I was away for a long time, and in that time, I had some writing news and updates that I’m overdue in sharing here.
One of those is that my piece “Living the Dream?” was published in Aerial, the art and literary magazine from OHSU’s School of Medicine.
Knowing that such a magazine existed was one of the many things that drew me to OHSU as a school. I wanted to be somewhere that valued writing and the arts along with all the science-y, clinical-y stuff I love. Since starting school there, I’ve found a good group of people, not only the people who run Aerial, but also a lot of people involved in narrative medicine, humanities in medicine, live storytelling, and so forth.
In fact, this piece came from the final assignment in a Narrative Medicine elective class I took last winter, taught by Dr. Elizabeth Lahti, who is THE narrative medicine, medical humanities person at OHSU. The assignment was to write “25 Things I Know About…” something. The assignment was based on the short story “25 Things I know About My Husband’s Mother” by Louise Aronson from her book A History of the Present Illness. We read this and other stories from this book in our class, and I highly recommend.
I originally started this blog to write about writing, and TV, and disability issues, and science, and music but I also struggle with blogging. Sometimes it feels more like a duty than something I enjoy doing. That’s especially true when I’m so busy with school and my job, and just trying to find time to write is a real challenge.
This year, I set a goal to write at least 4 days a week for at least an hour. That doesn’t add up to a lot, just 4 hours a week, and yet it’s still been difficult to find that time. Most weeks, I’ve met that goal, but there’ve been a few weeks I didn’t. There have been lots of weeks, like this last one, where I spent as much time writing as I would on a full-time job.
Another installment from my bitchy essay about blindness. It should be noted that this incident I’m describing, and the writing about the incident, took place before I took organic chemistry and discovered that it was my academic subject soulmate.
It affects everything. As a blind person, you quickly learn all the coded ways that potential employers dress up, “I won’t hire you because you’re blind,” or the coded way potential dates dress up, “I don’t want to go out with you because you’re blind.” It often doesn’t matter how well you present yourself, how positive and open you are about discussing your blindness and showing that you do and feel and are the same things as other humans. There are still countless ways that people deny your full human dignity.
A few months ago, a similar thing happened to me. I was out at an event with some friends, including a guy I had a met few times, had lots of great talks with, and who was, that evening, flirting with me. To some extent he knew me, knew about my blindness, had seen me at several different events and get-togethers before this. That night, our group took a bathroom break and the guy asked me, “Do you need help in there?”
The crazy part? This was not a total anomaly. It’s happened before this particular instance. And will probably happen since.
A few months ago, I was talking to a blind friend and mentor. She’s a practicing naturopath who teaches seminars for other naturopaths about thyroid conditions, depression and biochemistry. I asked her if she ever got sick of people making a big deal about how amazing she is to have gotten where she is while being totally blind. She said no. She said it was a big challenge, a career that’s challenging even for people who are fully sighted, and she had to work hard for it. “What does get to me,” she said, “is when people make a huge deal about me doing things like climbing a flight of stairs without falling. I’ve been doing stairs my whole life.”
So many things have me revisiting my musical past as of late. It’s really kind of odd how so many things converged at once. Sometimes I feel like, for whatever reason, I just really let music slip away for awhile, and over the last month, a switch has flipped and all of a sudden, I’m back.
I think I’m a little too embarrassed to admit one of the things that started all this. I’ll just say this: it was a TV show. And it wasn’t that I loved the music on the show so much as one of the characters reminded me of how I used to feel about music, and that got me listening to CDs again, and trying to rebuild my old music collection by buying a bunch of used CDs, and looking into concerts and shows again. Okay, I’ll give a hint, since it sort of relates to the remainder of the post, this TV show I don’t quite want to name is named after a song.
This spring I submitted several pieces of writing to a handful of contests and had almost forgotten about it. But last night I got an email that my essay “Seeing and Not Seeing” won third place in the Willamette WritersKay Snow Writing Contest for non-fiction!
Everywhere you walk, you “get caned”—hit by several canes from all different directions. There are just so many people navigating their way around that it’s impossible to avoid. From the moment you emerge from your room to the time you reenter it, you get caned. There are dogs everywhere too. They are also getting caned at every turn, and surrounded by so many other dogs. I think they are more overwhelmed than the people. The hotel has set aside a place outside for people to relieve their guide dogs but I keep hearing that some of them, especially the ones that have never been to a convention before, are having some bladder issues.
“We’re not literally going to die,” I reminded Natalie as I gathered up my things to leave her apartment and walk back across the street to mine. “I mean, no one’s going to shoot us or anything. The worst that will happen is that we fail–”
“I kinda feel like I might actually fail,” Natalie said, sort of laughing the way people laugh when they’re trying not to cry. I knew that laugh so well by now, had laughed it myself so many times.
I grabbed my huge eight-pound book with the fluorescent green cover and shoved it into my backpack. “Me too,” I admitted. I looked around her living room, to all of our practice tests and answer keys scattered over her couch, chair and coffee table; the erasers bloody with pencil shavings, my pink and purple mechanical pencils and Natalie’s straight-up golden #2s; our notecards in several haphazard piles; our identical molecular models of cyclohexane with their carbons and hydrogens in the most stable chair conformations. Natalie sat on her couch, pulling a plush brown blanket around her shoulders. Her apartment looked like a warzone. “That practice test was brutal,” I said. “I’m the one who couldn’t even finish it.” I had given up early into the second practice test, as per usual, feeling I just didn’t know enough to go forward, every question making me feel more like a failure than the last.
I am albino, which means my skin and hair are paler than pale, and though I have partial vision, I’m legally blind. I grew up in a town where it seemed everyone worshiped at the same handful of churches and was white and voted Republican and wore the same clothes. I was white, but I was too white. I was an agnostic atheist, a bleeding heart, and I dressed like the grunge-rock musicians I admired. I didn’t even fit in with the delinquent kids, because my parents were too strict and my grades too good. I felt like the town freak.
Nothing emphasized my feelings of alienation like a school dance, where I’d sit at the back of the cafeteria and eat chips to numb myself. One time I tried to mingle, but a girl I’d ridden to the dance with told me to stop following her around like a puppy. I went back to the food table and tried to disappear.