Two weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning, I was riding in a Lyft to work with a driver from Somalia. Because I can’t have any conversation with someone without blindness coming up, (truly, the thing I find least interesting about myself is apparently the most interesting to everyone else), we got into it. He asked me if something happened to my eyes. I explained that I was just “born this way.” He asked about my job. I told him tech, just like everyone else in Seattle. (Except for all the egregiously underpaid folks who make tech workers’ coffee and serve us quiche. But that’s another post.)

Then he started in about how god was good to me for giving me a good job. I always get a sinking feeling at this point. I am not religious and even though I respect other’s right to religion, I don’t like when someone brings up god like they think we are on the same page about it. It tends to happen to me weirdly often in Lyfts and cabs, where I am trapped for the duration of the ride and don’t feel like I can say anything particularly controversial. So I usually just sit and feel awkward and try to steer the conversation elsewhere.

This guy though. He said, “Sometimes god gives someone everything, everything, except they don’t have a job.” His voice started to pitch erratically, and I thought, omg, he seems like he’s going to cry! Then I thought, he can’t be about to cry, right? But he was, crying openly as he drove and tried to speak.

“If you were born in Africa, you would not have this. You are so lucky. When I heard you have a job, I thought, thank god, how lucky. People in Africa, if you have a disability, they beat you up. Your parents might throw you out.”

He was weeping now, and my own eyes started welling because I often teeter on the verge of crying when I see someone else cry. And because, well, he would know. I only have small experiences of living abroad. Living in South America for a summer was indeed revealing; people seemed startled by me and, though most were extremely kind, they were also incredulous that I was there. In Spain, people said, “You’re so brave” at every turn. I vaguely know that comparatively, the U.S. is a good place to be if you have a disability, but good god, I spend so much time swimming through the muck of ignorance and ableism on a daily basis that I am challenged constantly to remember that.

It’s worth remembering though. It’s just luck that I was born here and given opportunities here. It’s luck that my parents were unendingly supportive of me.

And of course, on the other hand, perhaps a Lyft ride wasn’t the place for this guy to unload his grief. It’s not the first time someone has cried about blind people’s suffering in my vicinity, though, so I tried to take it in stride.

I don’t really know how to end this story. I started writing it shortly after it happened, and have been sitting on it trying to figure out what I have to say about it. Perhaps this story is not for analysis and tidy endings. It was just a thing that happened to me, and I’m trying to honor its lessons, whenever they present themselves.

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“There are so many answers to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive,
closer I am to fine.”
“Closer to Fine” Indigo Girls

Last weekend I saw the Indigo Girls for the first time, as part of an outside concert series at the Woodland Park Zoo. Emily and Amy have been a part of my musical life for well over a decade, though I haven’t kept up with their new music as much. I hoped they would play the old shit, which, in the interest of creative progress, I realize is probably not what they’re most excited about. Still, they did play some of the old shit, and I let myself succumb to nostalgia.

The Indigo Girls are part of a cozy, well-worn story, a story about me as a queer 18-year-old at a tiny liberal arts college in southern Iowa. I spent my freshman year there. I stretched my activism wings as a member of LGBTQA, (literally, that is what our organization was called, all those uncoordinated letters in a row; this was the first time I heard the term “alphabet soup” used to describe the queer community and queer activism). I was somewhere on the “lesbian” and “questioning” spectrum at the time. I also participated in the Progressive Action Coalition, and because of that group, I was able to attend the March for Women’s Lives in D.C. that spring.

We drove from Iowa to D.C. in a van. I didn’t know any of the people I was traveling with at first, except for someone who was in LGBTQA with me, but I didn’t know her well. We left in the morning with Muncie, Indiana as our destination for the evening.

I remember so many little things about that trip which added up to some big, beautiful picture of what I wanted in my life. I crossed at an audible crosswalk for the first time in Muncie. I rode a public transit train for the first time in D.C. On the car ride I was reading Curious Wine for the first time, one of the first lesbian romances I could find in Braille. Cori, the professor who accompanied us, was a queer vegetarian who brought a huge vat of hummus which I tasted for the first time and couldn’t get enough of. We brought protest signs and a video camera. Someone gave me a button that said “I heart pro-choice girls”, which I have to this day. I remember dozing off while listening to Queen and in the midst of half-sleep a voice from the radio told us about the traffic on 66 and mentioned that it was “77 degrees in the nation’s capitol.” The nation’s capitol! Sometimes you experience something and you don’t have any idea that it will be such a profound piece of your history, and sometimes you know while you’re experiencing it exactly how prominent that fabric will be for the rest of your life. This trip was the latter for me; as I was living it, I willed myself to not ever forget.

Oh, and the Indigo Girls. They sang us to D.C. and back. I had heard of them but never listened to them before, and I was amazed at how many of the words everyone knew. When I listened to “Galileo” and “Land of Canaan” and “Closer to Fine”, I felt the words resonate so deeply for me in a way I hadn’t yet experienced. These were queer musicians, grappling with so much of what I was grappling with, struggling against society and yet longing to belong to it. They were songs of loneliness, fear, struggle, revelation, and hope. I relived all of it seeing them onstage last Sunday, and I thought about how these women had enriched my life as a queer person beyond anything I could have understood when I first heard their songs. Reflecting on their influence invites me to consider my role as an activist in my 30’s. What experience can I offer younger queers, if not worldwide, then in my family and community? How can I make their teen years easier? How can I be a source of constancy throughout their 20’s? What small legacy can I offer, even if only a kind word or a gesture of acknowledgement, some clear light so they know they are not alone?

Happy pride to all of you! May we rejoice in the absence of definitives and revel in all our shades of love.

“It was only my art that held me back: it seemed as if I could not quit this earth until I had produced all I felt within me.” — Beethoven

Last weekend I played in two student recitals for my recorder studio: one for solo and duet pieces and one for ensembles. This was my first solo performance in over a decade, and my first time playing with a harpsichord instead of a piano. This was the first time I invited friends to listen to the performances, even though I’ve been playing in this ensemble for almost two years now.

Oh, I had forgotten so many things about why I play music! It’s been so long since I have devoted this much time to music, since I was in college over a decade ago. Back then I played furiously: I sat in several ensembles and doggedly learned solos. In my adult life, I’ve often looked back at my younger self and thought: god, what was I thinking? I was exhausted. I practiced nearly every free minute I had. I still fondly remember which practice room I favored in the music building on my college campus: where I placed my recorders and flute and in what order, which keys on the piano were worn ragged, how the sound in the room changed depending on whether I sat or stood.

I wasn’t a performance major. Or an anything music related major. But I wanted music surrounding me and living within me, from the heady beginnings of learning a new piece to the fragile polish of performance.

And I remember why now. This weekend reminded me. It’s certainly not for fame: if I wanted that I definitely would have picked a different instrument. Recorder’s a niche hobby, and people aren’t exactly breaking down the door to hear a recorder concert, particularly not an amateur one. All told, we probably had an audience of 20 both days combined.

But the size of the audience matters less than its energy, and both days I felt so much warmth, conviviality, and celebration in that space. I couldn’t give a compliment without getting a higher one in return. It was like all of us, audience and players, set an intension of openness and generosity from the outset. I felt that none of it was insincere or patronizing. We just appreciated each other. I often think that people are a bit stingy with their generosity when it comes to art, writing, and music. It’s cool to be bored and unenthused, I guess. I’m glad my recorder community chooses to be generous and to leave world-weariness at home for a few hours.

The act of performing Telemann and Bach and Sieg and Leonarda felt reverent. It’s humbling to play music dreamed and created by another human soul. It feels like being offered a gift. You accept, and offer a gift back. You feel the notes in your own body: in the rhythm of your pulse, the plant of your feet, the gathering of your breath. You feel it in your own soul: as a resonant ache, as a tremulous joy, as a singular certainty that everything you experience in this moment has been felt and understood time and time again, as humans have made music through the centuries.

This may all seem very lofty and precious. And I suppose it is, to an extent. But it also just brings me peace. To know that there is so much music, to play and to create, and that I hunger to rest in this knowledge as often as I can, before I quit this earth.

1. Don’t assume I need help by default. Many times I don’t.
2. Instead of saying, “Do you need help?”, try, “Can I offer you any assistance?” or “Would you like assistance?” When you are assisting, you are making an offer of solidarity, not fulfilling a need.
3. If I politely say, “no thank you”, my refusal is not about my feelings towards you.
4. If you persist because you think you know better than me what I am trying to accomplish, and because of your persistence I not-so-politely refuse you, that is most definitely about you and please knock it off.
5. If you think helping me means yelling at me out of your car window, you are wrong. Don’t yell at me. Don’t honk at me, don’t gun your engine at me. You will make things worse.
6. If you are certain I am going to be squashed or fall off a cliff, you can yell, “Stop!” As an adventurous, often precocious kid, I was trained to hear a decisive “Stop!” I will react accordingly and immediately. Do not attempt to yell more words, I won’t hear or understand. And I might instinctively turn to try to hear you better and possibly make things worse. If you can, approach me to give me further direction.
7. Grabbing me is not helping. Ask before you touch me. I will do the same for you.
8. Don’t attempt assistance by trying to lead my dog. Talk to the human.
9. Don’t thank someone else who is assisting me, or say, “You’re so kind to do that”, or otherwise give them a good samaritan pat on the head. I can’t stop you from thinking it, but it’s patronizing as hell, so keep it to yourself.
10. If you are struggling with something and say to me, “Don’t worry, Lauren, I don’t even know what’s going on and I can see!”, this is not helpful. This is simply ableism.
11. These rules are rules I made up, based on my vast experience, and they do not represent all blind people. To think that they did would not, in a word, be helpful.

Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day… a day late

Hi friends on the Internet! I’m just popping in before it gets too in the past to say that I was on a podcast for Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which was yesterday, yay! One of the teams I work with at my job is the Microsoft Sharepoint team, and they decided to do a podcast all about accessibility for GAAD, which is super cool, and I was a small part of it!

I’m really happy that we could raise awareness for folks in the corporate world, and I hope I don’t sound too ridiculous because I can’t bear to listen to my segment because ugh, does my voice really sound so weird? But I do believe I quoted both Corey Silverberg and Maya Angelou, so really, my work here is done.

You can read the blog post and listen to the podcast here:

Happy weekend, everyone!

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.

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.