Archive for Life

Picture Perfect: Seeing Around the Blind Spots

So, apparently I’ve gone on a 2-month hiatus from WordPress; who knew. I’ve been so busy doing absolutely nothing of importance that I never realized how much you all had been anxiously awaiting my return.

Why have I inexplicably disappeared? Truthfully (insert uncomfortable squirming here) in the time that I haven’t been wisely spending teaching, prepping lessons, grading papers, revising my dissertation, drafting articles, or sipping coffee and looking important while I pretend to do any or all of the above, I’ve been extremely busy and important, catching up on innumerable episodes of Season one of CBS’s “Elementary”. (Don’t judge me. Watching Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch have a fierce arm-wrestling match in my mind over which of them will take me to dinner is an endless source of free entertainment). But when being battled over by two British hotties in my brain gets too dull, I’ve been amusing myself with the notion that, thanks to my iPhone and a nifty little app called Tap Tap See, I can abandon my lofty dream of a career in academia and pursue my newfound passion for photography. Basically, the principle of the app is this: a blind person can take a photo of what’s in front of him or her, and voiceover (the iPhone’s onboard screenreader) describes the image. I’m told by the creators of the app that they rely on a combination of computer vision and crowd-sourcing to process and describe the images, but I still suspect that aliens are somehow involved. So, when I feel like I’ve spent too much time flopping on my sofa snuggling with Jonny Lee Miller and fancy a bit of exercise, I promptly grab my phone and proceed to chase my dog around the apartment, endeavoring to capture him on camera.

Aside from the realization that candid shots of moving targets are particularly difficult to obtain, I’ve made a number of enlightening discoveries about my surroundings:

1: The wood-engraving of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy hanging on my bedroom wall is apparently crooked. I can only assume that Colin has been sneaking sips of my sangria when my back is turned; this would certainly account for his lopsided appearance combined with the mysteriously empty wine bottles appearing in my kitchen. My inability to see straight, or the idea that home-decorating projects go well with alcohol are not to blame.

2: My parents have apparently been lying to me about my gender for nearly 30 years; after sharing my discovery of the tap Tap see app with my mother, she requested several pictures, and to satisfy her, I attempted to photograph myself and the dog. This should have been relatively uncomplicated given that I knew the relative positions of the intended subjects of the picture. So, imagine my horror when, upon checking that I’d taken a decent photo, I heard the description, “picture is of man holding yellow dog.” Man? Did you say ‘man’? The resulting gender identity crisis has been rather trying. I might need therapy.

3: In addition to navigating me safely across busy streets and helping me to avoid crashing into trees, my dog has the hitherto unnoticed ability to change color. He is alternately tan, white, or yellow. Whether this is a trick of the light or dependent on the phases of the moon, or only occurs on days that end in ‘y’, I’m still uncertain; more extensive observation is required.

In any case, textual descriptions notwithstanding, the pictures I’ve taken might not be worth a thousand words, but they’re definitely worth a few good laughs.

Note: all kidding aside, I’ve actually found the accuracy of the Tap Tap See app to be highly impressive, and it does take decent pictures. I’ve had a lot of fun with it, sharing pictures I’ve taken with my family and friends, and I’ve even found practical uses for it sorting canned goods in my kitchen. It’s especially useful for identifying colors and distinguishing between items in one’s refrigerator, closet, or pantry without sighted assistance. Visit http://www.taptapseeapp.com to check it out!

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The Sea is my Secret-Keeper: in Honor of National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share this.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had at least one moment in your life in which you were afraid to tell someone something. This is my feeble attempt to put that feeling into words.

Sunset on the beach
When the waves whisper
stories entrusted to their keeping
by overflowing hearts.

The sea swims with secrets.
They play around
our feet like puppies
As we walk along the shore.
Now scampering forward.
Now retreating.
Wanting to share
hesitant to trust.

I watch you toss
up handfuls of sand
Just to see
them dance on the breeze
a little boy
playing catch with the wind.

Your laughter tugs
at my heart
And I feel the words
begin to form
the faintest quickening
in my belly.
Your fingers brush
the back of my hand
like an afterthought
and I roll my tongue
across the words
testing them.
I am a mother
blowing on a baby’s spoon.
I shiver at their taste
Like morcels of baker’s chocolate.

I rest my cheek
against your shoulder
and the words tingle
on the tip of my tongue.
A diver poised to spring.
Do my words have wings?
Can I cradle you in them
and fly over the horizon?
or will I fall
Foolish little Icarus.
So I watch the sun
slip over the horizon
and I blow a kiss
to the wind
that caresses your cheek
and wonder if you can hear the secret
in the whisper of the waves.

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Now you see it, Now you Dont: Blindness and the Nostalgia of Visual Memory

Just the other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and sipping my coffee, expertly avoiding work, and suddenly I paused on a friend’s tweet describing a perfect sunrise captured in a photo while jogging. I read and reread the tweet, closed my eyes, tried to mentally pull the image into focus, and as I did, I felt a twinge somewhere deep inside; I wanted to see it. I had that fleeting moment—one that comes far more often than I’m generally willing to admit—in which I wished I had a switch that would allow me to turn on my eyes for five minutes, even five seconds a day.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live without my sight, and at the risk of sounding complacent, I think I’ve adapted fairly well. Those who know me can attest to the fact that I’ve embraced my blindness like a quirky personality trait, and I’m generally the first one at a party to dust off the Stevie Wonder jokes. Yet I realized something in that moment the other day, trying to remember just what the sky looks like at sunrise. One of the questions I often get—the one that makes me far more uncomfortable than most—is usually along the lines of: “If you could see anything, anything at all, what would you want to see?” Having been born with partial sight, I find the answer to this question difficult to try to unpack. You would think, wouldn’t you, that I’d want to see all of the things that have come into being since I lost my sight, because I’m aware that the world looks different now: Facetime and webcams, touch screens and HD TV. The truth is, though, that the things I want to see aren’t necessarily the things I’ve never seen before. I’m curious to know how things look; I’d love to be able to appreciate the clarity of watching my favorite film in high definition rather than, as a friend once put it, “all weirdly pixelated”. Yet I don’t feel like my imagination is lacking in filling in the gaps.

What I want to see, what I sometimes wish I could see, are the things I remember seeing—the things in my memory that I haven’t quite forgotten, but that naturally, with time, fade around the edges: sunshine on the water, rainbows, autumn leaves. It’s a kind of…visual nostalgia, I suppose, and I think that as I grow older, and layer upon layer of dust obscures those memories, it’s a longing that is entirely natural. I think that, having had some minimally usable vision, I sometimes inhabit two worlds: the one in which I see, and the one in which I don’t. Sometimes I think I want to return to those memories, take them out, dust them off, look at them again (literally and figuratively) because I have some deep, unspoken longing to reaffirm my experiences as a (partially) sighted person, to confirm that that world I inhabited was real.

I’m no longer sure to what extent my imagination has colored in the blind spots in my visual memory, but maybe that doesn’t matter. We’re all guilty of revising the narratives our memories tell. No memory is entirely accurate. Our memories are a kind of image-text of a literary biography. The basic facts are verifiable, but we’ve colored in the gaps with details that might be true, or might just be stylistic flourishes intended to reinvigorate the memories for ourselves when we relive those moments.

Question: what is your most vivid visual memory?

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Give It Up: One Wayward Catholic’s Journey Across the Desert of Lent

“Attention all hard-core Catholics: note the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day and reconsider giving up chocolate for Lent.” such ran one of my pre-Lenten Facebook observations after realizing just how many Christians—most of them female—would be bemoaning the beginning of the sacrificial season of Lent the day before the biggest Hallmark/Hershey holiday of the year.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is the hot question on the playground of piety at the moment—and one that, I confess, I’ve looked forward to with increasing trepidation each year. I have very few recollections of the many treks across the desert of denial I’ve taken in my nearly 30 years as a Catholic; the ones I do recall involved some, shall we say, wayward wandering. First, there was the lent that I decided to give up peanut butter, which started out fairly well—well in the sense that I was completely miserable and probably half way to protein-deficient since I’d basically cut my major source of it out of my diet. Then I discovered Nutella. Hmm: maybe this whole giving up business wasn’t such a drag after all, though with every sinfully sweet spoonful, my conscience nagged: Wait just a moment. Nowhere in the catechism is there written anything to the effect that it’s acceptable during Lent to substitute the sacrificed item of choice with one of equal or greater value. IT remains open to question whether or not the five pounds I gained between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday can be attributed to the weight of guilt.

Then there was the time I decided to give up alcohol…during my first year of graduate school. There are about ten different reasons why this was a bad idea, all of which can be compounded in the fact that, well, it was my first year of graduate school. I know what you’re thinking: Wimp. Please. Wimp, shmimp, potato, vodka…call it whatever you like. The only Lenten sacrifice I’ve made in recent memory that was even remotely successful was the year I decided to cut off my hair for Locks of Love. For once in my life, I can honestly say I traded vanity for valor…at least until I stepped outside and a male friend of mine charmingly observed: “Your head. It looks so…small.” Goodbye gesture of self-sacrifice: Hello Louisa May Alcott, Little Women parallel universe.

I recognize the significance of “giving up” during lent—a reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made for us, but if Lent is about sacrifice and repentance, it’s also about reminding ourselves that, for Christians, every step we take on this journey of life should bring us closer to Him. With the possible exception of trading my tresses for 6 months of freaky frizz—because I truly did offer that from the heart—I can’t honestly say that any of my Lenten sacrifices have had the intended spiritual effect. So what, I ask myself as each Ash Wednesday approaches, can I possibly sacrifice that will strengthen my relationship with Jesus? Coffee? Only if I’m guaranteed a fast-pass into the glorious kingdom that cuts through the line in Purgatory, because I’ll probably die somewhere into week one. Chocolate? Well, as my brother likes to put it, “Jesus suffered so we wouldn’t have to.” Amen, bro. Sex? Well, I could, but technically according to the catechism, I’m not even supposed to be engaging in that particular pastime at the moment given my current marital status. Working on the theory that we can’t sacrifice what we don’t have (and we’ll just assume, for the sake of my soul, that I don’t in fact “have” the thing under discussion), I think we can cross this one off the list.

During this past advent season, I decided to start praying the Rosary daily—not just for the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but in the hope of strengthening my prayerful communication with Jesus. During those four weeks, and in the months since, I’ve experienced prayer in the way I think it was meant—not as my way of “talking to God,” but rather as a quiet conversation with Him in my heart. Of late, however, I realized that I haven’t been the best at keeping up my end of the bargain; I’m saying the prayers every day, but something is missing. Then, the other day, while praying about something that was troubling me, I recalled what Jesus tells us in scripture: to pray as if we’ve already received what we’re asking for—not with the assumption that we will “get what we want”; Jesus isn’t Santaclause. Rather, to pray as if we’ve already received what we’ve asked is to pray with the understanding that we will be given an answer. I am slowly coming to find, as I take the time to meditate on this idea, that I have actually received answers; not booming voice, clap-of-thunder, sky-splitting-open answers, but my heart has become a space for a quiet conversation with God—a place I can retreat to at any point in the day when I feel the need, because that door is always open. It always has been, actually, but I don’t think I ever bothered to pass through it until now. I’ve stuck my head in, sure; said Hi at the end of the day, but I don’t think I’ve ever really lingered long enough to have a decent chat. Now that I’ve actually taken that step and walked all the way in, I might find the time to stay.

Question: Where is your Lenten journey taking you this year?

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Step aside, Coffee. This is a job for alcohol: saying goodbye to 2012

The presents have been unwrapped, “Miracle on 34th Street” has been watched, “Happy Birthday Jesus” has been sung, the man in the red suit has done his annual drive-by (or is it fly-by?) under cover of darkness and childhood fantasies, and the last cookie crumb has been carried off by a hopeful house-mouse. That means only one thing: 2012 is officially breathing its last, so grab a hip flask and your favorite alcoholic beverage and settle in for a year-end review. If yours looks anything like mine, you’re going to need a drink or five. So, here goes:

Weight:………Ha! Made ya look. I don’t think so.

Jobs: 1 (hurrah. Am career woman extraordinaire…or impoverished graduate student with delusions of grandeur. It all depends on your point of view).

Status of Dissertation: almost complete (unless you count the fact that all chapters are in draft form and at least 5 pages short of the minimum required length. Re: point of view, positive attitude, glass half-full ETC.)

Boyfriends: 1 (V.G. Definite improvement in life situation).

Number of obsessive thoughts about Mark Darcy/Colin Firth: 16000000 (conservative estimate).

Number of times watched unveiling of Colin Firth’s wax figure on The Ellen Show: 3 (minimal due to irrational waxyfirthophobia).

Number of times watched “Hobbit” trailer to hear Martin Freeman exclaim, “I’m going on an adventure!”: 3054830 (approx. Is natural and just, though, considering adorable factor of Martin Freeman).

Number of books read: 44 (disgusting, illiterate slob. Must improve).

Number of books read from the BBC’s list of 100 books everyone should read: 1 (positively Philistine).

Number of films scene: 4 (serious lack of dedication to supporting the arts. Must really try harder in 2013).

Number of films seen in theater: one (Bad. Clearly have become victim of technology and convenience of Netflix, online streaming, ETC.)

Number of Colin Firth films seen: two (pathetic beyond what words can express. Have resolved to redouble efforts and complete Firth filmography project by end of 2013).

High points of year: My trip to Boston (though not, perhaps, the incident involving a very muddy guidedog and a disgruntled bellhop); discovering that I can, contrary to previous belief, attract decent heterosexual males (*crosses fingers*); Sherlock series 2 (except psychological trauma re: fake suicide and suspense over pending return of supposedly-dead detective)

Low points of year: Discovering that, according to this article in the Daily Mail, Colin Firth actually claims to hate Christmas. Something inside of me has died. All hope and joy have gone from the world. This must be how Dorothy felt when she pulled back the curtain and saw a shriveled old prune of a man instead of a god-like sorcerer type figure in manner of Gandalf or Albus Dumbledore…or how Bridget Jones felt upon discovering that Mark Darcy votes Tory. I’m completely overlooking the fact that the above Article appeared in The Daily Mail and consequently contains about as much truth as a politician’s promise. There’s just no cure for that kind of paradigm-shattering trauma. If you were planning to tell me that the Easter Bunny isn’t real, now might not be the best time; I’m just a bit too fragile at the moment.

2013 Resolutions: Finish dissertation (because, well, this isn’t negotiable), eat healthier, drink less alcohol (except for medicinal purposes…like stress…or watching any movie in which Colin Firth dies), put DVDs back in cases after watching, keep up with laundry, washing up, and other house chores, work out at the gym at least three times a week, work on inner poise.

Question: How has your 2012 been? What are you looking forward to in 2013?

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Livin’ it Up when I’m Goin’ Down: a Dream Ride on the Wonkavator

“If you had to be trapped in an elevator with anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would that person be, and why?”
For the past several semesters, I’ve begun every class I taught with this ice-breaker question. I do this for two reasons. Reason #1: the elevator has to be, without a doubt, the single most socially awkward small space in existence. In the same way that we feel socially obligated to wish people a “good morning” regardless of whether or not the morning is, in fact, “good,” we also feel that the rules of social etiquette require that we converse with our elevator companions, even if said elevator companion looks like the Craigslist killer and desperately needs a lesson in the proper application of soap and water.

On the way to teach my first class of the semester several years ago, I found myself—guess where?—in an elevator, panicking over the last-minute realization that I had no ice-breaker activity. Thus was inspired the above question, which has yielded responses from students ranging from their favorite celebrities or sports players to Luke Skywalker, because, according to the student in question, “He could just use the force to get us out.”

Reason #2 speaks to my twisted sense of logic; in a flash of alleged brilliance, I thought that being entertained by others’ fantasies about how they would spend their time trapped in an elevator might aid me in overcoming my own fear of being trapped in one. Over the years, I have been the victim of a recurring nightmare involving some elevator-entrapment scenario: I’m trapped in an elevator alone; I’m trapped in an elevator with a friend; I’m trapped in an elevator with Kevin Spacy in his role as the serial killer in “Seven”. Most frequent, however, is the scenario in which I’m trapped in an elevator that floats in midair and turns cartwheels—a kind of Wonkavator on crack…or an example of what would happen to the Tower of Terror ride at Hollywood Studios if left to its own devices.

After the most recent occurrence of the dream several weeks ago, I decided to conduct some extensive research on the subject. Approximately fifteen minutes spent on Google revealed the following from Suite101.com (and note, the falling and sideways-moving elevator scenarios are the closest to my recurring wacky Wonkavator nightmare): “Falling elevators might represent feelings of helplessness or inadequacy. If you dream that you are in a falling elevator, you could be dealing with something in your personal life that you feel is getting out of control…The good news is that if the falling elevator does represent something you’re losing control of, admitting it to yourself is the first step in the right direction.” Well, thank you, Suite101, for confirming that my life is out-of-control, because my high blood pressure and the empty vodka bottles are obviously an insufficient indicator.

On the subject of the sideways-moving elevator, Suite101 has the following nugget of wisdom: “This motion is neither forward nor backward; therefore, you are not moving anywhere.” Again, apparently the empty vodka bottles are an insufficient indicator of the lack of any positive forward movement in my life, so my subconscious feels the need to send me nightly bulletins. ON the upside (pun entirely intended), “one theory about lateral movement is that any movement at all is good movement; therefore if you are moving sideways on an elevator, you are making some kind of progress.”
Well, that’s comforting. I’ll be sure to pull this pearl of positivity out of my pocket the next time I find myself eating nutella out of the jar and channeling the energy of every available brain cell into conjuring Mark Darcy from the realm of fiction to appear sitting comfortably beside me on my sofa while I watch “Bridget Jones’ Diary”.

Challenge: to the first person who can correctly identify the song lyrics from which I’ve taken part of the title of this post, I will blog about any topic of your choosing. (No Googling, because that would be cheating, and we all know that cheating is an offense punishable by a term of imprisonment that involves watching the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice” until you beg for mercy. You’ve been warned. And if you’re wondering how I intend to monitor your honesty, well…that’s my secret. Let’s just use the Honor System, and bear in mind that god is Watching…when he isn’t too busy inventing new ways to confuse Harold Camping).

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The Cultured Cocktease: or, Why you can’t Take a Blind person to an Art Exhibit

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, but if, like me, your eyes don’t behold much beyond shadows and the occasional patch of sunlight, beauty, or at least visually-appealing beauty, is bound up in the equally creative art form of the descriptions relayed to you by sighted companions.

so when a group of friends and I decided to head into downtown Gainesville several weeks ago to check out the local art walk, I anticipated an evening of free entertainment provided by my friends’ running commentary. As I meandered in and out of each gallery, I admit to being more preoccupied with the challenge of nibbling pretzels, sipping lime punch, and weaving through the maze of masterpieces while silently praying that my guidedog wouldn’t suddenly demolish the entire display with a single sweep of his lethal Labrador tale. I was also teetering precariously on high-heals, a dangerous fashion choice in the current environment for someone who epitomizes the proverbial rhinoceros in an antique shop. Still, considering I have about as much class as blue jean cutoffs at a 5-* restaurant, I managed rather well despite feeling a bit like Eliza Doolittle at the embassy ball. I kept waiting for someone to expose me as the uncultured, squashed cabbage-leaf of Covent Garden—I, who probably can’t tell the difference between a priceless Renoir and a child’s finger-painting, even with the gift of two working eyes.

My last trip to an art gallery of any kind occurred when my college roommate and I paid a mandatory visit to our university’s local art exhibit to complete an essay assignment for an online class in which we were both enrolled. My roommate, understandably, chose what seemed the least complex of the pieces on display: a glass jar filled with sand, containing a miniature car, palm tree, house, and scattering of seashells—some eclectic assortment of items you’d expect to find in South West Florida.

“OK, I don’t get it,” my roommate declared after describing the piece to me.
“What don’t you get? It seems pretty straight-forward to me,” I replied.
“Well,” continued my roommate, “the piece is called Neapolitan Landscape, and I don’t get what any of this has to do with ice-cream.”
“Please tell me you’re kidding,” I managed between bursts of hysterical giggles.
“What’s so funny?” asked my roommate.
“Well,” I said slowly, “I’m not exactly an art expert, but I’m pretty sure ‘Neapolitan Landscape’ isn’t referring to a flavor of ice-cream. I’m pretty sure it’s a reference to Naples, Florida. You know…the city we live in?”

I couldn’t help recalling this story as I wandered past various carvings, photographs of mountain-ranges and sunsets, and the occasional hunk of twisted metal masquerading as a masterpiece. Suddenly, the friend with whom I was walking paused and laid a hand on my arm.

“You need to see this,” she said. I should point out that she was using that phrase fairly loosely; by “see,” she naturally meant “Someone really needs to point this out to you, because your inability to see it shouldn’t deprive you of what the rest of us have to suffer.” It was rather like the time in middle school when a friend of mine insisted on removing the rubber bands in her braces at the lunch table and thought she would enliven the process by making noises so that I wouldn’t feel left out of the entertainment. While I love my friends, I think I can safely say that this just takes the concept of accommodation to a level beyond appropriate.

Anyway, it turned out that my friend and I had stopped before a sculpture of what was unmistakably a naked man. This in and of itself wasn’t terribly shocking; what my friend felt compelled to point out was the fact that the artist, for one reason or another, decided to represent the man’s genitals with a pine cone. Perhaps Said artist was attempting to remind the viewer of the link between man and nature, or maybe he’d just run out of whatever material he was using for the sculpture. In any case, because my inner child has the maturity of your average four year-old, I was intrigued by the pine cone penis.

“You’re not serious. A pine cone penis?”
“I’m totally serious. It’s…definitely interesting,” said my friend. This description wasn’t nearly colorful enough to satisfy my curiosity.
“Are we allowed to touch it?” My friend hesitated.
“I…don’t think so. There’s a sign that says don’t touch.”

Well, this was disappointing, mostly because suggestively fondling a piece of local art would have been the most action I’d gotten in some time. Reluctantly I went off in search of a piece of art on display that was less touchy about being tactilely appreciated, but needless to say, I left that night with a very different impression of the concept of the cock tease than what is generally meant by the expression.

Question: what is the strangest piece of art you’ve ever seen?

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