I’ve often been envious of bikers. If I could, I’ve said many times to myself, I would bike everywhere. I would ditch the slowass bus trek from my apartment in Wallingford to my job on the East Side. I would bike to farmer’s markets and grocery stores, to friends’ houses, and just because. I would learn how to put air in the tires, to shift gears, to pedal hard up hills. In a nutshell, I would leave Seattle’s dubious public transit in the dust and go my own way.

I know it’s easy to tell myself these things, since I can’t actually bike anywhere besides maybe an abandoned parking lot, at least not without sighted assistance. And ok, maybe if I could bike everywhere I wouldn’t, because I am prone to sloth and inertia just as much as the next person. But as much as I love riding a tandem when I have a willing partner, I’d like to think that given the chance, I would bike as often as I could.

A few weeks ago, I gathered my fake confidence around me and went to a bike shop in the University District to see about a tandem. This shop makes custom tandems, which appeals to me because it seems like a more secure purchase than trying to buy one off of eBay from a person I’d never see again after the purchase. Also significantly more expensive than eBay. Still, the relationship for shop appeals to me, a shop that knows my bike because someone’s hands and ingenuity made it, right there.

The guy working the floor showed me some bikes, making compelling pitches that validated what I’d already been thinking. I don’t know how sales people do that.

I ended up asking him if they make tandems for blind people often. He assured me they do indeed. And because I was cuddling my fake confidence, I bombastically told him that if I could, I would bike everywhere. It’s not like I necessarily want to ride tandem all the time, I explained, but right now if I want to ride, that’s my only option.

Absolutely!” he said, his enthusiasm making me braver, “you just want to feel the wind in your hair!”

Luckily, I chose not to pedantically tell him that actually, I prefer to wear my helmet when I bike. I knew what he meant and he said it exactly right. I want freedom, agency, the ability to go places and see new things, to go fast or leisurely, to write my own story without the constraints of what society says is possible for me. I want to set my own path and lead others just as much as they may lead me.

And yes, literally, I want to feel the wind in my hair.

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Eating Alone

There seems to be lots of contradictory ideas about eating alone.  Every so often, I’ll see some statistic about a high percentage of Americans who now eat dinner solo.  These articles often take the tone that this is a sad 21st century turn: we are all tied to our phones, we aren’t making real connections, we are buying way too much take-out and horfing way too many bagels standing at our kitchen counters.  Too many of us eat our meals alone too often.

 

There’s the counter argument to that, which I can sum up in Daniel Halpern’s “How to Eat Alone”,  a poem I love.  Here, eating alone is a sensual luxury.  An homage to self-love.  He drinks both red and white wine.  You know, I guess if you have the means to justify that, knock yourself out, but to my Midwestern sense of frugality it seems a bit excessive.  But I digress: drink your wine and eat your lamb Daniel.

 

I’ve had lots of experience eating alone, since I’ve lived by myself for nearly a decade.  Cramming bagels into my mouth while scrolling through my phone at the kitchen counter is a scenario I know well.  But I’ve also made attempts to be more intensional about the way I eat, even and especially when I’m by myself.  Rituals like drinking a glass of wine while cooking myself pasta in a walnut cream sauce or making an individual pot pie from crust to finish have become comforts to me in the past several years.  Even setting the intension to sit at my kitchen table, which faces the doors to my balcony where I can look out at the daylight or the darkness, can have a soothing effect.

 

I think of my mother, who cooked for us most nights when I was growing up.  From the time I was about 9 or 10, Sunday evening was the one night she didn’t cook.  Sunday night, you were on your own.  I made chicken-flavored ramen in the microwave, tuna salad heavy with mayonaise and brined with pickles, or buttered popcorn which I washed down with a Coke over ice.  I can’t remember what my mom made for herself, but I do know it wasn’t ever fussy.  I didn’t consider it much then, but now I wonder if that was her small, perhaps unconscious way of eating alone: cooking or not cooking whatever she wanted, just one serving, no need to think about her kids’ opinions, all and only hers.

 

Eating alone has given me the freedom to figure out what I like.  WHAT I like most is strong flavors: vinegar, garlic, spice, and heat, and I can bask in those flavors until I am sated.  I do love cooking with and for others, usually with a little less vinegar and heat.) When I do find myself eating alone, I try to think of it as less of a lonely experience and

more of an experience where I am joined and guided by my palate and my senses.  Not actually alone at all.

 

I heard a robin on my walk to work.
so loud it cut through the NPR drear of morning news in my headphones.
I pulled them off, intending to listen to a few trills.
Robin voices sound like big question marks to me.
“Are you coming home? Will you be there soon? Hello?”
This robin trilled for his life.
So loud it echoed off the buildings, through the trees
I walked for blocks, listening for the reverb
Thinking of the birdfeeder hanging from my balcony
Hoping the birds will come, wanting to feed the world
forgetting the news
remembering early mornings in my bed waking up to birdsong
robins always the loudest, cardinals close behind
Are you coming home? Will you be here soon?

This year I am starting a garden, maybe. Hopefully. I have dreamed of a garden for many years. I have grown cherry tomatoes and herbs in containers scattered around my various apartments. Last year, with access to a tiny rectangle of balcony for the first time in my adult life, I planted gerbera daisies and these huge heavy begonias which constantly tried to jump the container and scamper off to root in a patch of real soil.

This year, Stuart and I are taking a gardening class at Tilth. It’s a class which meets over the course of eight months, one session per month. To say that I am the least knowledgeable person in the class would be a very accurate statement. For context, I finally just learned what a cover crop is and why the hell you would want to plant one.

I’m continually humbled by the knowledge that I don’t have, in so many areas. Often, it’s easy for me to forget that just because I didn’t have certain knowledge until 2 seconds ago doesn’t mean the knowledge hasn’t existed. People have been gardening for ions. I know, I looked it up!

Words are re-entering my lexicon from my childhood: wheelbarrow, compost pile, soil aeration. My parents grew vegetables in our backyard for many summers, and I remember these words batted around as cool spring turned to steamy July. I don’t remember liking any of the vegetables that came from the garden, but I loved the sunflowers and the wispy topsoil I buried my hands under. I was captivated by it: warm where the sun touched down but dark and cool just a few finger presses down.

At our last class two weeks ago, Seattle was experiencing overly sunny, summery weather. Our instructor wasn’t happy because she said the unseasonable weather makes the plants freak out. I tried to sympathize with the plants, but the sun felt so otherworldly on the crown of my head that I found it difficult.

We spent a small amount of time in the classroom, where I learned about cover cropping. The rest of the day we spent outside: picking sorrel and mustard leaves for our lunch salad; eating wraps full of hummus and pickled peppers and greens off of plates propped on our knees; turning over that cover crop in the late afternoon. It sounds idyllic. It was. There was no hurry, no real worry about the harvest. I always want to remember the immense privilege I have as a novice gardener: my life does not depend on it. For many, that is not true. For that afternoon, my life felt good and right.

I knew she was going to ask
she talked incessantly, I nodded absently
both of us waiting for the bus
too late at night, too dark
men yelling at each other across the street because god knows why
or doesn’t
she says they have anger management problems
what a sad world, we should call the police
and I know police won’t care or won’t come
or at least just make it worse
and I also know in that moment she is going to ask me
“Have you been blind all your life?”
The seven most invasive words from a stranger
the words I dread
the words I hope to avoid if I just don’t talk to people
even though I want to talk
they might say them, so I don’t
This time I have steeled myself, I am ready, I wish I didn’t have to be ready
“I’d rather not answer that question.”
Six words I can only hope will work.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Thank you.”
Hopefully we are done with this.
But no.
“I just know that some people have an accident and some people are born like that.”
“Yup.”
Does she think her incredible knowledge will open me up?
Does she even think of me?
Is there any place in my Midwest Polite where I could tell her that being born “like that” is better than being born unable to take a hint?
Also leave me alone
Also don’t ask any other person you don’t know something like that ever.
Also it is so none of your business and I owe you nothing just because you think you’re being nice to me.
No. There is probably no place for any of that.
Small triumph that I told her no
small triumph that I didn’t feel a need to reassure her with
“I was born like that. Don’t worry, it probably won’t happen to you.”

You are not a burden

The other night after pole class, one of my classmates said to me, “I’m just doing my part to remind you that you are not a burden.” That same person has said this to me once before, and to be honest, I can’t remember the exact context of either situation. I imagine both had to do with the logistics of all of us students crowded around the cubbies by the door, collecting our shoes and street clothes in a tangle. Everyone is in everyone’s way. I always feel like I am in everyone’s way the worst, since i can’t see where anyone is, and most people are pretty quiet because this is Seattle, city of introverts.

The first time my classmate said this to me, it felt good to hear but I quickly forgot about it. The second time, her words stuck with me. I felt very tender towards her in that moment. I felt that she could really see the most fragile part of me.

Last night, I caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen for about six months. She was excited to hear about my life, and so I had to disappoint her by saying that I was still struggling with the exact same thing I had been struggling with half a year ago: I continue to find it extremely difficult to form meaningful friendships with people in Seattle, the city of introverts. I feel for the most part that I do a lot of work for very little reciprocity. I explained to my friend that I’ve started worrying about what’s wrong with me, what makes people not want to be friends with me. It might not be an attractive thing to admit, this insecurity, but I wanted to be vulnerable with her. She let me talk for a while and then said, “You know, at the beginning of this conversation you put yourself downs lot. Like you thought you were burdening me with this conversation. I’m not saying there aren’t a ton of other factors here, but that might be one of them.”

As much as I appreciated her candor, hard truths are hard to hear. I thanked her for telling me though. Of course, this isn’t anything new, this burden thing. It’s a huge reason I have a therapist. I have felt burdensome for as long as I can remember. As a blind person, I am the one who must be accommodated for. I’m the one who might be a little slower, a little strange-looking, a little demanding, a little angry. I many circumstances, society sees me as a burden. I have spent a dizzying amount of my life trying to fix myself for people, trying to fit for other’s benefit and comfort. I can’t do it any more. I can’t.

I have never been one for mantras or affirmations, but maybe I should change that. I have spent today building a soft corner of my mind where the only thing I repeat is, “”You are not a burden. You are not a burden. You are not a burden.” Other mean thoughts intrude, and I gently let them go. “Sweet pea,” I say to myself, “you are not a burden. Just doing my part to remind you, you are not a burden.”

I will say this until it lives in my body, becoming a part of my stride, settling into my smile for the long haul. I will say it until I can’t forget.

The first audio described movie I saw was Mary Poppins. I LOVE Mary Poppins, probably more than is warranted. I have never claimed to be a good judge of entertainment. “Let’s go Fly a Kite!”, anyone? Anyone?

Anyway, that movie, (on VHS no less), was a great sick day companion for me from the time I was about 8. I had a few other sporadic opportunities to see audio described movies, mostly at blind summer camp and occasionally when my parents would rent one for me from a far-off national library catering to blind people. I think I saw the first Harry Potter movie with descriptive video about ten times.

Between all the Harry Potter viewings, I sat through movies in theaters and in people’s houses, more or less confused. Rom coms were ok: lots of dialogue, predictable, if mostly forgettable and uninspiring. Musicals at least had singing to break up my monotonous confusion over what might be happening visually. But my friends, being mostly nerd types, wanted to watch sci-fi and superheroes and battle movies. Stuff that often has hugely visual components. The Lord of the Rings score is painfully embedded in my brain, because I saw it ten thousand times and the battle scenes are nothing but sylvan screaming and soaring violins.

Three years ago or so, I began noticing more opportunities to view audio described movies. In particular, my dear Minneapolis friend Teresa, (who never reads this blog, though she knows she should!), started inviting me over with the enticing trio of pierogis, a cat to snuggle, and an audio described Disney movie. I have recently watched several movies from my childhood that now have audio descriptions, and have discovered so many new things I never understood before!

A few years ago, I also attended a puppet show that was audio described by a live human. A puppet show, you all! I never thought I could enjoy something so visual, revel in that particular artistry and movement, wonder and speculate about what it all means or doesn’t. I have this dream that someday blind folks will get to experience all sorts of visual media via spoken word: art exhibits, ballet and other forms of dance, opera, amateur film festivals, all the things!

I have gotten spoiled. I have discovered a new zest for watching movies in theaters, but at this point, I don’t think I would shell out the money for one that isn’t audio described. I want to go back and watch all those battle scenes with a voice in my ear telling me exactly what everyone’s fighting for. And I really want to know if the new Mary Poppins has similar descriptions to the one that got me through decades ago.