my right wearing a black suit with gold-ish pinstripes, a tie the same shade as the stripes and a blue shirt.

When wedding bells ring, this is the kind of thing we wear

What do you think. Are my boyfriend and I old-fashioned in our approach to things like weddings? What’s your strategy for occasions like the ones I’ve described? And what do you think of hybrid dress codes…are they liberating or maddening?

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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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