Category Archives: Blindness

The Tales of Zeus: the Magnificent Yellow Guidedog

Greetings, all you non-furry humans of the interwebs; Zeus the magnificent yellow guidedog here, wagging my way into the blogosphere by popular demand. My human mom told me I could play around on this computer contraption while she’s busy working on her what’s-it-called…diss-diss-diss-er-t-tation. (Such a big word for a little puppy like me!). I’ve only been living with mom and going to school with her for five months, and I’ve already learned so many big words like: theoretical, literary, adaptation, and episteme-episto-epist-I can’t say that one. (Mom just came in: it’s epistemology). I don’t know what they mean, but between you and me, I don’t think mom does either.

Anywags, Mom and I have been a team for five months, and she’s probably told you all about the bad things I do like eating her shoes and trying to make friends with squirrels, but I bet she doesn’t ever talk about all the awesome tricks I can do (You humans are all such ingrates. Like taking one shoe is going to counterbalance the car I saved you from last week, Mom. OK, so it was more than one shoe, but that *was* a big car! Credit where credit is due, please).

I’m luckier than your average pup, because I get to travel everywhere mom does and be her eyes; I don’t know what’s wrong with hers, but I’m sure glad she needs MINE! It’s awful to be a puppy out of work in this unstable economy. It’s my job to help her find things—like stairways, doors, and street-crossings, and to keep her safe. I think I do a fairly decent job, but mom says I’m still learning and I’ll get better when I’m older. Hmph. I’ll have you know I’m almost 2 years-old—that makes me almost a grownup dog! And allow me to remind you about that car; just to put things into perspective, I weigh 61 pounds; that car weighs, like, a million. I put my little Labrador self between mom and that car, because that’s my job, and I do it well, so there.

Mom takes me to this place called THE UNIVERSITY, which is where her “work” is; she trains other humans—imagine that (but she calls it teaching. Whatever, same thing to me). How can you humans think you’re good at training dogs when you’ve got to train your own kind too? I don’t really like this teaching gig; I’ve got to lie down at the front of the room and just look like a yellow rug, and mom’s students—who I guess are like human puppies—aren’t allowed to pet me or talk to me, because I can’t be distracted when I have my harness on. I like wearing my harness because it tells people that I’m a special smart dog, and I get to leave my paw prints where other dogs don’t, but I have a really difficult time with the don’t-pet-me part. Sometimes people walk buy and pet me without saying anything to mom or even asking if it’s OK to pet me; then Mom thinks it’s my fault, because she can’t see that the human who can’t read the “don’t pet me” sign started it, and I get corrected. The injustice of it makes me want to growl! So a word to all the humans, if you see me or another guidedog on the street and think we’re cute (which none of us would disagree with) the kindest thing you can do is smile and keep walking. For one thing, it helps me to do my job and keep mom safe; for another, it keeps me from getting in trouble. I hate it when Mom yells at me, so please don’t give her a reason to do it. Also: if you leave me alone, or stop to tell mom what a smart dog I am without petting me, she’ll give me lots of praise and pets anyway, and Mom’s pets are better than anyone’s, because she’s my mom, and I love her like crazy!

The other thing I don’t like about mom’s teaching is that her puppies bring food, and they don’t share it with me because I’m not allowed to eat when I’m working. Geez, ever heard of a business lunch, Mom?

Speaking of food, I really must protest to this business of only eating twice a day. I’m a growing boy, you know. I think that in a gesture of acknowledgement to the English lineage of my breeding, we ought at least to have afternoon tea; I could really fancy a cucumber sandwich about now.

That reminds me: when Mom is working, she talks a lot about this English person…What’s his name…Colin something-or-other…oh right, Colin Firth. (I just looked him up on Wikipedia). She says he’s done a lot of really great work in literary adaptation (there’s another one of those big words) and she really loves teaching about him and would love for us to meet him some time and chat about his work. Personally I think he’d be more interested in me than in Mom, because I’m way cuter and smarter than she is. This Colin Firth person must be important, because Mom says if we ever got to meet him, she’d let him pet me if he wanted, EVEN THOUGH I’D BE “WORKING”, because he’s Colin Firth. Personally, unless this Colin Firth walks around with sausages (or cucumber SANDWICHES) in his pockets he’s willing to share, I’m not too fussed about the petting, really.

Anywags, Mom says it’s time for me to wash my paws and get ready to eat; I’m starving!

Bye for now then.

Licks and wags to all my human friends!

Zeus

D.E.A.R- Drop Everything and read: Celebrating International Literacy

While casually browsing my Twitter feed as part of my morning routine, I was reminded by a friend that yesterday, September 8th, was designated International Literacy day—a day devoted to calling attention to and promoting world literacy and literacy needs. According to Reading.org “More than 780 million of the world’s adults (nearly two-thirds of whom are women) do not know how to read or write, and between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education.” As a writing and literature teacher, I find myself reflecting as I consider that statistic on how privileged I am in my own literacy and how honored I feel to count myself among those individuals who dedicate themselves to promoting literacy.

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a home where, perhaps because both of my parents were and are still teachers, reading always seemed to take precedence over watching television, or even playing out of doors; always a firm believer in the simple idea that growing children need fresh air, if my mother couldn’t force me out of doors to play, she would at least encourage me to sit on the front porch with my book. When people ask me why I chose to pursue a Ph.D. in Victorian Literature, I always share with them an anecdote I’m fond of relating: One day, when I was in the sixth grade, I was kept home from school with stomach flu and sent to Grandma’s house; sick or not, Grandma’s house was paradise; she had cable. Cable meant MTV. Just before dropping me off at Grandma’s on her way to work, Mom informed me sternly that I wasn’t to sit in front of the
TV all day. (Not that I’d planned to, or anything…perish the thought. What kind of twelve year-old did my mother think I was?). What then, I wondered, was I supposed to do? For answer, Mom handed me a cassette player and a stack of tapes rubber-banded together. It was an audiobook of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I’m still not entirely sure why or how my mother had this in her possession, but I’m almost certain that she’d been saving it for just such an emergency. Thinking their might be a quiz when she came to pick me up, I decided I’d read it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, as a visually impaired child, reading naturally held more appeal for me than watching television, playing dodge ball in the street, or riding my bike, not that I hadn’t engaged in such activities. Fond though I was of proving my ability to keep pace with my peers, one can only take so many scraped knees and broken glasses before admitting that there might be some truth to the paraphrased adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try again; then give up. There’s no point being a damn idiot about it.” Admittedly though, I hadn’t always adored reading—hardly surprising when I had to magnify words to such a ridiculously large size that I’m pretty sure Stevie Wonder could have read them from outer space. Needless to say, trying to read so slowly that I’d forgotten what the story was about before I’d gotten to the bottom of page 5 didn’t strike me as a particularly rewarding or entertaining pastime. It was bad enough that I came home from school with migraines that left me physically ill and bleary-eyed for days at a time. If I hadn’t been introduced to the wonder of braille and the magic of audiobooks, I might not have ever given it a chance.

It’s that passion for the world I learned to explore between the pages of books and the freedom to wander through that world on my own and make my own discoveries that I love sharing with my students. When we talk of my love for literature (and sometimes of their own as well, because college students sometimes read more than we instructors give them credit for even if they don’t perhaps gravitate toward the reading we assign them) a student will invariably ask me what my favorite book is. To an English teacher, asking that question is, I think, akin to asking a mother to choose her favorite child. I have so very many: the before-mentioned Jane Eyre, because it was the first “grownup” book I read; Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, because as an adolescent, I identified with the fear and social degradation of being labeled a wallflower as the only girl no boy approached at school dances; the Ramona Quimbey series, because it kept me company on so many Saturday afternoons. Some books, like the ones above, I value primarily for sentimental reasons, though having taught and written about the Brontes and Austen in my professional endeavors, I’ve come to value them equally for their scholarly worth. Others, like Khaled Hosseini’s the Kite Runner, I love because they challenge me to step outside myself and view the world from an entirely different vantage point.

so in a gesture of acknowledgement of the incalculable worth of the written word, what are your favorite books? Can you recall a particular experience that turned you on to reading? Share your thoughts—and then, go celebrate International Literacy day—as Beverly Cleary so aptly puts it in Ramona Quimbey Age 8, drop everything and read!

Here’s an Eye-Opener

A friend of mine posted this story to an e-mail list I participate in, and while the story itself is fictional, it’s moral is a powerful one.

There was a blind girl who hated herself because she was blind. She hated
everyone, except her loving boyfriend. He was always there for her. She told
her boyfriend, ‘If I could only see the world, I would marry you.’ One day,
someone donated a pair of eyes to her. When the bandages came off, she was
able to see everything, including her boyfriend. He asked her,’Now that you
can see the world, will you marry me?’ The girl looked at her boyfriend and
saw that he was blind. The sight of his closed eyelids shocked her. She
hadn’t expected that. The thought of looking at them the rest of her life
led her to refuse to marry him. Her boyfriend left in tears and days later
wrote a note to her saying: ‘Take good care of your eyes, my dear, for
before they were yours, they were mine.’

Even reading this at 6:30 AM, as I did, bleary-eyed and undercaffeinated, I sat drumming my fingers against my desk, thinking about why it was that the
story gave me pause. I felt, somehow, that God was tapping me on the shoulder, asking me to take a moment–just one–to take a good look inside myself.
I might credit myself with being nothing like the blind girl in this fictional story, but as someone who’s lived with that particular “disability” since
birth, I’ve been on what I sometimes feel is more than my share of the receiving end of help. For one thing, I never want to inconvenience anyone; for
another, the independent streak in me flairs up in resentment at being hindered. I don’t know what–or who–I resent most; myself for having to be beholden
to someone else? The helpful person–be she friend or stranger–for standing in my way? God for burdening me with this cross? Rationally, I know it isn’t
any or all of these, though in moments of frustration I find myself thinking along such lines.

There have been, the truth forces me to admit, times when I’ve accepted help reluctantly, even ungraciously, from those who’ve offered it. At other times
I’ve taken, even embraced the hand that reaches out. Yet whether I accept or refuse the help, I don’t think I’ve ever really taken the time to consider
what it costs the person who’s come to my aid. I talk about not wanting to inconvenience others, but there’s quite a difference between inconvenience and
sacrifice. It’s an inconvenience when someone drives ten miles out of his way to offer me transportation; it’s a sacrifice when he does so even though
he doesn’t have enough money to put gas in his car. (I feel compelled to say, perhaps defensively, that I almost always do offer to reimburse people for
the cost of gas, but that is neither here nor there). The point is, I think, that all too often, we accept help from others without truly feeling the gratitude
due them for their service, however seemingly small and insignificant. A truly kind person would never call someone’s attention to how greatly he’s being
inconvenienced, or what he’s sacrificing, to offer help, and it’s for this very reason that we ought to be more conscious of what others might be sacrificing
to help us.

For those of us who face the challenge of living with a so-called disability, the balancing act between independence and accepting assistance
is all too familiar, and unfortunitley it doesn’t get any easier with time. There are moments when it’s best to accept help, and others when we would profit
more by finding our own way. Still, whether we accept or refuse help, we should pause to consider how far out of the way someone has gone to offer it.
I know the next time someone offers to help me, I’ll think of the boy in this story, and whether I choose to take the offered helping hand, or merely press
it in polite decline, be sure that I don’t let that hand be withdrawn feeling more empty for having given something to me.

Tis the Season: Starting a New Semester

There’s nothing quite like spending the final weekend of summer making last-minute revisions to my syllabus and course website–revisions which, given my
meticulous planning during the last few months, I hadn’t intended to make. When I innocently anticipated having everything in readiness for my fall course
at least three days, preferably a full week before the start of classes, I foolishly overlooked any possible last-minute glitches: newly-specified general
education guidelines, revised wordings of mandatory syllabus boiler plates, and, of course, an unexpected error in the course management system requiring
all instructors who created their pages before August 19 to remove and reload their class rosters. Why hello, Murphys law: we meet again. Not to mention,
in the midst of the last-minute scramble, I’m casually (or not-so-casually) tracking the progress of two tropical storms that may or may not be making
landfall in Florida, potentially making part or all of the first week of classes a total washout. This last of course is just one of those things you grow accustom to if you’ve spent almost your entire life in this state; I find
myself checking the weather reports mostly out of force of habit–like glancing sideways into the rear-view mirror because it’s just good defensive driving–not
because you expect to spot anything out-of-the-ordinary coming at you. Alas, I digress.

I can think of a host of things I’d liked to have been doing on this last weekend of (relative) freedom; all of them involve some variation of a palm tree
and a pitcher of margaritas. (Throw in no cellphone reception or internet and a guest appearance by Colin Firth, and you’ve just described my ideal holiday).
I say a lot of things about syllabus construction–that it’s the bane of my existence; that I’d consider drilling my own teeth less excruciating, etc.
Admittedly I have a love-hate relationship with the mechanics of syllabus construction; the painstaking precision of placing every item just so gives me
a headache. Even so, beneath the drudgery of calculating the weight of assignments and checking the very precise wording of every department boilerplate
down to the last comma, I always experience a shiver of excitement at the prospect of beginning a new semester.

After months of planning–ever since I learned I’d be teaching a section of our Writing through Media course–I think I’ve finally designed a class that
manages to capitalize on current pop culture trends while (hopefully) teaching students something valuable about writing: ENG1131: Writing Through Media

I’m slightly nervous about how
my students will respond to having a media/film adaptation course being taught by a blind instructor; incidentally, I’m still having difficulty getting
over the suggestion of a fellow faculty member that I begin my course with a screening of “Nosferatu” (My course theme focuses on adaptations of vampire
and werewolf stories). Excuse me while I move off into the corner and contemplate the vastness of the universe while you all try to wrap your brains around
the reasons why it might be problematic to ask a blind instructor to teach an entirely silent film. Admittedly I’m never one to say “I can’t,” but if I’m
ambitious, I’m also pragmatic, and it seemed impractical for me to attempt to tackle that particular film; I might as well teach Driver’s Ed. As for my
students, they’ve generally responded well to me after the initial awkwardness subsides, mostly because the lumbering elephant in the room is disguised
as a lovable yellow lab. Students are generally less concerned with my teaching ability and more excited by the prospect of having a dog in the classroom.

Sometimes it seems like I’ve been at this job for more than a mere four years; at other times, I’m amazed to find myself standing at the front of a packed
room full of people who are paying to watch me perform, because teaching, as a professor of mine wisely said once, is a performing art. I hardly expect
a standing ovation at the conclusion of a lecture about the French Revolution’s influence on British Romanticism, but I always feel obligated to put on
a good show. So: here’s to the start of another semester: let the learning begin!